By Richard Everitt, Director Education (Wider Europe), British Council

05 December 2013 - 11:49

'Traditional loyalty towards the UK is fading.' Photo (c) Priyan Nithya, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 and adapted from the original.
'Traditional loyalty towards the UK is fading.' Photo ©

Priyan Nithya, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 and adapted from the original.

The British Council’s Richard Everitt explains the latest figures and provides some options for UK universities, based on our latest report on Indian student mobility.

India is forecast to supply a quarter of the world’s work force by 2030. So, how can we explain the 25 per cent reduction in Indian students choosing to study in the UK over the last couple of years, given the sheer volume of India’s young population eager to improve its prospects and secure its future?

What is working against the UK as a study destination

The UK, by a small margin, is the most popular overseas study destination. However, traditional loyalty towards the UK is fading and our latest research suggests we are entering a new era in Indian student mobility. In the short term, the fall in the rupee may be held responsible for the drop. Then, as an Indian student, you can work in places such as Australia or Canada after you finish your studies, but the (erroneous) perception is that it is no longer possible in the UK. There are also more higher education opportunities in India and an ever increasing range of information providers, and more recently, qualifications from English medium courses, which you can attend at lower cost in continental Europe, are recognised by employers in India, e.g., by multinationals such as Tata, Wipro and Infosys.

What can be done

In response to this downturn, the largest group of UK universities ever to exhibit in India carried out a four-city tour last week. The exhibition halls were teeming with the buzz of inquisitive, ambitious students seeking out the best course for them from the 70 institutions present. To coincide with the exhibitions, we launched the biggest ever UK scholarship programme for India (£1m for 370 scholarships for 270 courses at 36 universities), together with a specialist career guide for Indian students, as we knew that the most common questions were going to be about scholarships and work opportunities. As the UK’s automatic post-study work option has been withdrawn, students are now looking more closely at the job market in India, and with greater concern.

But will these exhibitions and scholarship opportunities be enough to sustain the UK’s position within the growing sphere of options for Indian students? Our research highlights that there is a new status quo within India that requires new approaches to recruitment and institutional partnership.

A new approach to recruitment

In a country where both positive and negative news reaches the world’s largest university entry age group at ever greater speeds, we cannot expect that traditional direct student recruitment models will be sufficient. The way UK universities market themselves will be crucial: Quality is the most important attribute that Indian students associate with wanting to study in the UK, so highlighting rankings, Nobel Prize winners and academic excellence related to their chosen course will be essential. Further, given cost is the biggest deterrent, scholarships, bursaries and front-end cost reduction will remain important. Finally, return on investment matters. Internship opportunities, links to industry and positive trends of employability relating to the course will be convincing arguments.

A new approach to university partnerships

Establishing UK-India higher education partnerships with student mobility a component of the agreement, together with more UK students spending time in India and a range of UK transnational education offers in India will be one way to ensure Indian students remain engaged with the UK.

Our report Inside India: A new status quo, is based on the views of more than 10,000 young Indians.

If you are an Indian student and are interested in UK scholarships, take a look at our scholarships section on the British Council India website.

For more news, events and reports on higher education, connect with us on LinkedIn.

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