By Sohini Rajula
For more than a century, students in India have been attracted to the opportunity to obtain an international education for various reasons: the opportunity to learn from foreign cultures; to receive a good education; to gain international fame; and to improve employment opportunities.
What is changing now is the level of means for students and families who have this option.
While the wide range of Indian families sending children abroad to learn has been a clear trend, the Covid-19 pandemic has sent Generation Z on a special search for individuality. There has been a significant shift in how students and parents view their choices for education abroad, with societal expectations and cultural nuances influencing their decision-making process.
To explore these unprecedented trends and gather insights on how we can best help families take advantage of this opportunity, Western Union commissioned research from Nielsen Inc to explore the journey Indian families go through together in pursuit of an international education and a global future for their children.
A key finding is that nearly half (45%) of student respondents prioritize “self-reliance” and the opportunity to “live life on their own terms” as primary motivations for exploring international learning opportunities.
Data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MEA) shows that students from more than 70,000 families went abroad to study in the first two months of 2021, undeterred by the pandemic. The majority of students in the Nielsen survey cited personal development as the most important motivation behind their decision to study abroad. They believe that being in a foreign country enables them to exercise their independence and live on their own terms. This was followed by “cultural exploration” and “international emergence” as drivers of the decision-making process. On the other hand, “access to increased employment opportunities” and “quality of life after global education”, two of the most common reasons cited until very recently, are now at the bottom of the list of considerations, or are regressing altogether.
Regarding the country of their choice, while Indian students usually choose to study in the US, UK, Canada and Australia – which remain the top four destinations – they are also choosing new alternatives such as Germany, Italy, Ireland, Turkey, Russia and China.
Also, students now prefer specialized courses (52%) over the university’s reputation when choosing. As it relates to obstacles, qualifying exams remain a significant barrier for students (64%), leading them to choose to study in countries/universities that do not have entry exams or mandatory English language proficiency tests.
Money concerns, particularly budgeting and financial planning, are predictable barriers to both students and parents. India is generally seen as the world’s largest recipient of remittances, but today’s citizens and residents increasingly send money across borders as they participate in the global economy – where they have access to international education, medicine, travel and other services. The market for outward remittances is estimated at $12.7 billion in FY21, but outward remittances for resident Indians rose 39% in July 2021 compared to October 2020, with a marked increase in outflows for education purposes.
Even when means are not an issue, Nielsen’s research shows the importance for families of students staying financially supported and connected at all times.
Western Union has been operating in India since 1993 and has a history of creating one of the largest first and last mile money movement networks in the country. We are now also providing a convenient digital service for people sending money from India – helping to make the dream of studying abroad a reality for more students and their families than ever before.
More students studying abroad – for reasons of personal choice and self-determination, rather than just an obligation to earn money to support their families back home – is another sign of India’s economic transformation. More and more of our children are now experiencing the personal growth and empowerment that studies abroad give. It’s an exciting, albeit spooky, time for these students and their families.
The author is Head of Regional Network, Middle East and Asia Pacific, Western Union