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UK-India higher education and research

  • 10 December 2021
  • By Janet Ilieva

This blog was contributed by Janet Ilieva, Director and Founder of Education Insight and co-author of ‘Natural Partners: Building a comprehensive UK-India knowledge partnership’.

The spotlight has rapidly turned to India,  the second-largest sending country for globally mobile students and home to the world’s largest youthful population under the age of 25. So it is timely, that following The China question: managing risks and maximising benefits from partnership in higher education and research, the Natural Partners: Building a comprehensive UK-India knowledge partnership is the second in the series published by the Policy Institute at King’s College London and Harvard Kennedy School.

The key message is ‘seize the moment’ and cement closer higher education and research ties with India. This is sensible after dramatic decline in the mobility of students from India after the discontinuation of the post-study work visas was announced by the UK Government in 2011.

The post-study work route was phased out in 2012, leading to a collapse in the number of enrolments of Indian students in the UK. The student visa applications hit their lowest point in 2015, when their number was 16,520, marking a fall of 80 per cent compared to their peak level in 2009. The visa policy changes had a major impact on higher education institutions in the UK. The Home Office set the highly trusted ‘sponsors’ refusal rate at 20 per cent in 2012, which was further reduced to 10 per cent in 2014.

In response, UK education institutions active in India scaled down their operations and redirected their student recruitment efforts to China and East Asia. Over 300 education institutions had their license to recruit international students either revoked or suspended between 2011 and 2012; most of these establishments were private institutions of further education.

The visa policies also impacted education agents providing student advice on study destinations. Many agents found that their efforts to send students to Australia and Canada secured better returns than sending students to the UK.

Student demand to the UK rebounded in 2018/19, following the announcement of the reintroduction of the post-study work route. In addition to the policy changes described above, demand-side economic influences, such as the fluctuations in the exchange rates and the price of gold in India, further contributed to the declines in Indian demand for UK education. Indian students are often described as ‘value-maximisers‘ and are highly responsive to post-study work visas, scholarships and tuition fee waivers.

Our analysis shows that the availability of such options determines the direction of travel for globally mobile Indian students. The reinstatement of the post-study work visa in July 2021 boosted the UK as a desirable study destination for Indian students. The UK student visas statistics showed a 102 per cent increase in issued visas in September 2021 compared to the previous year when 90,669 Indian nationals were granted sponsored study visas and a 197 per cent increase compared to September 2019.

Indian students make a significant academic contribution to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) related subjects. They represent 44 per cent and 45per cent, respectively, of the non-EU master’s students in mechanical engineering & production and manufacturing engineering. They also account for more than half of the non-EU students in computer science (53 per cent), information systems (52 per cent) and software engineering (50 per cent).

A significant proportion of the students who started doctoral studies in 2019/20 were sponsored by their UK institution: 39 per cent of the students received such funding, and a further 2 per cent had their tuition fees waived. This makes India one of the countries with the most significant proportion of doctoral students supported by their UK institution.

National-level scholarships for Indian PhD students are likely to increase the popularity of the UK as a study destination for Indian researchers. Split-site PhDs are another cost-effective way to carry out doctoral research, which brings additional benefits of capacity building and closer research ties between the UK institutions and their overseas partners.

A recent example of such an initiative is the recently announced India – UK Dual Doctoral Programme between the University of Manchester and Kharagpur IIT. Another example of UK – India cooperation in higher education and research is marked by the MoU between Welsh Government and Telangana State Council of Higher Education, which aims to further bilateral research and education exchange between Wales and the state of Telangana.

Cooperation with India through higher education partnerships.

India’s National Education Policy has an ambitious target of a 50 per cent participation rate in tertiary education by 2035.

Collaborative teaching offers a perfect opportunity for the UK to expand its global footprint in India and support the country’s National Education Plan ambitions. Mutual recognition of credits and qualifications will enable students to move seamlessly between institutions in the two countries to earn dual and double degrees awarded in partnership.

The pandemic increased the online education provision of institutions globally, and the potential of online and blended learning still needs to be fully utilised in India. Many countries, like Vietnam, have had to adapt their regulatory frameworks to accommodate the shift to online education and allow foreign education institutions to engage in online learning. While this move had varied success globally, the experience brought a wealth of learning. Beyond distance and online education, evidence shows that transnational education can widen local access to higher education, reduce inequalities, support local knowledge development and counteract brain drain by attracting talent to the location of delivery.

Stronger UK-India higher education relations will bring huge benefits to both countries, their students and higher education institutions.

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1 comment

  1. I have spent many years travelling back and forth to India (Mumbai and Pune)and working with young graduates in the IT data analytics area. I could not support this idea more if I tried. I would love to see some real exchanges between the UK and India and the business benefits are massive – the more Digital Transformation (and the data produced) grows the more important this relationship will be!

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