Dr Rajika Bhandari, deputy vice pres- ident of research and evaluation, Institute of International
Education, leads the Open Doors and
Project Atlas projects that measure international higher education mobility.A frequent speaker on global student mobility,
she has written four books on the subject,
and is an alumna of the University of Delhi,
and North Carolina State University.
What is your take on the continuing
decrease in the number of students from
One of the main factors associated with
the decline facing Indian students is what
happened with the rupee in recent times in
India, where it has become sharply devalued against the dollar. That may have
affected some Indian students to come and
study in the US because it’s simply so difficult for them to afford the US dollar. This
might have especially affected Indian
undergraduate students, because we know
that most international undergraduate students who come to the US pay their own
way. So, they may be harder hit because it’s
harder for them to seek out loans and use
their own funds with the rupee being so
Could Indian undergraduate students
have found alternatives for higher educa-
tion, like institutions in Australia, Canada,
Singapore, Europe, etc?
They may have found alternatives, but
not in terms of other destination countries
because if you look at overall numbers the
US still receives by far the largest number
of Indian students in the world. If they are
looking to alternative destinations, they are
probably looking for options such as
branch campuses, either in the Middle East
or in Singapore. We know for example that
many Indian institutions also have their
branch campuses either in the Gulf region
or in Singapore, as do US and UK institutions. So, some Indian students must be
choosing to go to those branch campuses
because one, it’s closer to home, and, two, it
maybe a bit more affordable.
Is the Chinese government’s scholarships,
funding and financial assistance to students
also a major factor? The Indian government
doesn’t offer funding for undergraduate
students, and hence study in the US is governed by many exigencies — from their
income levels to things like the strength of
the rupee to the dollar.
That’s absolutely true. The Chinese gov-
ernment has provided a fair amount of
financial support for Chinese students
through a China Scholarship Council to go
overseas, and they’ve also provided scholar-
ships for international students to come to
China, which is why we now see through
some of our date that China is not only the
world’s largest supplier of international
students but it is also now the number four
The annual survey of 285 members of the
Council of Graduate Schools shows a whopping 40 percent increase over the past two
years of Indian graduate students to the US,
compared to just 5 percent from China.
How do you explain this
your data, which shows a
marked decrease of
Indian students, and that
of the CGS survey?
The CGS study was
restricted just to graduate students but when
you look at the Open
Doors survey, we cover
all academic levels. So,
we include undergraduate students, graduate
students, as well as those
who are here on non-degree studies. So, our
survey includes thousands of institutions,
whereas the CGS survey is just a fraction of
those institutions. So, the coverage is very
Secondly, the timeframe is different. Our
survey — our data — that we just released,
reflects the prior academic year. It reflects
the 2012-13 academic year, whereas the
CGS data is for the current semester that
has just begun in the US. Those are two key
differences. But there could be a couple of
things going on in the differences between
their data and ours for India.
They are showing this tremendous
increase in graduate enrollment for this
year and we are showing an overall decline.
One is, the fact that as I mentioned earlier,
our data also includes undergraduate students and also other students from India
who might have been affected more disproportionately by what’s gone on with the
Indian currency devaluation.
Another explanation could be that perhaps it is possible that
the tide is beginning to
turn for Indian graduate
students, and we see the
overall numbers going
up again. But we won’t
know that for a year from
How could the tide
have turned so dramati-
I am not going to comment on the accuracy or
validity of their data.
But… overall their survey
and our survey for graduate education does
match up. For example,
if you compare the data
for this year, which we just released, with
the data that they released last year — a
comparable timeframe — both surveys
show a decline for India.
So, I would say their survey is just as
legitimate as ours, except that there are
these key differences that you have to keep
in mind about those different surveys.
Which is why the numbers don’t always
seem entirely comparable.
Are more graduate students, particularly
from India, going in for STEM (science,
technology, engineering, math) subjects?
Yes, that’s correct.
Is that a trend that compared to Chinese
students — the majority of whom I believe
return to China — Indian graduate students
tend to stay back in the US, gain employ-
ment and ultimately become entrepreneurs
and decide to live here?
Both Chinese and Indian students are
almost equally likely to stay on. Of course,
the number of Chinese students is much
larger overall… We don’t collect data on
where students end up after they finish
their education. But, anecdotally, what we
hear is that many Chinese and Indian students stay on, whereas South Koreans students actually return to their home country.
Can the exponential increases from China
be attributed to the fact that there is much
more US business and other investment in
China by Fortune 500 companies than
there is in India? A US higher education
degree could give better employments
prospects for Chinese students who decide
to go back or even work with the US companies here.
It’s certainly possible that there is this
investment and business angle that is contributing to these growing numbers, but
also the bilateral efforts between the two
countries also has a large effect, for example, even at the US end — the 100,000-
strong Initiative for China, where the US is
really trying to get 100,000 American students to go to China. But there are also a lot
of efforts at both ends to send students in
the opposite direction and the governments
of both countries have been much more
active and engaged than has the government of India. So, that has been one big difference.
There has of course, been the Higher
Education Dialogue between the US government and the Indian government, the
Obama-Singh Initiative, the new initiative
of implementing American-style community colleges in India.
But we have to wait and see if all of that is
really implemented and turns into reality
over the rhetoric.
Is there any chance that India could catch
It’s too soon to tell whether dips in the
Indian numbers that we’ve seen over the
past year or so will become part of an overall trend of decline from India. So, one, I
would say it is too early to tell.
Second, what I would say is that we
shouldn’t focus exclusively on just the
mobility numbers because there are so
many other things we should be looking at
— other ways how students are engaging
It’s possible that there’s been a rise in
Indian students participating in joint and
It’s possible that more Indian students
are engaging in online learning from a US
So, there are all these other models that
students are now exploring and all that’s
going to have an impact on numbers.
So, yes, the numbers are important, but
we should also focus on the broader context
and the reality is that India is also working
hard to set up more higher education institutions to meet the growing demand for a
Thus, it’s possible that some students in
India are choosing to stay back in India, or
as I said earlier, go to neighboring countries in Asia or to explore branch campuses.
‘One of the main factors is
what happened with the rupee’
Dr Rajika Bhandari