After the United States, Britain and Australia, Indian students are now heading towards China for higher education.
Last month, some 230 Indian students joined various Chinese universities for medical studies.
India's higher education sector is undergoing a churning process these days. Although the country offers world-class education at competitive costs -- for instance the IITs and IIMs -- the number of foreign students enrolling in Indian universities has considerably dwindled in the last decade.
Like in foreign investment, China has outpaced India in capturing the international education market. Education experts who visited China say the Communist nation has become the most sought after study-abroad destination.
"India is just missing the international education bus. China has invested so much in higher education over the years that that the country is producing many more quality students than India. No wonder then that Indians too want to study in China," says S Gopinath, an education expert who regularly guides Indian students on getting admission to various Chinese colleges.
Asian Education Consultancy, a top consulting company in southern India, says medical education in China is of a higher quality and lower cost compared to India.
Last month, AEC sent 122 Indian students to the Three Gorges University in the Hubei province in Yichang in China.
"Medical education in India is so costly that only the rich can afford it. Now China is emerging as a hot destination for Indian students for medical education," says AEC Director Niyaz Mohammed.
Each Indian student to the Three Gorges University pays Rs 800,000, which includes accommodation, food and all expenses for the entire five-year medicine course. The amount has to be paid in parts on a yearly basis. Apart from this, students pay Rs 43,000 as airfare.
Mohammed says the education cost in China is cheap.
"Consider what you have to pay to become a doctor in India. Admission fee alone in some medical colleges in India runs into Rs 25 lakhs," he says.
Mohammed who has been to various Chinese colleges and universities says the higher education sector in China is vastly modernised compared to that in India.
India sends the largest number of students to America; 74,600 students enrolled in US colleges and universities in 2002-2003. But education experts feel in course of time, China will have the largest number of Indian students.
Experts like Gopinath and Mohammed point out the following reasons for the shift:
- China has Top 100 universities that are well resourced. China's universities turn out thousands of bachelor degree holders, similar to an Indian IIT graduate. They easily get admissions in the top universities of the world.
- China turns out more top candidates each year than India, as it has more world-class universities.
- China has opened up higher education for both private and foreign investment. Foreign investors can come in by tying up with local Chinese partners.
- Unlike India, China is experiencing a great deal of two-way international student traffic. China has become one of the world's great study-abroad destinations. Currently more than 60,000 foreigners study in Chinese universities, and that number is swelling each year.
- China is the number-one choice for US students who want to study in Asia. Very few Americans study in India.
As more and more foreign students including Indians travel to China for higher education, admissions of foreign students in Indian universities have fared badly over the years.
According to a study by the Association of Indian Universities, the number of foreign students in India shrunk from 12,765 in 1992-93 to 7,745 in 2003-04. The AIU study covered 277 major Indian universities.
The study says Malaysian students formed the largest foreign component in India this year -- 806. They were followed by Nepal (681students), Iran (472) and Kenya (442).
This was in sharp contrast to the position in 1992-1993 when Kenya sent 3,980 students to India. In 1993-1994, India had 1,421 students from Malaysia and 909 from Nepal.
AIU has listed two significant reasons for this decline in foreign students to Indian universities: the lackadaisical attitude from the government in promoting Indian universities abroad and the poor quality of education in most Indian universities.
AIU now wants the human resources development ministry to hold regular education camps in foreign countries to attract students.
"Universities from abroad are conducting large number of camps here to recruit Indian students. Why can't India chalk out a similar education strategy to attract foreign students," asks Gopinath.
Image: Uday Kuckian