Ideas

Indian Students’ Spend On US Degrees Is Six Times More Than The Budget Of All IITs

Students at Castro Cafe at Jamia Milia Islamia University. (Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • Indian students spent six times more money on a US degree than what the government spends on all IITs combined.

Six and a half billion dollars. That’s how much Indian parents spent in 2016-17 so that their children could get an academic degree in the United States (US).

At an exchange rate of Rs 64 for a dollar, that figure comes up to around Rs 42,000 crore. To put this in perspective, the entire allocation by the Government of India in this year’s budget (2017-18) for all Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) stood at slightly over Rs 7,000 crore.

In short, Indian students spent six times more money on a US degree than what the government spends on all IITs combined.

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Further, to put this stunning number in military perspective, India could’ve bought 36 more Rafale fighter jets with that money.

According to this report in the Financial Express, Chinese parents spent way more money than Indian parents to send their kids to study in the US, a whopping $12.55 billion compared to India’s $6.54 billion. In the list of countries with maximum number of students enrolled in universities in the US, China comes on top by a considerable margin. Both Indian and Chinese students comprise almost half of the total international students in the US, with India contributing 17.3 per cent of the students, says a report by Open Doors institute.

In 2013-14, India sent 102,673 students to the US. This number rose to 186,267 last year. While the spending in 2013-14 stood at $3.3 billion, by 2016-16 this almost doubled to $6.53 billion.

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The US reaps great benefits from the inflow of international students to its universities. According to NAFSA, they contribute almost $40 billion to its economy and generate four and a half lakh jobs.

The main reason for the outflow of students from India to the US is the poor condition of universities at home, which fail to break into even the top 200 in various rankings that weigh world’s best universities. Another major reason is the lure of a foreign degree, which has now acquired a kind of status symbol in affluent and upper middle-class families.

While the latter can take decades to fix, the former can be fixed quite easily. India’s premier educational institutions such as IITs, NITs, IIMs, AIIMS and so on remain highly underfunded, and a lot of money goes into meeting operational expenses, thereby leaving very little for research and development.

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Chinese universities until now hardly used to feature in the lists of top universities, but they are now slowly starting to dominate the higher education landscape, as the government has started showering more and more money on them. If the trend persists, Indians will start sending their kids to Chinese universities and that will be a lot more problematic. It’s time we rapidly increase our higher education budget, and especially for the country’s topmost institutions, so that they can compete with the world’s finest.

Freeing colleges and universities from bureaucratic shackles of the University Grants Commission is another low-hanging fruit that the government must consider plucking in earnest.

As Chinese universities rise and displace American ones, higher education will not remain a problem of human resource for India. It will become a national security problem too. There can’t be a better reason than this to get cracking on higher education reforms sooner rather than later.

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