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UK must demonstrate value for money to Indian students, British Council warns

The UK remains the most popular destination for ambitious Indian students seeking status and high quality courses, a survey has found.

Despite competition from the US, Australia and an expanding higher education sector in India itself, the UK is still the most sought after by young Indians for a university education.

But the British Council, which conducted the study, has warned that with Indian students becoming more cost sensitive, UK institutions are going to have to work harder to maintain their position in the market.

The research was conducted over the last three months to explore the views of more than 10,000 young people across India. It identifies a changing pattern of decision making among young Indians as they choose where to study. Most put the quality of the higher education first, but they are increasingly cost sensitive and keen to find financial support through scholarships and bursaries.

High quality courses and institutions remained by far the greatest pull factor for the students when choosing whether to study at home or abroad. The UK was the most favoured destination, chosen by 21 per cent of respondents, followed by the United States (19 per cent), and India itself, selected by 14 per cent.

A report on the findings, Inside India - A new status quo, says the survey found young Indians put British universities first for taught postgraduate courses.  The UK was also top with the United States as a quality destination for research doctorates and undergraduate degrees. In particular, the majority of students choosing courses in business and administrative studies said they wanted to study in the UK.

The findings follow the launch of the Government’s Education is GREAT Britain campaign for marketing UK education globally as part of its industrial strategy.
India is a key market for international students, providing the second largest contingent of international students in the UK after China, with between 75 per cent and 80 per cent enrolled on postgraduate degrees.

However, authors of the report warn that continued high demand for courses cannot be taken for granted. Both the US and the UK have seen the number of students from India decline over the last year, after a period of year on year increases.

Young Indians in the survey identified high cost as a significant barrier to study abroad, particularly following the depreciation of the Indian currency. Based on figures from HSBC in August, the report estimates the cost to Indians of studying in the UK has gone up by £5.600 due to the fall in the value of the rupee.

Elizabeth Shepherd, the British Council’s Education Intelligence Research Manager based in Hong Kong and the author of the report, says there will continue to be a segment of Indian households that can afford to finance overseas study and see it as a highly valued opportunity.

But she added: “However, this segment has decreased and may continue to do so, contrary to popular views of the boundless untapped potential in India for international students.  The focus of the Indian government on improving the volume and quality of higher education has positioned India’s own institutions as fierce competitors for domestic students on an unprecedented scale."

When asked for the three most important factors in selecting a study destination, the largest group, 61%, said quality of education. Cost was the second consideration, cited by 42% and 43%, said they would be influenced by scholarship opportunities. Nearly a quarter, 23%, said the option to work in the foreign country after graduation and whilst studying was important to them.

Richard Everitt, Director of Education and Society for the British Council in India, said: “We are entering a new era where traditional flows are being disrupted for a number of reasons. Yes, the UK is the number one choice for young Indians who want to study overseas, but there are new dynamics coming into play.  UK universities may want to consider how they are demonstrating their quality, their value for money and related incentives. They could also seek to highlight industry links, including internships, that relate to employability,” he said.

The British Council this year launched 370 scholarships for Indian students in the UK. A one day conference ‘New approaches to higher education partnerships with India' is being held on 13 February 2014 at Senate House in London for those in the UK HE sector working with India. It is free of charge, but limited to 100 delegates. Registration via www.britishcouncil.org will open on Monday 13 January.