Students from India Crossing Borders for Higher Education

Dr. Louis Berends is University Relations Manager, Midwest at SIT Study Abroad. Lou holds a Ph.D. from Loyola University Chicago (LUC) in Cultural and Educational Policy Studies. He has studied at Brunel University (Uxbridge, U.K.), the University of Oxford (St. Catherine’s College), and LUC’s Rome Center in Italy. He has presented many academic papers at various settings including Columbia University –Teachers College and Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. He enjoys reading, music, and anything outdoors.

Students from India Crossing Borders for Higher Education: “Pushed and Pulled” by Reputation, Family, and Field of Study By Louis Berends, Ph.D. 

Each day the world feels a little smaller. To be sure, globalization can be seen in many forms these days – through the McDonaldization of capitalized nations, international assessment of education at all levels, and the ease for anyone to flip a switch and view ongoing wars and uprisings captured on live television. Beyond the definitions that refer to economic linkages and the death of the nation-state, globalization is a process (Rhoads, 2006). It is a process for understanding the world in which we live in – a lens into the complex and interconnectedness of many nations and institutions that have come to define the beginning of the 21st Century. Not only are the forces of globalization (i.e., the internet, technology and innovation) driving current global market conditions, it is also the process that drives the emerging knowledge economy that shapes the future financial landscape (Gürüz, 2008).

One such form of globalization can be understood by examining the process of international student mobility. More students than ever before are studying higher education in other countries than in any other era previous. There are accepted benchmarks that currently exist on measuring international higher education, namely those housed at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics, and the Open Doors Report from the Institute for International Education (IIE). However, all reports fall short in measuring the “why” factor (among other methodological shortcomings). Moreover, how can we measure the elusive question of “why” students pursue higher education outside of their home countries? One such way to conceptualize why students decide to study in other countries is to frame the discussion through “push” and “pull” theory.

Mazzarol et al. (2002) postulate that “push factors operate within the source country and initiate a student’s decision [and] pull factors operate within a host country to make that country relatively attractive to international students.” In the context of students from India, scholarships, reputation of program abroad, and professional and work-related opportunities can all be considered “pull” factors. Meanwhile, “push” factors may involve family pressures, geographic proximity, and unfair access to local education (to name a few). My current research examines graduate students from India in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) that pursue studies in the U.S. or Australia and the specific decision-making processes experienced and then self-reporting through self-reflection.

In order to fully capture the decision-making experiences of graduate students from India, I selected a mixed methods approach to my research methodology. Samples were drawn from two U.S. universities located in or near a large metropolitan area in the Midwest, and two comparable Australian universities located in Western Australia.

The complexity of measuring student flows in the global market of higher education is vast. Cross-border students can, and continue to be seen as “cash cows” (Marginson, 2002). Understanding the true nature and context of decision-making processes of the increasingly mobile international student is layered with a multitude of considerations. Such considerations relate to the overarching theme of student choice and selection of higher education institutions overseas. There are a wide range of reasons and factors that contribute to the overall decision-making process of students from India. Future studies attempting to extract the various decision-making factors of STEM field students would be wise to design an instrument based on pilot surveys and focus groups with the targeted constituents before implementing large scale research efforts. When comparing students from India that decide to go to the U.S. vs. Australia, higher education administrators would do well in consulting the many experts that exist in the area of international higher education; however, the short answer is, no – prospective students from India are no longer going down under, they’re going everywhere else.
Dr. Berends’ dissertation is available at

Picture by Dr. Louis Berends


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