AMBALA/SYDNEY/TORONTO Sachin, who was 19, didn’t get the grades he needed to get into a good college in India, so his father, a small shopkeeper, took out a loan and spent a lot of the family’s savings to help him get a student visa to study in Canada.
The 2 million rupees ($25,035) they scraped together paid for English language lessons from Western Overseas, one of dozens of visa consultancies in Ambala, about 250 km from New Delhi, that promise better lives if you study abroad.
Sachin, who only goes by one name, said, “My dream is to live abroad because I don’t see a future for myself in India.” He now wants to fly to Canada, where he hopes to get a two-year diploma in business management and eventually a longer work visa.
Indians from the middle class have been looking for better opportunities in other countries for decades. Now, as the economy gets worse, families from poorer rural areas, like Sachin’s, are making big investments to set up new lives for their children in other countries.
Sachin says that his two friends, who now live in Canada, work part-time and earn about C$1,200 ($918) a month while studying for diplomas.
Now that many countries have lifted COVID restrictions, a lot of Indian students are going to places like the US, Canada, Australia, the UK, Ireland, and New Zealand. In early 2022, there were almost a million Indian students going to places like the US, Canada, Australia, the UK, Ireland, and New Zealand. This is about twice as many as there were before the pandemic.
Consultancies like Western Overseas help students prepare for English language tests, choose courses, apply for visas, plan trips, and even find part-time jobs.
Catriona Jackson, the CEO of Universities Australia, said in Sydney that there are now more than 76,000 Indian students studying in Australia. This number is expected to grow after both countries signed a bilateral trade pact this year.
Many people are applying for short courses in Canada and Australia because job prospects at home are getting worse and Western governments are making it easier for people to move there to go to college and get jobs.
A report from the consulting firm Red Seer in 2021 says that the overseas education market will more than double by 2024, going from about $30 billion to $80 billion. This is because global incomes and middle-class aspirations are going up.
Visa consultants say that the rising cost of private education and the decline in public sector and manufacturing jobs in India have forced thousands of families to mortgage their homes or take out bank loans to send their children to school abroad.
Even though the Indian rupee has dropped by 7% this year, families have still paid the fees.
IDP Education’s South Asia head, Piyush Kumar, said, “The return on investment is very, very good.”
The company in Melbourne sends students from India to English-speaking countries like Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
He said that after two years of the pandemic, the company plans to open 27 offices in small towns all over India. This is because enrollments have gone up by more than 90%.
Several foreign universities and their local partners are holding education fairs in expensive five-star hotels and virtual sessions in small towns to try to attract students.
At a recent event like this, more than 500 students met at a luxury hotel in Chandigarh, about 40 km from Ambala, to talk about opportunities with more than 40 universities from Australia and Canada.
Gagandeep Singh, who owns a small business in the nearby town of Dera Bassi, came with his daughter, who has received offers from some Australian universities.
“I’m set on the University of Canberra, where my sister got her Master’s in pharmacy,” said Singh’s daughter, Jashandeep Kaur, citing safety and job opportunities for women as her main concerns.
In the past few years, better Internet access has made it possible for visa consultants to reach new markets in rural areas, in addition to the traditional ways they advertise.
Top places for Indian students to go to school: http://graphics.reuters.com/India-Economy/Education/MyVMNeegDPR/Chart.png
“We share our success stories on Facebook (NASDAQ:META) and other platforms,” said Bhupesh Sharma, the marketing head of Western Overseas, which has grown to nine major cities in northern India and sent almost a thousand students abroad.
“This year, we want to send about 5,000 students abroad,” said Pradeep Baliyan, the company’s founder. He also said that they had opened offices in Australia and Canada to help students find jobs there.
India is having trouble giving its young people enough college spots and jobs. It has more than 300 million students in school, and more and more of them want to go to college.
Graphics: http://graphics.reuters.com/INDIA-ECONOMY/EDUCATION/myvmneegdpr/chart.png for the unemployment rate
The outlook is especially bad for women, whose participation rate of 25% is the lowest among major economies. Many Indians have left because of this and the fact that millions of salaried jobs have been cut in the last few years.
In fact, many Western countries can’t reopen fast enough after two painful years of pandemic travel restrictions. During that time, their economies suffered from a lack of foreign workers, and their universities suffered from a lack of full-paying international students.
Beijing’s strict zero-COVID border policies have made it hard for Chinese students to study abroad. This has made Indian students even more important and increased competition in the global education sector for their fees.
“It’s easy to get permanent residency in Canada, which is a big draw for Indian students,” said Rahul Oswal, founder of the consulting firm Wisdom Overseas.
He also said that Canada’s programmes for post-graduate work and residency are much more flexible than those in the UK and the US.
Canadian universities are teaming up with international consultancies like ApplyBoard and IDP to take advantage of India’s growing demand for education from abroad.
David Tubbs, the director of marketing communications at ApplyBoard, an online platform for recruiting international students, said, “We have a partnership with universities and a connection with local immigration services in India.”
He said that these organisations hold about eight to ten fairs a year, including a large conference for the busy September intake and another in May. More than 1,100 people went to a workshop for recruiters in New Delhi not long ago.
ApplyBoard says that Canadian universities are less expensive than those in the UK, Australia, and the US. Tubbs said that the average cost of international undergraduate tuition in Canada was C$32,019 per year, while the average cost of graduate tuition was C$19,252.
No more steel rice bowls
Even though it was promised, starting a new life in the West is neither easy nor a sure thing.
Many visas are in limbo right now in places like Australia because immigration officials are working hard to get through the backlog of applications made during the pandemic.
Low-income Indians also have to pay a lot to study and live in countries like Canada, Australia, and the United States.
Nitika Mishra, a broadcasting student at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, said, “It is a huge amount. “Paying three times what a domestic student pays is a big problem for us, especially when it gets changed into Indian currency.”
Even though the rupee is near record lows, many Indians are still willing to take this risk.
Ambala, an army cantonment from the time when India was a British colony, usually draws hundreds of young people into the military every year with the promise of a job for life.
But recent changes to India’s armed forces recruitment programme have cut benefits and length of service, making it harder to move up in the country of 1.4 billion people.
In some places, this led to violent protests in June, and it has caused thousands of people to rethink their career paths.
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“To join the Army, I studied for two years and took a written test. But now I don’t see any reason to join. Vijay Chauhan, who is 18 and takes English classes at Western Overseas, where Sachin also got ready for his visa, said this.
“There is nothing else to do but leave India.”
($1 = 79.8875 Indian rupees)
(1 US dollar = 1.3067 Canadian dollars)