Indian students’ enrolment to US universities rises by 25% to a record high

The number of Indian students in the US rises to 165,918 in 2015-16, contributing more than $5.5 billion to the US economy.


Most of Indian students are pursuing graduate courses predominantly in engineering, computer science and management streams. Photo: Mint
Most of Indian students are pursuing graduate courses predominantly in engineering, computer science and management streams. Photo: Mint

New Delhi: The number of Indian students studying in the US touched a record 165,918 in 2015-16, rising 25% from the previous year and contributing over $5.5 billion to the American economy.

Indian students accounted for 15.9% of the 1 million-plus foreign students in the US in 2015-16 who collectively contributed $35 billion to the economy, according to the 2016 Open Doors data released by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in collaboration with the US department of state’s bureau of educational and cultural affairs.

The data showed that China and India continue to send the largest number of students, but India has broken a spell of stagnation, buoyed largely by a stable rupee vis-a-vis the dollar and fewer students going to the UK. Since 2010, the number of Indian students in the US had plateaued at 97,000-103,000 a year. In 2014-15 it jumped 29% to 132,888.

Most Indian students are pursuing graduate courses predominantly in engineering, computer science and management streams. In contrast, US students’ flow to India fell during the same period.

“With the stabilizing of the rupee against the dollar over the past couple of years, Indian students who had put their plans on hold were then able to come to the US. Second, the potential extension of Optional Practical Training (OPT) for up to a total of 36 months for the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields probably encouraged a lot of Indian students in those fields to apply to come to the US. While the extension itself went into effect this May (2016), it is possible that students were optimistic it would come through and were making their plans accordingly,” said Rajika Bhandari, deputy vice-president, research and evaluation, IIE.

“Lastly, the tightening of policies in the UK might have diverted some of the Indian students who would have studied there to the US instead,” Bhandari said.

The number of Indian students going to the UK has fallen sharply from over 18,500 in 2010-11 to around 11,000 largely due to tough visa rules of Britain and India’s refusal to treat UK’s one-year master’s degree courses on par with two-year post-graduate degrees back home.

While Indian students’ flow to the US jumped 24.9%, the highest by any country in percentage terms, US students’ flow to India saw a marginal dip. In 2014-15, at least 4,438 US students were in India for education, a drop of 3.2% from the 2013-14 academic year. The Open Doors data on US students in other countries has a one-year time lag.

Overall, the US hosted some 1,043,839 foreign students in 2015-16. While India contributed 15.9% to this number, China’s tally stood at 31.5%, sending 328,547 students to the US. California (149,328 foreign students), New York (114,316) and Texas (82,184 foreign students) are the three leading states favoured by international students.

Similarly, New York University (15,543 foreign students) University of Southern California Los Angeles (13,340) and Arizona State University in Tempe (12,751) were the three top academic destinations to attract foreign students in 2015-16.

As per Open Doors data, while foreign students contributed over $30.5 billion to the US economy, the money largely came from family or personal savings (66.5%). The other top sources of funding for international students was US college and universities’ scholarships (17%) and grants by home country governments or universities (7.4%).

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