The Significance of Indian Students Studying Abroad & International Students Studying in India in the Context of Higher Education



In today’s globalized World, the significance of international education and student mobility cannot be overstated. Higher education has become increasingly internationalized, with students from different countries seeking quality education opportunities abroad. India is one of the popular destinations for international students pursuing higher education. The Indian government, recognizing the importance of internationalization, has implemented several favorable policies to attract and support international students in Indian higher education institutions. Indian institutions offer diverse courses and programs in various fields, attracting students from across the globe. According to the data from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Ministry of Education (MoE), the number of international students studying in India has consistently grown. In 2020-21, approximately 480,35 international students were enrolled in Indian universities and institutions compared to only 34,774 students in 2012-13, thus showing an increase of 13,261 students (38.13 percent). Students from Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Sudan form a significant proportion of the international students in India. On the other hand, as many as 4,13,444  Indian students were studying abroad in 2021-22, which is likely to be provisionally raised to about 15,00,000 students, a majority of which headed to the United Kingdom followed by the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.


Indian-students-abroad-in-higher-education-universities: Education for All in India

In this article, we explore the status of international students in India for higher education and the significance of Indian students studying abroad. By providing the latest information and data, we shed light on the importance and necessity of fostering global academic collaborations. The data used is exclusively based on MoE and MEA and answers by the concerned Minister in the Parliament. The available data suggest that there needs to be developed a comprehensive database of Indian students abroad and international students in India.

Indian Students Studying Abroad

The available data suggests that  number of Indian students studying abroad has increased steadily in recent years, with over 1.5 million students expected to go overseas for higher education in 2023. The following table shows the number of Indian students studying abroad, year-wise, from 2012-13 to 2022-23, along with the top 5 countries where they headed.


Table 1: Number of Indian Students Studying Abroad: 2012-13 to 2022-23



Number of Indian

Students Studying


Top 5 Target Countries

2012-13 3,25,462 United States (107,621), United Kingdom (32,650), Australia (28,682), Canada (23,798), New Zealand (8,580)
2013-14 3,47,169 United States (115,957), United Kingdom (34,266), Australia (29,924), Canada (25,076), New Zealand (9,069)
2014-15 3,68,625 United States (121,070), United Kingdom (35,810), Australia (31,142), Canada (26,688), New Zealand (9,676)
2015-16 3,82,184 United States (126,599), United Kingdom (37,380), Australia (32,328), Canada (28,197), New Zealand (10,294)
2016-17 4,09,067 United States (132,782), United Kingdom (38,964), Australia (33,555), Canada (29,832), New Zealand (10,960)
2017-18 4,54,009 United States (149,235), United Kingdom (42,598), Australia (34,752), Canada (32,518), New Zealand (11,906)
2018-19 5,17,998 United States (169,307), United Kingdom (45,213), Australia (35,909), Canada (34,804), New Zealand (12,831)
2019-20 5,86,337 United States (195,899), United Kingdom (49,289), Australia (37,085), Canada (37,045), New Zealand (13,812)
2020-21 2,59,655 United States (70,600), Canada (20,960), United Kingdom (17,500), Australia (15,900), New Zealand (7,800)
2021-22 4,13,444 United Kingdom (55,465), United States (465,791), Canada (183,310), Australia (100,009), New Zealand (26,644)
2022-23 1,500,000 (Estimated) United States etc.

Source: Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

The number of Indian students pursuing higher education abroad, presented in Table 1, has grown significantly over the past decade. From 2012-13 to 2020-21, the number of Indian students studying abroad has witnessed significant growth. In 2012-13, 3,25,462 Indian students were studying abroad, which increased to 5,86,337 in 2019-20. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number dropped to 2,59,655 in 2020-21. During this period, there was an overall increase of approximately 2,61,193 students studying abroad, representing a substantial growth in absolute numbers. Over eight years, Indian students studying abroad grew by around 80 percent from 2012-13 to 2019-20. In terms of percentage growth, the number of Indian students studying abroad witnessed an annual average growth rate of around 9.6 percent from 2012-13 to 2020-21. It is important to note that the growth rate fluctuated and, influenced by various factors such as changes in immigration policies, economic conditions, and global events.

The analysis of the number of Indian students studying abroad from 2012-13 to 2022-23 reveals a consistent growth trend, with fluctuations caused by external factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the overall growth in absolute numbers and the average annual growth rate in percentage terms indicate a sustained interest among Indian students to pursue higher education overseas. The United States has consistently remained the top choice for Indian students, while the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand have also been preferred destinations. The projected increase in 2022-23 indicates a positive outlook for Indian students aspiring to pursue their education abroad.

Why Indian Students Study Abroad

The popularity of studying abroad among Indian students is due to several factors, including the desire to get a world-class education, improve career prospects, and experience a new culture. Some of the most common causes include:

  • World-class education:Many foreign universities are ranked among the best in the World and offer students a high-quality education that is not always available in India.
  • Better career prospects:A degree from a foreign university is often seen as more prestigious by the employers and give students a competitive edge in the job market.
  • New cultural experience:Studying abroad can be a great way to experience a new culture and meet people from all over the World, which can be a valuable personal and professional experience.
  • Improve language skills:Studying in a foreign country is a great way to improve your language skills; this is especially beneficial for students interested in pursuing a career in international business.
  • Develop independence:Studying abroad can be a great way to develop independence and self-reliance. You will be responsible for your learning and well-being, which can be a challenging but rewarding experience.

In addition to these general reasons, there are also some specific reasons why Indian students may choose to study abroad in particular countries. For example, the United States is a popular destination for Indian students because of its world-class universities, strong job market, and diverse culture. But the United Kingdom is another popular destination for Indian students because of its proximity to India, its long history of educational excellence, and its English-speaking environment.


Foreign-students-in-indian-universities: Education for All in India

Despite lucrative reasons to study abroad, it is important to note that it is not without challenges. Adjusting to a new culture and language is expensive and difficult. However, for many students, the benefits of studying abroad outweigh the challenges. It is heartening to know that many middle-class families opt for foreign destinations for their wards, and the scheme of loans to students for higher education comes in handy. Some of the challenges for Indian Students in Studying Abroad are listed as follows:

  • Cultural Adjustment: Moving to a foreign country can be challenging for Indian students, as they must adapt to a new culture, language, and social norms. Support services, cultural orientation programs, and mentorship opportunities can help ease their transition and promote a sense of belonging.
  • Academic Expectations: Educational systems and teaching methods may differ from what Indian students are accustomed to. Adequate support services, academic counseling, and access to required resources can help them navigate these differences and excel academically.
  • Financial Burden: Studying abroad can come with significant economic costs, including tuition fees, living expenses, and travel. Access to scholarships, grants, and financial aid packages specifically designed for Indian students can alleviate financial burdens and help make education abroad more accessible.
  • Mental Health and Well-being: Being away from family and support networks can impact the mental health and well-being of Indian students abroad. Institutions should prioritize mental health support services, counseling, and awareness programs to ensure students have the necessary resources to cope with stress and isolation.
  • Employment Opportunities: Indian students studying abroad may have concerns about post-graduation employment opportunities and visa regulations. Providing career counseling, networking opportunities, and guidance on job placements can help students navigate these challenges and enhance their employability prospects.
  • Safety and Security: Safety is a crucial concern for Indian students abroad. Institutions must ensure a safe campus environment and provide information on local safety measures and support systems to address any safety-related issues students may face.
  • Social Integration: Building social connections and establishing a supportive network in a foreign country can be challenging. Engaging Indian student associations, organizing cultural events, and encouraging interaction with local students can foster social integration and enhance the student experience.

The Government of India has taken several initiatives to address the concerns faced by international students in India and Indian students studying abroad:

  1. Study in India Program: The Government launched the Study in India program to promote India as a preferred destination for international students. The program offers scholarships, fee waivers, and simplified visa processes to make studying in India more accessible and attractive.
  2. New Education Policy: The recently introduced National Education Policy (NEP) aims to enhance the quality of education and facilitate internationalization. The policy emphasizes creating a conducive environment for international students and promoting collaborations with foreign universities.
  3. Internationalization of Indian Institutions: The government encourages Indian institutions to internationalize by fostering collaborations, establishing twinning arrangements, and facilitating student and faculty exchange programs. These initiatives promote diversity, enhance the quality of education, and create global opportunities for Indian students.
  4. Education Quality Enhancement: The government focuses on improving education quality in India by enhancing infrastructure, faculty development, and research facilities. These efforts benefit international students and create a favorable environment for Indian students studying abroad.
  5. Bilateral Educational Agreements: India has signed various bilateral agreements with other countries to facilitate student exchanges, joint research programs, and mutual recognition of qualifications. These agreements provide more opportunities for Indian students to study abroad and vice versa.
  6. Scholarships and Financial Aid: The government offers scholarships and financial aid schemes specifically designed for Indian students studying abroad. These initiatives aim to mitigate financial barriers and support the educational aspirations of Indian students.
  7. Support Services: The government encourages educational institutions to provide comprehensive support services to international students, including language assistance, cultural orientation programs, counseling services, and grievance redressal mechanisms.
  8. Indian Embassies and Consulates: Indian embassies and consulates abroad are crucial in supporting and assisting Indian students studying overseas. They offer guidance on various aspects, including visa procedures, safety measures, and addressing any emergencies or concerns faced by Indian students.

The above government initiatives demonstrate a commitment to addressing the concerns of both international students in India and Indian students studying abroad, ensuring a conducive and inclusive environment for their educational pursuits.

International/Foreign Students Studying in India

International students in India play a significant role in the country’s higher education landscape. Analyzing the data on foreign student enrollment from 2012-13 to 2020-21 provides valuable insights into the absolute numbers, percentage distribution, and growth rates of male and female students. This analysis sheds light on the changing dynamics and trends in foreign student enrollment in India.

The data reveals (Table 2) a gradual but consistent growth in international students studying in India over the past nine years. In the academic year 2020-21, there were 32,603 male students and 15,432 female students, totaling 48,035 international students; this represents a steady increase from the 2012-13 academic year, with 21,852 male and 12,922 female students, totaling 34,774 international students.

Table 2: Foreign Students in India: 2012-13 to 2020-21




Number of Students


Percentage to Total

Male Female Total Male Female Total
2020-21 32603 15432 48035 67.87 32.13 100.00
2019-20 32836 16512 49348 66.54 33.46 100.00
2018-19 32398 15029 47427 68.31 31.69 100.00
2017-18 31394 14750 46144 68.03 31.97 100.00
2016-17 31779 15796 47575 66.80 33.20 100.00
2015-16 30151 15273 45424 66.38 33.62 100.00
2014-15 27889 14404 42293 65.94 34.06 100.00
2013-14 25565 13952 39517 64.69 35.31 100.00
2012-13 21852 12922 34774 62.84 37.16 100.00
Source: AISHE, different years, Ministry of Education

Examining the percentage distribution of male and female international students provides insights into their relative representation. In 2020-21, male students accounted for 67.87 percent of the total, while female students comprised 32.13 percent today. Similar patterns were observed in the previous years, with a consistently higher percentage of male students than female students. This gender disparity may warrant further exploration to understand its underlying factors and implications.

Evaluating foreign student enrollment growth rates in India showcases the changing patterns. From 2012-13 to 2020-21, the total number of international students increased by approximately 13,261, reflecting an overall growth rate of around 38.11 percent. Notably, male students experienced a higher growth rate of roughly 49.09 percent, while the growth rate for female students was about 19.56 percent. Exploring the reasons behind these differing growth rates can provide valuable insights for future policy planning and efforts to attract more international students.

The data analysis on international students in India from 2012-13 to 2020-21 highlights a consistent growth trend in the absolute numbers of international students. However, gender disparity persists, with a higher percentage of male students than their female counterparts. Continued efforts to address this imbalance and identify strategies to enhance the overall growth rate further may contribute to creating a more diverse and inclusive educational environment for international students in India. Further research and analysis is required to gain a comprehensive understanding of the factors influencing foreign student enrollment in India.

 Benefits of International Students Studying in India

Directly and indirectly, there are many benefits to both Indian and international students studying in India, a few of which are described as follows:

Benefits to India and international Students in India

 Cultural Exchange and Diversity: International students studying in India bring diverse cultures, languages, and perspectives. They enrich the learning environment by sharing their unique experiences, traditions, and knowledge with their Indian peers, fostering cultural understanding and global citizenship.

  • Academic Excellence: Indian higher education institutions are renowned for their academic excellence and diverse academic offerings. Students may learn from experienced faculty members and engage in research projects, enabling them to enhance their knowledge and skills.
  • Academic Collaboration and Research: International students studying in India contribute to research collaborations, jointly working with Indian students and faculty members on innovative projects. This collaboration enhances the quality of research and promotes academic excellence.
  • Economic Impact: International students studying in India contribute to the economy through tuition fees, accommodation expenses, and daily expenditures. They also support local businesses, tourism, and hospitality industries, creating employment opportunities and boosting regional development.
  • Diplomatic and Global Relations: International students studying in India act as cultural ambassadors, promoting mutual understanding and diplomatic relations between their home countries and India. They strengthen people-to-people ties, fostering friendship and goodwill across borders.
  • Affordable Education: Compared to many Western countries, India offers affordable education without compromising the quality of education. This factor attracts students from various economic backgrounds, making it an inclusive destination for higher education.
  • English-speaking country: English is the primary language of instruction in most universities and colleges in India; this makes it a good option for international students who are not fluent in Hindi or other Indian languages.
  • Employment opportunities: India is a rapidly growing economy with a high demand for skilled workers; this means that international students who graduate from Indian universities and colleges have good job prospects after graduation.

Despite numerous benefits, there are a few areas of concern that international students in India face that need to be addressed:

  • Cultural Adaptation: International students studying in India generallyface challenges adapting to a new culture, language, and social norms. Institutions must provide support services and resources to help them integrate into the local community and navigate cultural differences.
  • Visa and Immigration Policies: Clear and streamlined visa and immigration policies are crucial for attracting international students to India and facilitating their smooth enrollment in educational institutions. Simplifying the visa application process and providing transparent information can help alleviate concerns and ensure a positive experience.
  • Quality of Education: Maintaining and improving the quality of education is a primary concern for international and Indian students. Institutions must regularly update their curriculum, invest in modern teaching methods and technologies, and ensure qualified faculty members offer a holistic and enriching educational experience.
  • Security and Safety: Safety is a priority for domestic and international students. Ensuring a safe and secure environment on campuses, providing support systems, and addressing any concerns related to harassment or discrimination are crucial for the well-being and peace of mind of students.
  • Financial Accessibility: Affordability of education is a significant concern for both international students in India and Indian students studying abroad. Adequate scholarship opportunities, transparent fee structures, and financial aid programs can help mitigate the financial burden and make education more accessible to students from diverse economic backgrounds.
  • Employment Opportunities: International students in India may be concerned about post-study work opportunities and job placement. Strengthening industry-academia collaborations, facilitating internships, and providing career counseling and guidance can improve students’ employability prospects.
  • Cross-Cultural Integration: Fostering cross-cultural integration between international students and the local student community is vital for creating a welcoming and inclusive environment. Promoting cultural exchange programs, student clubs, and events that encouraging interaction among students from different backgrounds can help enhance the educational experience.

Addressing these areas of concern through policy interventions, institutional support, and international collaborations will help create a conducive environment for international students in India and provide Indian students studying abroad with the necessary resources and support for a successful academic journey.

Concluding Observations

In today’s globalized landscape of higher education, the profound impact of Indian students studying abroad and international students choosing India as their educational destination cannot be overstated. These students are not merely participants in an academic journey; they are catalysts for cultural exchange, intellectual growth, and international cooperation.

Indian students, pursuing their dreams in foreign lands, contribute to a rich tapestry of global talent. Their pursuit of excellence is driven by the quest for world-class education, career advancement, and exposure to diverse cultures. While they face unique challenges, their determination and resilience shine as they navigate the unfamiliar waters of academic and cultural adaptation.

Conversely, international students choosing India as their academic home play an equally pivotal role. They bring with them a world of experiences, languages, and perspectives, enriching the academic milieu of Indian institutions. Their presence underscores India’s reputation as a hub of academic excellence and cultural diversity.

Moreover, the mutual benefits of these educational exchanges extend beyond the individual student. They include economic contributions, diplomatic goodwill, and enhanced research collaboration, further cementing the global fabric of higher education.

As India and the world continue to evolve, nurturing these symbiotic relationships between Indian students abroad and international students in India will be pivotal. It requires not only robust policy frameworks and institutional support but also a collective commitment to fostering an inclusive, welcoming, and academically enriching environment for all.

In this era of interconnectedness, the significance of these students transcends geographical boundaries. They are the bridges of knowledge, the architects of cultural harmony, and the ambassadors of international understanding. Their journeys are a testament to the transformative power of education, reminding us that, in the end, we are all students of a shared global experience.