HomeBussinessForget US, Canada, UK: Indian students now prefer Netherlands, Finland

Forget US, Canada, UK: Indian students now prefer Netherlands, Finland


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Historical data from Redseer indicates that 75-80% of Indian students who pursued education abroad traditionally chose one of the Big 4 destinations: the US, UK, Canada, and Australia & New Zealand. Photo: Shutterstock

Unable to secure an H-1B visa in the US, or disheartened by the tightening visa norms in Canada, the UK, and Australia? The days when these countries were considered the ultimate destination for Indian students seeking international education are over. Young Indians are increasingly turning to unconventional study destinations.

“The number of Indian students studying abroad has soared to nearly 1.5 million since 2012, showcasing a growing interest in international education and migration opportunities. Yet, with recent changes in visa regulations across popular destinations like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, many are exploring alternative options,” says Shalini Lambah, chief executive, India, at Migrate World, DUDigital Global.

Key points:

* 2024 is set to spotlight alternative study destinations for Indians, such as Ireland, the Netherlands, Finland, Singapore, South Korea, Lithuania, Estonia, Chile, Turkey, Malta, and Taiwan.

* The Big 4 (US, UK, Canada, Australia & New Zealand) continue to be highly sought-after, despite tightening visa restrictions.

Where are Indian students heading now?

 “Young Indians are increasingly moving towards Europe. Study hubs such as Ireland, the Netherlands, and Finland are becoming highly attractive to Indian talent. Similarly, in Asia, Singapore and South Korea are also emerging as appealing options for education and migration,” Lambah adds.

She also notes that the European Union has been encouraging legal migration to address labour shortages, fill skill gaps, and boost economic growth.

What challenges do traditional destinations face?

The shift in preference can be attributed to several factors. The post-Brexit UK is grappling with economic challenges and a less welcoming attitude towards migrants. Canada is struggling with an accommodation crisis and limited spots for international students, coupled with a strained diplomatic relationship with India. The US is recognised for its high costs and limited employment opportunities for most.

How are students adapting to new challenges?

“Current trends indicate that the opportunities for international students worldwide are becoming increasingly challenging. Many students are preparing in advance to become residents of the countries they are interested in. By obtaining residency, these students gain the same benefits as domestic ones, which can significantly enhance their chances of visa approval,” Lambah explains.

She further mentions that the most popular destinations now have very low acceptance rates for international applicants — sometimes as low as 0.1 per cent. This situation has led many students to pursue residency in countries like Portugal and Ireland, where residency can be obtained in a year to a year and a half. “Planning in advance for residency allows students the freedom to work or start businesses after graduation without the usual limitations placed on non-residents,” she adds.

“It’s important to note that in recent decades, the cost of university tuition has risen significantly, surpassing other expenses such as housing and medical care,” she says.

What attracts students to alternative study destinations?

It’s primarily based on the following:

— lower costs

— student-friendly policies

— promising job prospects

“The appeal of these alternative destinations lies in their lower costs, student-friendly policies, and promising job prospects,” notes an industry expert.

“Countries like Portugal are known for their education in hotel management, while Switzerland is preferred for hospitality. Japan is becoming a leading destination for studies in AI and technology, and South Korea is gaining popularity for fashion. France remains a top choice for those interested in luxury brands and fashion,” explains Shalini Lambah.

Indian students abroad

In 2022, there was a striking resurgence in the number of Indian students pursuing higher studies abroad, with figures soaring to an unprecedented 900,000, surpassing the pre-Covid numbers of 700,000 in 2019. Projections now point towards an ambitious trajectory with an estimated 2 million Indian students poised to pursue international education by 2027, reflecting a compelling 16 per cent Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR).

ALSO READ: H-1B visa rules from April 1: Pay more, file correctly or risk rejection

How do work visa regulations influence decisions?

“If we consider work visas, they often restrict the holder to work for a specific company and require leaving the country if employment with that company ends, unless another job with sponsorship is secured. However, in a world that is becoming increasingly global, people, especially young adults, seek fewer restrictions and more certainty in their careers. This has made Germany’s EU Blue Card, the work permits in Canada, and opportunities in France particularly attractive options,” Lambah notes.

Has interest in traditional destinations waned?

Recent data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) shows a 4 per cent decrease in Indian students applying for undergraduate courses in the UK.

Kushal Bhatnagar, associate partner at Redseer, suggests a shifting trend: “2022 was one of the best years for the Big 4. But 2024 will be the year for alternative destinations. With stringent regulations imposed by Canada and the UK, the market is expected to shift towards alternative countries like Germany, Singapore, Ireland, the Netherlands, and South Korea.”

However, despite the elevated cost of education in the US, its appeal persists due to a robust reputation for STEM courses and well-funded research ecosystems. Canada presents itself as a compelling alternative, offering cost-effective education.

Historical data from Redseer indicates that 75-80 per cent of Indian students who pursued education abroad traditionally chose one of the Big 4 destinations: the US, UK, Canada, and Australia & New Zealand.

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