Each year, thousands of Indian students aspire to leave their country.
While India is home to many top universities such as Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), IISc, Delhi University, AIIMS and Aligarh Muslim University, they’re losing out to their counterparts in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia.
In 2022, 770,000 Indians studied abroad, and this number is growing by about 10% annually. Of these, nearly 140,000 Indian students chose the UK as their study-abroad destination.
What’s behind this exodus?
In a country with a population of 1.4 billion people, securing admission to India’s top universities is highly competitive, and job prospects for graduates are bleak.
Despite India being the world’s fifth-largest economy, unemployment rates exceeded 8% last month, with graduate unemployment even higher at approximately 18%.
That’s close to one in five graduates unemployed.
In the face of such prospects, many Indian students studying in the UK believe they made the right choice for their careers.
For the middle and upper classes in India who can afford to send their children overseas for university, the choice has traditionally been between the US and the UK.
Both countries have huge Indian diasporas, with English being widely spoken. Since September 2016, however, UK universities are winning more hearts — seeing a surge in applications from less than 20,000 to over 80,000 in just five years.
Why is the UK a top choice?
In the 2020-21 academic year, Indian students were the second-largest group among international students in UK universities, with 87,045 first-year enrollments. They followed China, which had 99,965 enrollments, and were ahead of Nigeria with 32,945.
In June 2022, nearly 118,000 Indians were issued study visas, marking an 89% rise compared to the previous year. With an impressive study visa application success rate of 96%, it is not surprising that Indians constitute a significant portion of the UK’s diverse international student community.
The influx of Indian students has compensated for the decline in European students after Brexit.
Following Brexit, the UK pledged to increase its international student intake to 600,000 by 2030. As the recruitment of foreign students rose, Indian students flocked back to UK universities.
The number of Indian students further increased after 2020 when a two-year post-study work visa was reintroduced for graduate students.
Pair these with cutting-edge research, world-class faculty, and state-of-the-art facilities, and many Indian students feel they can get unparalleled opportunities at UK universities.
This is exactly the reason Laxdip Pendharkar applied for the Chevening Scholarship to study in the UK.
“In the UK, one gets the opportunity to study under the world’s top lecturers along with students coming from a diversity of backgrounds, cultures, countries, experiences, etc. So, I can say UK universities have the best combination of global-level knowledge and network,” he shares.
7 reasons the number of Indian students studying in the UK is increasing
1. Many top universities
The UK is home to some of the oldest universities and colleges worldwide, established in the 12th and 13th centuries. Many are established names, with headstarts that have set a benchmark for other countries.
The University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford, among others, have consistently ranked within the top 10 or top 20 lists.
According to the World University Rankings, three of the top 10 universities are located in the UK.
Notable Indian figures call these universities their alma maters. They include:
- Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the nationalist movement against the British rule of India
- Jawaharlal Nehru, first prime minister of independent India (1947 to 1964)
- Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Law and Justice minister in the first cabinet of Jawaharlal Nehru
- Indira Gandhi, former prime minister of India (1966 to 1977 and 1980 to 1984)
- Manmohan Singh, economist and prime minister of Inda (2004 to 2014)
- Dr. Amartya Sen, winner of 1998 Nobel Prize in economics
2. High-quality education
To ensure and maintain this quality, the educational system in the UK undergoes regular evaluations and assessments conducted by the independent Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).
This agency meticulously examines professional bodies, research institutes, and educational institutions to ensure that education meets the highest standards.
Such standards are crucial in ensuring there are “effective teaching” and “high-quality curriculum and assessments” — which are some of the most important factors for a good education, as found by the 2021 McKinsey Global Survey on Education by McKinsey & Company.
3. Working while studying
The median monthly salary of Indians is around US$330. A UK degree costs up to US$9,250 a year.
Add living expenses and the total bill for a UK degree can be astronomical for the average Indian. Many depend on financial aid, especially scholarships, and part-time work.
In the UK, international students can work for a maximum of 20 hours per week.
During semester breaks and holidays, however, they can work full-time.
Common part-time jobs in the UK include working as a customer service representative, barista, waiter or dog walker. On average, international students can expect to earn around 100 pounds per week for part-time jobs in the UK.
4. Travelling across Europe
The UK has excellent connections to major European countries like the Netherlands, France, and Belgium. Thanks to its close proximity and well-established transportation systems, the UK serves as an ideal starting point for European travel.
International students have access to trains and affordable flights (as low as 10 euros at one point) making it easy to visit neighbouring countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and many others.
Europe offers a wide range of experiences for students to engage with, from visiting the Eifel Tower in Paris to exploring the Colosseum in Rome. You will also be able to discover the diverse culture while indulging in delicious European food such as gelato, paella, macarons, stroopwafels and many more.
Whether they’re looking for a short city break, an adventurous road trip, or a longer summer vacation, international students in the UK have the opportunity to expand their horizons, form new friendships, and create lasting memories as they embark on exciting journeys throughout Europe.
5. Post-study work visa
The UK has introduced a programme called the Graduate Route, which grants international students the option to remain in the country for up to two years after completing their undergraduate or postgraduate studies.
They are allowed to work during this period if they secure a job or can stay in the country as they actively search for suitable employment opportunities.
The Graduate Route is an unsponsored visa category that does not impose restrictions on the number of hours, type of work, or minimum salary requirements. This means that students will be allowed to gain work experience, participate in internships or work as freelancers in the UK.
This opportunity is extended for PhD students, allowing them to stay for three years instead of just two.
6. Job opportunities in the UK
The UK has been experiencing a shortage of skilled workers in a number of its industries.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently released a report stating a record high of 1.2 million official vacancies in the UK.
This is good news for international students in the UK as there will be more opportunities for well-paid jobs in the country.
The skilled shortage list includes job roles such as:
- biological scientists
- business analysts
- graphic designers
Employers and reputable companies highly value Indian students who graduate from top universities in the UK. Graduates from prestigious institutions like the University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, and UCL are regarded as some of the most employable applicants worldwide.
UK institutes support students in gaining valuable professional experience through internships and placements. According to the QS Graduate Employability Rankings, UK graduates are recognised as among the most employable globally.
7. Shorter programmes
Another reason the number of Indian students studying in the UK is at an all-time high is due to the shorter programmes offered.
MBA, MiM, MA, and MSc are some of the high-demand programmes that can be completed over a shorter duration in the UK. They take one year to complete, compared to two years in the US.
In the UK, the education system is designed by placing a greater focus on the practical aspect rather than technical knowledge. As such, university courses tend to be shorter and more intensive than those in Indian universities.
Indian students studying in the UK will be able to complete their graduate programmes within just one to one and a half years instead of studying for two years or more. Many Indian students are drawn to these programmes as it provides them with a shorter route to achieving their degree without compromising their studies or future.