MUMBAI: The lure of a foreign degree combined with the boom in greenfield campuses has meant that Indians, largely known to head West for the coveted stamp, are now criss-crossing the globe.

From campuses in Central Asia’s Tajikistan to northern Europe’s Estonia, they are everywhere. The new academic topography spans countries from the exotic St Lucia to the unexpected Iran, Kazakhstan and Oceania’s Kiribati. Brunei Darussalam has a handful, so do Reunion Island, Slovakia and Slovenia.

The overseas affairs ministry, which recently shared the data on Indians studying in various corners of the world, found that the total number of students who have travelled out for a foreign education rose from 5.7 lakh students in 2016 to over 8 lakh in 2018. The numbers, though, could be higher as data from several countries was being compiled when the statistics were provided.

One of the reasons for the scattering is that several iconic universities run branch campuses. In 2002, there were 24 registered branch campuses around the world and by 2015 there were 249, according to the Observatory of Borderless Education.

Many of the over 1,000 students in Cyprus are studying for a Harvard degree. In Tokyo, they are at America’s Temple University.

Yet, there are thousands studying in little-known local colleges as well, such as obscure medical instutitions in St Kitts and Nevis.

Medical aspirants are now looking beyond Russia and China to colleges where the entry bar is low and fees a fraction of what it costs to study in India.

Karan Gupta, a counsellor who works with students heading abroad, said, “Students head to these not-so-popular destinations because one gets a European or a foreign degree at a low cost. But the universities in these countries are not the top ones on a global platform.” Gupta added he largely turns down students who wish to go to anonymous colleges they find over the internet.

Unesco states the number of internationally mobile students was increasing and destinations diversifying. In 2017, there were over 53 lakh international students—up from 20 lakh in 2000 (UNESCO, 2019). Branch campuses, though, have come under a lot of flak.

At the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s International Management for Higher Education conference, speakers and experts likened branch campuses to “hollow shells” of their host institutions as the real faculty did not move. That has done little to dull their lure. According to the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE), by the end of 2015, there were an estimated 1,80,000 students enrolled at various international branch campuses and their numbers were projected to only rise.

“Students need to do due diligence before going to a particular college or country. Most Indians who head to these little-known places are healthcare or medical students. It is cheaper to study there, easier to get in and get absorbed. Plus, if you get a five-year internship, you get an EU citizenship. Students with an average score have little professional outlet in India,” said another counsellor Pratibhha Jain. “Moreover, obscure colleges hire agents and pay them money for every student they send.”





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