TORONTO: The American Dream: Why Indian Students Continue To Flock Abroad

TORONTO: The American Dream: Why Indian Students Continue To Flock Abroad

TORONTO: Over 4.5 lakh government school students from classes III to V in Andhra Pradesh appeared for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) on April 10, and another 16.5 lakh students from classes VI to IX from 5,907 government schools took the same test two days later. The examinations were conducted as part of a promotional activity undertaken by the test organiser, the US-based Educational Testing Service (ETS), in collaboration with the Andhra Pradesh government.

The move, though intended to strengthen the English language skills of students, indirectly amounts to state patronage of TOEFL. A recent study titled Beyond Beds & Boundaries: Indian Student Mobility Report 2023, published in November 2023, indicates that Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have the highest number of Indian students pursuing education in foreign universities. They account for 12.5% of the total pool. The study also states that the students from these two states primarily go to the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK to pursue higher studies. Hundreds of consultants have set up shop in cities like Hyderabad, Vijayawada and Guntur to help these students.

Why The Flight Abroad

But not just Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, students from other states too have been flocking abroad. Better exposure, networking,  and opportunities to meet global standards are a few benefits they cite. What underlines the extent of this problem is that no Indian institute has managed to find a place among the world’s top universities, according to several rankings. Similarly, there are too many students for a small number of seats, and curricula have grown outdated. 

There is some interesting history behind why Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have the highest number of students studying abroad. For Chandrababu Naidu, the then chief minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh, the ‘Y2K’ event had been a blessing in disguise. IT firms based in Hyderabad were able to find a solution to the ‘bug’ that threatened to wreak havoc on computer systems around the world. The city thus went on to position itself as a high-tech centre that could provide skilled programmers to the world.  

Soon, computer training institutes mushroomed in Hyderabad, providing short-term courses that turned science or commerce graduates into computer experts in just three months. Technical qualification was no bar. The institutes also promised to arrange US jobs for their alumni. This trend caught the imagination of the youth. America had lakhs of jobs for computer professionals in those years (1995-2004), and software engineers and computer professionals from Andhra Pradesh soon constituted the largest chunk to grab those jobs. It’s said that even today, more than half the Indians working in the US tech industry are from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

“When Chandrababu Naidu took over as chief minister in Andhra Pradesh, he quickly saw an opportunity in Y2K to generate employment. The decision to prepare role-ready software professionals to solve the Y2K bug led to the proliferation of IT training institutions,” says K. Srinivasulu, former professor of Political Science at Osmania University. “These youth were sent abroad for training and work by the IT companies. Some of them settled abroad. Others came back richer.”

State Patronage

Though the number of students choosing to go abroad has risen across India, the trend in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana is unique. The governments in these states have taken several steps to facilitate this journey, like running scholarship programmes, and now, conducting TOEFL tests in government schools. The Andhra Pradesh government also provides special financial assistance to students from Backward Classes and SC, ST, EBC, Kapu, and minority communities for studying abroad.

“When Jaganmohan Reddy became the chief minister of AP, he introduced English as a medium of instruction in government schools because it was the demand of the subaltern community, which considered it necessary for getting employment. The craze is such that villages in Andhra and Telangana have private schools named after Harvard and Princeton,” says Mr Srinivasulu.

However, this also reflects a failure on the part of the two states to upgrade their educational infrastructure or establish premier institutes that are on par with foreign universities. “That education is the main driver of upward social mobility is the common feeling in every village in Andhra Pradesh. In every village, one finds a few students settling down abroad. This is the aspiration which caught the attention of political parties and which they use in electoral politics,” says Anji Reddy Vajrala, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Acharya Nagarjuna University, Andhra Pradesh.

A String Of Deaths

Apart from improving the quality of higher education in India, the flight of Indian students abroad throws up other concerns too, among which students’ safety has emerged as the foremost one in recent weeks. In a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha in December last year, the Minister of State for External Affairs, V. Muraleedharan, stated that according to the information available with his Ministry, as many as 403 Indian students had died abroad since 2018. Of course, this does not include the 11 deaths that have occurred this year alone in the US.

Though the deaths were not related, gun crimes, kidnapping and racial hate crimes were among the causes for a few of them. The incidents have shaken the sense of security of both Indian students and their parents and highlight the need to not only ensure the safety of Indian students studying abroad but also devise policies that help India’s youth obtain good quality higher education in the country itself. Only then will India be able to really utilise its demographic dividend.

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