Indian students aspire for top US universities: Applications up; offers down

In my earlier postings, I argued that Indians will continue to go abroad for higher education and US will maintain its prominence. The recent report by the Council of Graduate Studies confirms the trend. According to this report, applications from India for fall 2010 are up by 1%. Many expected that the impact of recession and increasing choices both at home and abroad would decrease the outward mobility of Indian students. However, I believe that outward mobility will remain high for at least three reasons:
1. Indian higher education system has grown at a rate much faster than the capacity of the economy to absorb.
2. Quality of higher education at majority of the institutions is mediocre resulting in skills gap and unemployability.
3. Further education options at the graduate level in India are not very aspirational, except MBA.

  • More Indians are aiming for top-100 institutions:

Within the US, Indian students continue to aspire for top-100 institutions. This is an indicator of the “reputation” obsession by many prospective Indian students. For example, according to the CGS survey, applications from Indians increased by 12% for 10 largest institutions but fell by 8% for institutions outside 100 largest institutions, in terms of the graduate degrees awarded in academic year 2007-08. This perception issue poses challenges for institutions outside top-100 in attracting Indian talent, despite having excellent programs and fit with the student.

  • Acceptance of Indian students is slowing at the leading US institutions:

While Indian students continue to apply to the US universities, there seems to be slowing down of the acceptance by leading US institutions. This is evident from the decreasing rate of offers to Indian students as compared to the increasing rate of applications by Indians. For last three years, number of offers to Indian applicants had been decreasing. This includes admission to fall 2009 class when applications from India fell by 12% but offers fell even sharper by 14%.

Given that a large proportion of Indian applicants are competing for the same top-100 institutions, which already have large number of Indian students, the rate of acceptance had been decreasing at these institutions.  This is in contrast with admissions trends from China, which has seen double digit growth in applications and offers in last three years. This could also be a result of higher propensity of Indian applicants to rely on scholarships/assistantships as compared to Chinese applicants.

  • 3 out of 4 Indian students are enrolled in engineering/computer science or  business

Indian students are also very heavily concentrated in engineering or business fields. For example, 1 out of 2 Indian student is enrolled in engineering or computer science (NSF Report, 2010). This is in primarily driven by the expansion of engineering programs at undergraduate level in India and also it had been relatively easy to find work opportunity in the US IT services industry. With Business field added in mix, 3 out of 4 Indians are enrolled in Engineering/Computer Science and Business. This clearly indicates, the popularity of career-safe, professional programs among Indian students.

Recent trends, reaffirm that expansion and supply characteristics at undergraduate level in India will continue to fuel aspirations of Indian students to study abroad, especially the US. They will also continue to seek programs that support professional and career advancement.

Any thoughts/comments?

– Dr. Rahul Choudaha

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