Dr Rajika Bhandari, as deputy vice president of research and evalua- tion, provides strategic oversight of
Institute of International Education’s
research and evaluation activities and
leads the Open Doors and Project Atlas
projects that measure international higher
education mobility. She also directs IIE’s
Center for Academic Mobility Research
and Impact and serves on several international advisory groups. The program evaluations of international scholarship and
fellowship programs in higher education
for IIE is her responsibility.
A frequent speaker and widely published author on global student mobility,
Bhandari has written four books on the
Prior to joining IIE in 2006, she
worked with MPR Associates, an
educational research firm that provides research and evaluation services to the Department of
Education and also at the
University of North Carolina.
Based on the latest Open Doors
report, which she co-authored,
Bhandari discusses the factors that
influence India as a source and
destination of students.
After three years of decline, the
number of Indian students on
American campuses increased by 6 percent and also
jumped the 100,000 mark for the first time since 2008-
2009. What reversed the trend? Last year when we spoke,
you said one of the main factors associated with the Indian
student decline was because of what happened with the
rupee’s sharp devaluation against the dollar. Do you believe
this trend has turned the corner?
I believe that it’s a combination of factors that have
reversed the decline of Indian students. One factor is a
few years ago we saw a severe devaluation of the Indian
rupee against the US dollar, and many Indian students
who were planning on going overseas were hard hit by
that. Towards 2013, we saw the currency stabilize against
the dollar and, as a result, Indian students are once again
able to afford coming to the US.
Let’s not forget that Indian students have always been
very attracted to the science and engineering and the
research opportunities in US colleges and universities,
especially at the graduate level, that are simply unparalleled by opportunities elsewhere.
You also acknowledged during our conversation last year
that the decline in Indian students to the US may have
been due to Indian graduate students having found alternatives for higher education in countries like Australia,
Canada, Singapore, Europe, etc. Does the uptick in Indian
students coming here indicate that the US has once again
been elected to the preferred choice?
The US has the strongest reputation in STEM education
India still trails China significantly in terms of the student
at the graduate level, and its many large research universi-
ties have the capacity to host large numbers of talented
students from around the world. The UK was for many
years a top destination for Indian students seeking educa-
tion abroad, but recent changes in UK student visa poli-
cies and higher education costs make it a less attractive
destination for Indian students. The US hosted nearly
three times as many Indian students as the UK, and more
than five times as many Indian students as Australia.
population in the US. Will India catch up with the number
of undergraduate students Beijing sends to the US? And
China offers scholarships, funding, financial assistance…
While some Chinese students receive scholarships, the
vast majority of Chinese students are self-supported. Due
to the rise of the middle class in China and the one child
policy, many families are choosing to invest their savings
in obtaining a world-class higher education for their child.
Conversely, India has always had a strong undergraduate
system at home and one in which English is the language
of instruction. Indian students are therefore more motivated to come to the US at the graduate level rather than
for undergraduate studies.
How about the fact that the spurt in Indian students was
propelled by graduate level students? If you are an IIT
grad, the likes of Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Columbia,
U-Penn are likely to grab them to increase the profile of
their own programs?
Indian students are based not just in the Ivy Leagues and
other top-ranked institutions, but attend the full range of
US institutions, including community colleges and specialized institutions. Moreover, even though the majority of
Indian students are graduate students, there are still
almost 13,000 Indian undergraduate students in the US,
many of whom are supporting themselves
through their own funds and not through
scholarships from their campuses.
During our conversation last year, we
also discussed the discrepancy where the
annual survey of 285 members of the
Council of Graduate Schools showed a
whopping 40 percent increase over the
past two years of Indian graduate students
to the US, compared to just 5 percent from
China. Has this discrepancy between your
data, which shows a marked decrease of
Indian students, and that of the CGS survey been reconciled now?
The reason why the Council of Graduate
School shows findings that point to sharp
increases in Indian students over the past
two years is because they only account for
graduate students. One thing to keep in
mind is that Open Doors is presenting a
much more complete picture of what’s
going on with Chinese and Indian enrollments because of our coverage of the
undergraduate population, as well as students enrolled in non-degree study and
Optional Practical Training. It is important to consider both academic levels,
especially in the case of China and India
where large numbers of students are at the
undergraduate level — in the case of China
— and are also participating in OPT — in
the case of India.
When just the graduate-level popula-
tions are compared for the same academic year, the CGS
data and Open Doors data is closely aligned.
During Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit
here in September for his summit with President Barack
Obama, US-India educational cooperation in higher education was emphasized and was also highlighted in their
joint statement. How much of currency do you give this
cooperation leading to increased two-way student
exchange between India and the US, because while it’s true
that the Indian student decline has been arrested with a 6
percent increase, it is still way, way behind China, and the
number of US students studying in India is negligible and
I think there is a sense of optimism among the Indian
people with the recent election of Prime Minister Modi
and there is great potential for closer US-India educational cooperation. India ranks number 13 on the list of destinations for American students studying abroad, and in,
2012/13 about 4,377 American students studied in India.
It is important to consider that the overall number of
American students who study abroad is less than 300,000
and while there are many efforts to diversify study abroad
destinations for US students, the vast majority still choose
to study in Europe.
One key reason for a larger number of US students going
to China is that both governments — US and Chinese —
the decline of Indian students’ Rajika Bhandari, lead researcher and co-author of the 2014 Open Doors report, in conversation with Aziz Haniffa
ANDRE W BURTON/GET T Y IMAGES Inside the production lab of the New York Genome Center, which counts the Columbia University, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, The Rockefller University and New York University, among its founding members. Rajika Bhandari, inset, says, Indian students have always been very attracted to the science, engineering and research opportunities in US colleges and universities, which are unparalleled by opportunities elsewhere.