Foreign Education: Wise Anymore?

Study Abroad“Is it worth the money”? This is the question we ask ourselves while buying a ticket either to a hyped movie or an expensive airline (both dooming to failure) that lands us in “Forum”. In the recent times of changing scenario, it may not be, quite literally. So, all the students who are strong-willed for a Foreign Education/ Degree or the Parents who busy mustering “lakhs” to send their child abroad for the same should ask themselves a few of these “why” questions:

  • What made you decide for a foreign degree? (Advice from Counsellors/ Influence of friends & relatives/ Guidance of seniors/peers already there)
  • Why are you going to a particular country? (Job opportunities/ Peer Pressure/ Fascination for foreign education/stay)
  • What are the financial implications? (Education Loan on personal shoulders/ Family Support/ Personal Savings)
  • What stage of your education/ career level are you going? (Under- Grad/ Graduation/Post- Graduation/ With some Work Experience)
  • When would you come back? (Not finding an overseas  job/ finding a ‘suitable’ job in India/ Other & Personal reasons

While different people would have different answers to these and many such questions, I would like one to ask himself the question that I started out with: Is a Foreign Degree worth the money it makes one incur? ; in Management terms, “What is the ROI (Return on Investment)?”

For years, the USA and the UK were the most sought-after study destinations for innumerable Asian students. The number of Indian students in the US increased from 54,000 in 2000-01 to 1,04,000 in 2010-11; about 14% of international students there are Indians. Thanks to the terrorist attacks and the unfavorable socio-political conditions, many of such students were then diverted towards Australia.  The racist attacks on some Asian students saw many students returning home, and those planning to go re-evaluating their decision.

Let us see the various factors that pull Asian, particularly Indian students, to Foreign Universities:

1)      Snob value/ fascination for West/ Peer pressure

2)      Students are looking at overseas education as a ticket to immigration. Easy immigration rules allowed Indian students to work soon after graduation for a set period of say two years and eventually settle down there permanently.

3)      The top-notch Institutes in India (IITs/IIMs/NITs, etc.) can absorb only a handful of students seeking a good degree that would fetch them ‘the’ job.

4)      Students accepted by foreign universities after being rejected by their Indian counterparts ( mainly in metros like Delhi & Mumbai where the population is very high and still higher the cut-off( 98-100%) for admission in premier colleges).

5)      The marred Western (read the US and Australian) economies depending on international students (Asian, mostly Indian) welcoming them with open arms. The international students contributed 17.7 billion dollars to the Australian economy in 2010.

6)      The crème-de-la- crème Indian students (grads from IITs, PGs from IIMs, etc.Global) getting direct admissions and also the much-needed Funding in the best Institutes overseas.

While the ‘pull’ was reasonably strong until some time back, there have been a few deterrents in the last couple of years, that have discouraged many aspiring students  from ‘flying’:-

1)      Expensive accommodation

2)      Difficulty in finding part-time jobs: with the Governments curbing work opportunities for international students during study so as to facilitate more local students taking up the same, the cost of living becomes a noticeable factor, other than of course the cost of the course.

3)A global economic crisis leading to the job market suffering internationally.

4)      Incompatibility between the courses in the West and India; this was often leading to incompatibility between degree (and the course content) and the job propositions in India. Also, the quality of the degree and the Institute repute matter a lot now; there are no takers for mediocre degrees from average Institute just because they come with a “foreign” tag.

5)      The difference between the courses- their content and modules as promised in brochures/ on websites and the actual availability and worth of the same.

6)      Employer Selectivity – Owing to weak job markets, employers have become quite demanding. In-depth domain knowledge, previous & relevant work experience and various other factors are evaluated before making the candidates sign on the dotted line.

7)      Fraudsters being quite active

8)      Development of new rules and regulations by some countries: eg the UK Govt tightening rules on international students (viz: students requiring a job with a sponsor to continue staying in the UK, refusal of entry to non-English speaking students, acceptance of evidence (of financial capability)only from established Financial Institutions and alarming figures of unemployment in the UK).

However, all these factors should not make one strike the panic button: neither should the already present there students pack their bags overnight nor should the aspiring ones get absolutely disheartened. Better sense needs to prevail on both the Indian students and the foreign Governments. While the students and their Parents definitely need to evaluate the-the pay-off and return potential of a foreign degree (running at 15-20 lakhs a year), considering factors like net cost of education & accommodation, declining work opportunities, and socio-political scenarios; Foreign Govts also need to balance their policies when it comes to International students to ensure they don’t get trapped in unfavourable situations. Here are a few points with an objective approach:

  • There is no denying that there are some exceptionally good Institutes across the world, and if there is a price to pay for that, it is an investment in the true sense. Also, not to forget a very important point: Quality education is not cheap in India also, with IITs & IIMs hiking their fees significantly and ISB being extremely costly since.
  • Extensive research on foreign universities and courses, keeping them as back-up options and designing a career plan with guidance from established sources can be a great help.
  • Indian students in the US should look for internships soon after first-year studies, to develop good networks.
  • Students should look and opt for niche sectors like oil & gas, etc. instead of running behind just IT and Finance(which have also shown some recovery in the US).
  • The Australian Govt, in pursuit of revamping its system, is offering 2-4 year post-study work period for graduates, allowing international students to stay and work and thereby recover some of their investment. Canada has also loosened its immigration policy, wherein eligible foreign students can apply for permanent residency from within Canada.
  • The UK and Australian Government are checking on the fraudsters, and on a cleaning spree of bogus private colleges.

I end with what I started out with: Rethink!! The ROI is driven by global economy and not just national; and an investment in quality education will should always lead to a frolicking career, in India or abroad!!

 

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