Indian student laughing with other international students. Mobility trends Indian students studying abroad.

Mobility trends in Indian students studying abroad | iSchoolConnect

Last Updated on July 13, 2020 by iSchoolConnect

While destinations like the USA and Canada are popular among Indian students studying abroad, the students’ migration preferences are slowly changing.

In the global arena of overseas education, India competes at the second position, with the world’s top countries that send their students to pursue higher education abroad. Given the large number of Indian students studying abroad, one major question to be asked is: What influences overseas education among Indian students?

According to UNESCO, 5 million students went abroad for their higher education in 2018 and 750,000 of those happened to be from India. USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and Germany have been some of the most preferred countries by international students. From cultural influences to immigration policies, a lot goes into making the final decision. Let’s discuss in detail all factors that influence Indian Study Abroad aspirants.

Trends among Indian students studying abroad

The global academic front has changed drastically throughout the years. Countries around the globe have introduced diverse program options that draw international students to them. University diversity, financial aid options, employment opportunities, the potential ROI and the facilities provided by these countries are the primary factors that act as the driving force for students to broaden their horizons and become a global citizen.

UNESCO published interesting statistics in 2018 about countries that have the highest contributions to student mobility.

East Asia and the Pacific have the highest mobility range of more than 1.5 million students per year. North America with a number of 700,000 comes in second. South and West Asia, as well as Western Europe, recorded the mobility of 600,000 successful aspirants.

According to Project Atlas (2017-2018 report), the growth in demand rate in the year 2018 (in comparison with the year 2017) is as follows:

  • Canada grew as a host country with a massive growth rate of 18.8%.
  • Spain ranked second with a growth rate of 15.3%.
  • Australia saw a growth of 13.5% and the Netherlands stood at 11.7%.
  • The list also includes China at 10.5% and Japan at 10.1%.
  • Australia(32%), New Zealand (15.2%), UK(21%) and Canada(18.3%) host the largest share apart from US & other host international education destinations.

Why do Indian students study abroad?

Cultural elements, such as language, religion, infrastructure, university culture, and student diversity have a deep influence on students. The presence of the Indian community and the residents’ socioeconomic status also impacts the final choice.

Out of all the reasons listed above, here are the primary parameters that have influenced Indian students to study abroad over time:

1) Easier admissions: Admission to Indian universities can be challenging due to high cut-off and competition. Consequently students with good grades and a sufficient budget steer towards choosing education abroad.

2) Better specialization options: Students get to explore the lesser heard subjects and combinations that are commonly available abroad.

3) Quality of Academics: Be it the resources shared with students, healthcare benefits, exposure or financing opportunities, all critical influencing factors greatly influence students.

4) Immigration opportunities: 80% of the students who head to pursue higher-ed from India to USA or Canada, end up residing in the host country as immigrants.

5) Better research platforms: With universities offering and funding exclusive research topics, this acts as a major deciding criterion for many students.

Countries preferred by Indian students studying abroad in 2019

A recent report showed a detailed movement of the outbound students to the various host destinations. The host countries most popular among outbound students are – USA, Canada, UK, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and China.

Displayed above, are a few quick statistics that help us gauge a host country’s mobility vis a vis its inbound students. USA receives over 54% of students from China. This is followed by India (29%), South Korea(8%), Saudi Arabia(5%) and Canada(4%) In Canada, the percentage of Indian students (53%) can be seen is the highest. From the graph below it can be deduced that most host countries receive their students from – China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and a few other Asian countries.

Shifting destination preferences

From the year 2000 to 2016,  the migration pattern has drastically changed,  as represented in the graph above. The preference of countries has transformed as well. For example, at the beginning of the decade, the percentage of  Indian students who had traveled overseas increased from 66K in 2000 to 301K in 2016, based on the data generated by UNESCO, Institute of Statistics. Let’s compare the percentage change vis a vis inbound students of a few host countries.

In 2000, the major share of Indian students overseas was divided into 4 major countries. The US ranked first with a substantial 59%. Australia, UK, and Canada followed next with a share of 7%, 6%, and 1% respectively. The remaining 27% included all the other countries. However, this trend has certainly seen a shift. Recent statistics indicate that there is a clear switch in Indian student preferences while choosing a country for overseas education. In  2016, Australia showed a growth of 8% thereby displaying a migration percentage of over 15%.  Just like Australia, Canada’s inbound migration bumped up to 7%. On the other hand, the US showed a percentage drop in the inbound migration. While in absolute numbers the US  still ranks as the most popular host country, the inbound student migration spiraled down from 59% to 45%.

The reason for this shift is the increase in courses provided by some of the other countries and the ease of admission process. Germany, Ireland, South Korea, Singapore are some of the examples of countries students have started to prefer. Scholarships, inclusive nature of the universities, ease in visa policies also played an important part in this shift to occur.

Ease of Immigration

Four preliminary factors that directly influence immigration among international students are-

  • The cost of immigration
  • National marketing strategy i.e the path to immigration and work permits
  • Employment opportunities
  • Stay back policies

USA noted the highest cost of immigration whereas Canada and UK showed lower costs comparatively. Australia, New Zealand, and Germany showcased moderate to low costs. Work permits while studying have more or less remained universal among all host countries i.e. 20 hours per week for all degree going students and above.

Three countries that showed education in the host country as an added benefit during the immigration process are- Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. On the other hand, USA, UK, and Germany gave no such extra points to immigrants.

Impact of a country’s growth and economy

Does the GDP influence the behavior of a student’s outbound mobility? A report by University World News proves that it does. Countries like China, India, and South Korea send the most number of students to study overseas. On questioning the macro-level factors we came across the concept of Outbound Mobility Ratio commonly known as, OMR.

World report states that the OMR “measures the number of students from a given country studying abroad as a percentage of that country’s total tertiary enrolment at home”. Few other factors influencing OMR are – per capita income, population size, tertiary supply and demand, development status and language.

Another report mentioned that employment opportunities generated by a country, it’s per capita income, and standard of living, also have an influence over students who look at immigration vis a vis post-education career prospects. Flexible immigration policies and higher wages affect students to seek employment. US National Science Foundation’s Survey reveals that about 80% of students from India and other Asian countries choose to remain in America after completing their grad6uate and doctoral studies. We also evaluated tertiary supply and demand for education in sending countries. Rising demand for tertiary education in Global South countries is a  consequence of rapid population growth, increased family affordability, and urbanization.

How can you create an effective student recruitment plan?

Modern age recruitment techniques

  1. Use of AI & tech: Incorporating technologies such as chatbots that answer thousands of queries and application filtering tools could assist in shortlisting the best-suited candidates.
  2. Sharing student testimonials: A survey showed that students are primarily influenced by two factors, firstly the desire to experience a new culture and secondly student stories of others who studied abroad.
  3. Breaking myths and fears: Students even with exceptional profiles fear overseas education especially due to myths around financing. Sharing information regarding scholarships & financial institutions would be helpful to students.
  4. CRM | Managing data | Geo-tagging: Proper management of prospective student data pools aid in administration and customized targeting of leads. For instance, geographically tailored scholarships in liaison with country governing bodies could help.
  5. Webinars | Social media | YouTube: Social media channels aid in reaching out to students at scale and helps in creating a strong brand visibility.
  6. Capture student attention at a nascent stage: Every college is trying to make a strong perception of itself. Most students claim that they make the choice of studying abroad from high school years.

What does the future hold?

Can more Indian students be expected to study abroad? A recent report by Study International news stated that not only will there be a rise in the number of students willing to study abroad, countries (India, Vietnam, and Nigeria) with low to middle income will supersede China. With China’s economy witnessing a slowdown, emerging countries “are likely to drive demand in growth”, stated a report.

In fact, the global international student enrolment is expected to grow to 6.9 million with an annual CAGR of 2.97% by 2030. A complex mix of socio-cultural parameters, economic parameters and decision making at an individual level would deeply influence the movement of students for their international education.


This detailed study has lead us to identify the various possible factors that impact the global movement of Indian students. There can be different reasons for this shift, but the most common ones are based on the changes in visa policies, job opportunities, quality of education and socio-cultural diversity. For instance, students prefer Singapore or Ireland due to flexible visa policies. It came to light that the post-study job opportunities too, play a big role.
It is for the same reason that Canada and Australia showed growth as host countries. Students prefer Germany and Sweden because of its affordable education. US stands strong as one of the top host countries despite high investment due to its high ROI and premium quality of education. Accommodation, food, and climate are a few other secondary reasons that influence students. All of these factors contribute in unison to show where the Indian student diaspora stands in the global education landscape.

As the number of Indian students studying abroad steadily rises, they look beyond the conventional choices for their higher education opportunities. Universities worldwide are trying to scale their student recruitment process in order to cater to the increasing influx of international students. iSchoolConnect assists institutions and organizations around the globe virtually scale their enrollment processes and also boost student engagement. Contact us for a demo at iSchoolConnect or email us at

Rashmi Kango

A writer by day and a reader by night, Rashmi is a quirky cog, in the wheel that is iSchoolConnect. She spends her days writing intriguing and informative articles about all things Higher-Ed.

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4 thoughts on “Mobility trends in Indian students studying abroad | iSchoolConnect”

  1. Really Good and Detail article. Travelling to a brand-new nation without a guide is indeed risky and also tough.The choice of right college in your desired nation is top concern.

  2. I have read your blogs and it’s really worth. Each blogs gives complete info about the topic with proper clarity. Moreover it is well presented with facts and justification. Great work (both Rashmi Kango & Ankita Nagpal). Really Appreciable!!!

  3. Very good article, many students are now opting to move abroad for higher studies. Most of them are selecting UAE universities for higher education. Many international universities have branches there. One such university is the University of Wollongong in Dubai, where the students get a world-class education at a lower cost. This is also an option for choosing Dubai as a higher study destination.

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