Students from India continue to favour UK universities despite increase in costs

by Ray Clancy on December 6, 2013

Students from India regard the UK as the best country for study in terms of high quality courses even though it is an expensive country for expat students, according to a new survey from the British Council.


The UK was listed by students from both India and the US as a quality destination for research doctorates and undergraduate degrees

Despite competition from the United States, Australia and an expanding higher education sector in India itself, the UK remains the country most sought after by young Indians for a university education.

The study, the first of its kind, was conducted by the British Council over the last three months to explore the views of more than 10,000 young people across India. It gives insight into attitudes toward higher education at home and abroad and the factors that influence their university choices.

The data identifies a changing pattern of decision making among young Indians as they choose where to study. Most put the quality of the higher education first, but they are increasingly cost sensitive and keen to find financial support through scholarships and bursaries.

High quality courses and institutions remained by far the greatest pull factor for the students when choosing whether to study at home or abroad. The UK was the most favoured destination, chosen by 21% of respondents, followed by the United States at19% and India14%.

The survey also found that young Indians put British universities first for taught postgraduate courses. The UK was also top with the United States as a quality destination for research doctorates and undergraduate degrees. In particular, the majority of students choosing courses in business and administrative studies said they wanted to study in the UK.

India is a key market for international students, providing the second largest contingent of international students in the UK after China, with between 75% and 80% enrolled on postgraduate degrees. The UK is second only to the United States in the number of international Indian students it attracts but the authors of the study warn that continued high numbers cannot be taken for granted.

Both the US and the UK have seen the number of international students from India decline over the last year, after a period of year on year increases and the survey identified high cost as a significant barrier to study abroad, particularly following the depreciation of the Indian currency.

Elizabeth Shepherd, the British Council’s education intelligence research manager based in Hong Kong, said that there will continue to be a segment of Indian households that can afford to finance overseas study and see it as a highly valued opportunity.

‘However, this segment has decreased and may continue to do so, contrary to popular views of the boundless untapped potential in India for international students. The focus of the Indian government on improving the volume and quality of higher education has positioned India’s own institutions as fierce competitors for domestic students on an unprecedented scale,’ she explained.

When asked for the three most important factors in selecting a study destination, the largest group, 61%, said quality of education. Cost was the second consideration, cited by 42% and 43% said they would be influenced by scholarship opportunities. Nearly a quarter, 23%, said the option to work in the foreign country after graduation and whilst studying was important to them.

Australia has increased recruitment as it recovers from a slump in numbers and Germany is becoming more attractive to some Indian students who are learning German alongside English and taking advantage of courses taught in English.

Richard Everitt, the Director of Education & Society for British Council in India, said the survey gave an exciting new insight into the decision making of young Indians. ‘We are entering a new era where traditional flows are being disrupted for a number of reasons. Yes, the UK is the number one choice for young Indians who want to study overseas, but there are new dynamics coming into play,’ he pointed out.

‘UK universities may want to consider how they are demonstrating their quality, their value for money and related incentives. They could also seek to highlight industry links, including internships, that relate to employability,’ he added.

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