Indian Student Mobility Across Countries In The Last 5 Years

I. Introduction

The surge in Indian students pursuing higher education abroad has become a noticeable trend in recent years, positioning India as the second-largest source country for international students globally. This phenomenon reflects the shifting landscape of global education and underscores India’s burgeoning economic influence and its citizens’ aspirations for academic excellence.

Based on recent data shared with the Rajya Sabha by the Ministry of External Affairs, Indian students are now pursuing higher education in more than 240 countries worldwide. While traditional destinations like the UK, US, Australia, and Canada remain favoured, emerging destinations such as Uzbekistan, Philippines, Russia, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan are gaining increasing attention.

This white paper aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the Indian student migration across countries over the past five years, specifically focusing on popular destinations and the driving factors behind students’ choices. By analyzing the latest data and trends in Indian student migration, this paper intends to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on this movement. The analysis will encompass a comprehensive review of the past five years, focusing on key drivers of this migration, popular destination preferences, academic fields of interest, financial implications, and the broader impact on India’s education system. 

II. Trends In Indian Students’ Migration

According to the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, the number of Indian students going abroad for higher studies has increased steadily over the past few years. In 2022, the number of Indian students studying abroad was around 750,000. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of Indians heading abroad for their education decreased in 2019-2022 and shot back soon enough, right after the stringent pandemic rules were relaxed. 

A. Number Of Indian Students Going Abroad Over The Past 5 Years

Trends in the Indian Student Movement

As evidenced by the above-mentioned data, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Germany are among the most popular destinations for Indian students seeking higher education abroad. These countries offer a range of advantages, such as world-class universities, excellent research facilities, and diverse academic programs. The USA and Canada are known for their high-quality education, friendly immigration policies, and ample job opportunities, while the UK and Australia boast a long-standing reputation for academic excellence and cultural diversity. Germany is another popular choice for Indian students due to its strong economy, high quality of education, and well-established scientific and research institutions. Ultimately, the choice of destination depends on the individual’s personal goals, financial situation, and academic interests.

The data indicates a notable increase in Indian students studying abroad following the pandemic. In 2022, approximately 750,000 Indian students went abroad for higher education, a significant rise compared to 450,000 in 2017 and 260,000 in 2020. Additionally, India surpassed China as the leading source of international students in the United States in 2022.

B. What Led To The Surge In Indian Student Mobility Across The Globe?

As India emerges as the second-largest source country for international students, it is clear that an increasing number of Indian students are venturing beyond borders in pursuit of academic excellence and diverse learning experiences. India ranks second only to China regarding the number of students pursuing international courses. The appeal of studying abroad extends beyond the realm of exciting research opportunities, as many countries offer a valuable post-study work option on visas, allowing foreign students to explore job prospects. 

Source: Oxford International Digital Institue

One of the primary reasons driving Indian students to seek education abroad is the opportunity to experience multiculturalism firsthand. Additionally, the following factors contribute to the attractiveness of pursuing international education:

  1. Attractive salary packages: A significant portion, comprising 44% of students, is enticed by the potential for lucrative remuneration upon completing their international education.
  2. High quality of education: Approximately 33% of students value the exceptional standards provided by universities abroad, which offer comprehensive and cutting-edge academic programs.
  3. Pursuit of niche courses: A notable proportion, accounting for 17% of students, is motivated by the chance to specialize in unique and specialized fields of study that may not be readily available in their home country.
  4. International exposure: Around 6% of students desire to broaden their horizons through exposure to diverse cultures and perspectives, enabling them to develop a global outlook.

These factors collectively contribute to the appeal of international education for Indian students, facilitating personal growth, expanding career opportunities, and fostering a deep understanding of the globalized world we live in.

C. The Transformative Impact Of COVID-19 On India

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on international education, particularly for Indian students aspiring to study abroad. Basis the information gathered from the Ministry of External Affairs & other reliable University surveys, here are some insights into the impact of COVID-19 on Indian students’ study abroad plans, including key trends, challenges, and potential opportunities.

The Rise Of A New Learning Paradigm: The pandemic spurred the development of hybrid education, which combines online and classroom teaching. This innovative approach allowed Indian students to complete initial coursework in India through online platforms before pursuing further studies abroad. While it offered potential cost savings, concerns remain regarding the legal recognition of hybrid degrees and their equivalence for government jobs and further studies in India.

Redefining Visa Norms: Countries worldwide responded to the pandemic by adjusting their visa requirements and processes. The United Kingdom, for instance, introduced a post-study work visa, granting students the opportunity to stay for two years after graduation to seek employment. Additionally, virtual interviews have replaced in-person interviews for visa applications, facilitating the mobility of Indian students.

Reassessing Admission Criteria: Top universities, including Harvard, Princeton, and MIT, have made standard tests such as the SAT, GRE, and GMAT optional for admissions. This shift has opened doors for students with average pre-board examination scores to apply directly to prestigious foreign institutions. However, this relaxation has introduced challenges in evaluating and differentiating between competitive candidates based solely on academic performance.

Enhancing Student Services: Foreign universities have prioritized improving student services in response to the pandemic. They offer support mechanisms, online courses, and fee waivers to new students, recognizing the mental health issues aggravated by the global health crisis. Some institutions have also introduced flexible learning options and reduced costs for online degrees, ensuring accessibility and affordability for Indian students.

Exploring The World Online: To counter travel restrictions and ensure global engagement, countries and counselling platforms have organized virtual study tours and global study festivals. These initiatives provide Indian students with opportunities to interact with college deans and gain insights into studying abroad. As countries eased restrictions, physical study abroad education festivals were also planned, attracting students with scholarships, streamlined English proficiency testing, and exam waivers.

D. Prominent Contributors: States Sending Highest Number Of Students Abroad

An analysis of student mobility patterns in India reveals the notable participation of specific states in sending students abroad for higher education. Among these states, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, and Maharashtra are prominent contributors, accounting for 12%, 12%, and 11%, respectively. This data sheds light on the preference of students from these regions to pursue educational opportunities overseas.

Source: Oxford International Digital Institue

The prominence of Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, and Maharashtra as key sources of international students is significant, given their status as some of the wealthiest states in India. This affluence is often accompanied by a heightened awareness of the manifold advantages offered by foreign education. The students from these states are strongly motivated to explore global opportunities, seeking to leverage the benefits of studying abroad to enhance their academic and career prospects.

III. Country-Specific Analysis

According to a report by RedSeer, the number of Indian students pursuing education abroad is expected to reach 1.8 million by 2024, with an estimated expenditure of US $85 billion. This surge in international students can be attributed to the allure of global professional opportunities in several countries hosting world-class universities. Notably, the younger generation, particularly Gen Z, is driven by the desire for self-dependence and the freedom to live on their terms. 

A. Comparison Of Countries In Terms Of The Indian Student Population

Pursuing higher education abroad has been increasingly popular among Indian students in recent years. The table below aims to shed light on the top countries hosting Indian students over the past five years. 

United States Of America120,7591,22,53562,4151,25,115190,512
United Kingdom25,04236,61244,90177,855132,709
Russian Federation14,85716,5451,38715,81419,784
United ArabEmirates13,4059,3412,9253,4275,892

The past five years have witnessed Indian students increasingly exploring international education opportunities. The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Germany emerged as the top destinations for Indian students during this period. These countries have attracted Indian students due to their world-class institutions, diverse academic programs, and welcoming environments. As the trend of studying abroad continues to grow, it is essential to understand the evolving preferences and aspirations of Indian students to further enhance opportunities for global education collaboration.

The following points can be concluded from the data represented in the table above –

  • With consistently high numbers, the United States is the most popular destination for Indian students. It witnessed significant growth, peaking at 190,512 Indian students in 2022, reflecting its attractiveness as an education hub.
  • Canada emerged as a favoured destination for Indian students, with a substantial increase in enrollment over the years. The number of Indian students nearly doubled, reaching 185,955 in 2022, indicating its growing appeal.
  • The United Kingdom continues to attract Indian students, offering a rich academic heritage and diverse learning opportunities. Despite fluctuations in enrollment, it maintained a strong presence, accommodating 132,709 Indian students in 2022.
  • Australia has been a popular choice for Indian students seeking quality education and a welcoming environment. Although the numbers fluctuated, it consistently hosted many Indian students, reaching 73,808 in 2019.
  • Known for its technological prowess and academic excellence, Germany attracted many Indian students. The student population witnessed steady growth, with 20,684 Indian students in 2022.
  • Other countries such as Russia, Singapore, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan, and the Philippines also hosted substantial numbers of Indian students, albeit varying from year to year.

B. Which Are The Most Popular Countries For Indian Students?

Over the past decade, the preferred destinations for Indian students studying abroad predominantly featured anglophone nations such as the UK, the USA, and Australia. However, the current trend reflects a significant shift, with students growing inclined to venture into new territories to pursue diverse academic opportunities. While anglosphere countries remain popular, several countries have gained prominence among Indian students as noteworthy study-abroad destinations in 2022. These countries offer a range of programs and courses that cater to the evolving interests and aspirations of Indian students. 

1. The United States Of America

As the perennial leader in attracting international students, the USA remains the top study-abroad destination worldwide. It continues to captivate Indian students with the allure of the American dream and offers excellent prospects in fields such as STEM, Business, Law, and more. Notably, the Open Doors Report indicated that between June and August 2022, Indian students received the highest number of visas, with 82,000 issued. Indian students studying in the USA play a significant role in bolstering the economy. According to former US Consul General in Mumbai, David Ranz, Indian students contribute a staggering $8 billion to the US economy, underscoring the mutually beneficial relationship between the two nations.

Why Is The USA Highly In Demand Among Indian Students?

  • The USA offers a lucrative 12-month work authorization called Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 Indian students, providing valuable professional opportunities.
  • In 2020-21, nearly 43.9% of Indian students in the USA received OPT, enabling them to gain practical experience in their chosen fields.
  • The USA is home to renowned research institutions, including 350 labs at UCLA and 1,200 labs at Yale University, fostering an environment of academic excellence.

Application Trends to the USA from India

  • In 2022 (until June), approximately 100,000 Indian students applied to study in the USA, demonstrating sustained interest and demand.
  • The number of applications from Indian students in 2021 stood at 167,582, reflecting consistent growth in recent years.
  • In 2020, despite the challenges posed by the global pandemic, approximately 167,000 Indian students applied to pursue higher education in the USA.
  • The year 2019 witnessed an even higher number of applications, with approximately 193,000 Indian students seeking educational opportunities in the USA.

Top Study Destinations In The USA

RegionUniversityWorld RankingIndian Student VolumeAcceptance Rate
BostonMassachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)13684.1%
San FranciscoStanford University35007.7%
ChicagoUniversity of Chicago104126.5%
New YorkColumbia University191,1346.08%
Los AngelesUniversity of California4058614.4%

2. Canada

Canada has emerged as a popular alternative for Indian students in North America, with 35% of study permits in the country being utilized by Indian students. In a significant development, Canada introduced a new policy on October 7, 2022, temporarily removing the 20-hour limit for off-campus work. This decision was made to address Canada’s labour shortage and allows over 500,000 international students, including Indians, to benefit from increased work opportunities.

In the first half of 2022, 60,258 Indian students opted for Canada as their preferred study destination, as per data released by the Ministry of External Affairs. Additionally, Indian students, along with thirteen other nationalities, can take advantage of the Student Direct Stream, which offers expedited study permit processing times.

Why Is Canada Highly In Demand Among Indian Students?

  • The Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP) allows Indian students to obtain work permits after graduation, providing them with valuable professional experience and an opportunity to earn points for permanent residency.
  • Out of the 70,000 Indians who received their PGWPP in 2020, an impressive 98% had their permits approved, indicating a favourable environment for international students in Canada.
  • The PGWPP’s inclusion in the CRS allows Indian students to enhance their chances of obtaining permanent residency, making Canada an attractive destination for those seeking long-term settlement opportunities.

Application Trends to Canada from India

  • In 2021, there were 217,410 Indian student applications to study in Canada, showcasing the sustained interest and demand for Canadian education among Indian students.
  • In 2020, despite the challenges posed by the global pandemic, approximately 255,000 Indian students applied to pursue higher education in Canada.
  • The year 2019 witnessed 175,000 Indian student applications, indicating the consistent growth in the number of Indian students choosing Canada as their study-abroad destination.

Top Study Destinations In Canada

RegionUniversityWorld RankingIndian Student VolumeAcceptance Rate
TorontoUniversity of Toronto262,08243%
MontrealMcGill University2776333.6%
VancouverUniversity of British Columbia4672652.4%
WaterlooUniversity of Waterloo1491,03153%
HamiltonMcMaster University1401,22258.7%

3. The United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has witnessed a significant rise in Indian students, surpassing Chinese nationals in recent years. In one year until June 2022, a remarkable 117,695 study visas were sponsored for Indian students, marking a staggering 215% increase compared to 2019, when 37,396 visas were sponsored. This surge in Indian student enrollment comes despite the UK government’s opposition to international students, with notable figures expressing reservations. Notably, the UK’s skilled worker visa has garnered particular interest among Indian students, as it offers an alternative path to participating in the workforce instead of following the graduate route visa, which experts have identified as potentially problematic. These developments signify a changing landscape and growth opportunities for Indian students in the UK education system.

Why Is the UK Highly In Demand Among Indian Students?

  • The UK government has implemented progressive immigration policies to attract Indian undergraduate and postgraduate students. 
  • Introducing a new graduate visa on January 1, 2021, has been a significant factor, allowing Indian students to work in the UK for 2 years after completing their studies (3 years for PhD students). 
  • Notably, a job offer is not required to apply for this permit, providing students with greater flexibility and opportunities.

Application Trends to the UK from India

  • In 2022 (until February), there were 8,660 Indian student applications to study in the UK, highlighting the continued interest and demand for British education among Indian students. 
  • In 2020, despite the challenges posed by the global pandemic, approximately 53,015 Indian students applied to pursue higher education in the UK. 
  • The year 2019 saw 41,815 Indian student applications, indicating steady growth in the number of Indian students choosing the UK as their study destination.

Top Study Destinations In The UK

RegionUniversityWorld rankingIndian student volumeAcceptance rate
OxfordUniversity of Oxford238117.5%
CambridgeUniversity of Cambridge31,90121%
LondonImperial College725014.3%
ManchesterThe University of Manchester2757070.4%
CoventryThe University of Warwick6174114%

4. Australia

Australia has witnessed a rebound in the number of Indian and international students, overcoming the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the Australian Trade and Investment Commission, until June 2022, 52,186 Indian students were studying in Australia, reflecting a positive trend compared to 48,346 in 2021 and 63,264 in 2020. However, there have been concerns over a 50% decline in visa applications from vocational students and delays in visa processing for PhD candidates conducting academic research in Australia. Despite these challenges, the Department of Home Affairs reported a significant increase in offshore student visas granted, reaching a record-breaking 165,700 between June and December 2022, representing a 58% spike compared to 2019. Recognizing the importance of international students, the Australian Government has allocated AUD $36 million to streamline the visa application process and expedite decision-making.

Why Is Australia Highly In Demand Among Indian Students?

  • The Australian government has implemented favourable policies to attract Indian students, including relaxed work restrictions and extended work stay periods, providing enhanced opportunities for professional growth.
  • Currently, there are no limitations on the number of hours Indian students can work while studying in Australia, promoting financial independence.
  • The post-study work visa duration has been extended from 2 to 3 years, enabling Indian students to gain valuable work experience and explore career opportunities in the country.

Application Trends to Australia from India

  • In 2022 (until March), 66,000 Indian students applied to study in Australia, indicating a growing interest and demand.
  • In 2021, there were 52,500 Indian student applications, demonstrating consistent engagement with Australian education.
  • Despite the challenges posed by the global pandemic, 2020 witnessed 24,888 Indian student applications, highlighting the resilience and appeal of Australian universities.
  • 2019 saw 32,603 Indian students seeking educational opportunities in Australia, indicating a sustained attraction towards the country.

Top Study Destinations In Australia

RegionUniversityWorld RankingIndian Student VolumeAcceptance Rate
ParkvilleThe University of Melbourne372,00070%
SydneyUniversity of New South Wales431,20030%
BrisbaneThe University of Queensland4779840%
AdelaideThe University of Adelaide1089,00075%
WollongongUniversity of Wollongong1931,000+30%

C. Which Are The Most Popular University Courses For Indian Students Abroad?

Indian students have emerged as one of the largest diasporas in the world, with approximately 1,324,954 enrolled in educational institutions across 79 countries. Here are some of the top preferences for courses and the changing priorities of Indian students – 

1. Popular Courses Among Indian Students

STEM Courses: According to an OECD survey, around 50% of overseas students studying in the United States in 2017-18 were enrolled in STEM fields, with Indian students comprising a significant proportion of approximately 79%.

Master of Business Administration (MBA): The Economic Times study revealed that the most sought-after course among Indian students planning to study abroad is the MBA program. This course encompasses various subfields, including managerial economics, marketing, finance, investment banking, business law and ethics.

Business Studies in the UK: In the United Kingdom, business and management degrees have gained popularity among Indian students. The HESA report highlights that 44% of Indian students pursuing undergraduate degrees in the UK focus on management and business. In 2019-2020, there was a 5% increase in the number of Indian students studying business.

2. Emerging Fields of Interest

While STEM and business degrees are popular, aspiring Indian students are increasingly drawn to emerging fields such as Business Analytics, Data Analytics, Cybersecurity, Digital Marketing, and Ecotechnology.

3. The Impact of Changing Priorities

The decision-making process of Indian students has undergone a shift. While university rankings and reputation were traditionally crucial, their importance has diminished. Teaching practices now receive higher priority, with 70% of students considering them significant. Only 44% of students consider the university’s reputation when making decisions.

4. Growing Popularity of Healthcare & Environment-related Courses

The ongoing pandemic has influenced student choices, leading to increased demand for healthcare professionals. Nursing, medicine, and healthcare management programs have witnessed a surge in popularity among Indian students. Furthermore, environmental concerns have prompted students to show interest in courses related to climatology, environmental sustainability, and energy management.

5. Technology & Engineering Programs Remain Favourites

As new technologies like the Metaverse, Blockchain, and AI continue to advance, Indian students are increasingly drawn to courses in robotics, artificial intelligence, and related fields. Engineering programs, particularly bioengineering, web technology, and computer science engineering (electrical, civil, and mechanical), are sought-after choices globally.

6. The Significance of STEM

STEM subjects have garnered significant interest from Indian students worldwide. Among the STEM subjects, math and computer science were particularly popular, accounting for 35% of all Indian students during that period. These STEM programs offer extended Optional Practical Training (OPT) periods, providing graduates with enhanced career opportunities.

IV. Challenges Faced By Indian Students Abroad & Alternative Approaches

Studying abroad is an exciting experience that offers numerous opportunities, but it also comes with its fair share of challenges. International students often encounter obstacles such as homesickness, cultural shock, and the complex application process. We’ve listed the most common challenges faced by Indian students studying abroad and provided insights on addressing them effectively.

A. Course/University Selection and Application Process

Students often struggle with choosing the right course and university, as they may be influenced by peer pressure or follow traditional paths rather than their interests and strengths. The application process for university admission, including test preparation and documentation, can be overwhelming.

  • Online study abroad platforms with AI-enabled course finders can help students explore their interests and find courses that align with their goals and economic stability.
  • Students should seek guidance and support to navigate this process effectively.

B. Financial Obstacles, Scholarships, and Loan Opportunities

Overseas education involves significant costs, including tuition fees and daily expenses, which can be a major concern for students and their families.

  • Scholarships are a potential avenue for financial assistance, but they may not be easily accessible or have strict eligibility criteria. Students should research available scholarships and determine their eligibility.
  • Education loans can be an alternative option. Students should explore the loan options available based on their country and level of study, considering visa requirements and loan acceptability.

C. Academic Gap

Transitioning to the academic style and workload of foreign universities can be challenging for students, with one out of every three experiencing academic difficulties.

  • Students should proactively develop academic skills to adapt to the new learning environment and manage the workload effectively. 
  • Seeking support from university resources and engaging in study groups can be beneficial.

D. Language Differences

Studying in a different country with diverse cultures requires students to overcome language and cross-cultural barriers. While English proficiency exams like TOEFL, IELTS, GRE, and GMAT are essential for admission, students may face challenges understanding native speakers due to accents, pace, and colloquial language variations.

  • Students should familiarize themselves with the destination country’s culture through reading, watching videos, and documentaries. This will help them adapt more easily to their new environment.

E. Part-Time/Full-Time Jobs

Students studying abroad may face challenges finding part-time and full-time job opportunities to support themselves financially.

  • Creating a well-prepared resume and networking with local shops, cafes, and on-campus resources can increase job prospects.
  • Seeking guidance from student support management at the institution can assist in finding on-campus internships and work opportunities.

V. Empowering Indian Students Abroad: Support Systems & Initiatives

Indian students pursuing higher education abroad face various challenges during their academic journey. However, several support systems and initiatives are in place to assist them in overcoming these challenges and ensuring a successful and enriching experience. This section highlights the key support systems available for Indian students studying abroad, including government initiatives, support services provided by educational institutions, and the role of Indian student associations.

Support Systems for Indian StudentsDescription
Indian Government Initiatives
ScholarshipsFinancial assistance for tuition fees, living expenses, and educational costs.
Education Counseling ServicesGuidance and assistance in course and university selection.
Information ResourcesOnline platforms with comprehensive study abroad information.
Support Services by Educational Institutions
Orientation ProgramsIntroduction to campus, academic systems, and resources.
Academic AdvisingGuidance in course selection and academic concerns.
Cultural Integration ProgramsPromotes cross-cultural interaction and engagement.
Counselling ServicesSupport for mental health and personal concerns.
Role of Indian Student Associations
Networking and SupportProvides support and networking opportunities for Indian students.
Cultural Events and FestivalsCelebrates Indian culture and fosters a sense of belonging.
Bridge between Students and Local CommunityFacilitates cultural exchange and community integration.

VI. Key Findings & Takeaways

  1. Indian students pursuing higher education abroad have increased steadily, making India the second-largest source country for international students globally.
  2. Traditional destinations like the UK, US, Australia, and Canada remain popular, while emerging destinations like Uzbekistan, Philippines, Russia, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan are gaining attention.
  3. The number of Indian students going abroad for higher studies has reached around 750,000 in 2022, surpassing China as the leading source of international students in the United States.
  4. Factors such as multicultural experiences, attractive salary packages, high-quality education, the pursuit of niche courses, and international exposure contribute to the surge in Indian student mobility.
  5. The pandemic has transformed study abroad plans, leading to hybrid education, redefined visa norms, reassessed admission criteria, and enhanced student services.
  6. Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, and Maharashtra are the prominent Indian states sending students abroad for higher education due to affluence and the desire for global opportunities.
  7. The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Germany are the preferred destinations for Indian students, offering world-class institutions, diverse academic programs, and favourable opportunities.
  8. STEM fields, business and management, healthcare and medicine, and social sciences are among the popular courses for Indian students studying abroad.
  9. Indian students may encounter challenges such as cultural adjustment, academic rigour, financial constraints, social integration, and work-life balance.
  10. Indian students can benefit from support systems and initiatives such as Indian student associations, international student services, scholarships and financial aid, mentoring programs, language support, and career services.


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