The intimidating barriers for entry to India's top colleges have had an unexpected fallout. If the rise in student visa applications this year is anything to go by, students, instead of downgrading their choices and settling for second- or third-best, are increasingly looking westwards and flooding American universities with admission applications.
Data released by the US embassy reveals that the number of Indian students who have applied for visas to study in the US is up 20% over last year. Education counsellors say they are seeing large crowds again, the vital difference being that the students seeking advice are much younger. While 24,500 Indian students were granted visas to join American universities last year, most went there for a Masters and 14.5% joined a grad school. "But this year has seen a phenomenal rise in the number of undergraduate students," said counselor Pratibha Jain.
Officials at the American embassy confirmed that the number of student visa applications in India was already significantly higher than at this point last year. "The US has greatly expanded its consular staffing and educational outreach initiatives to ensure that prospective students can get the visa appointments and information they need," said an official. "This effort includes significantly increased funding for the Education-USA advising centers."
Jain said she had noticed a shift in the attitude of students. "Earlier, they all wanted to go to the famous 10 to 15 universities," she said. "Now there is a range of good second-tier colleges they are willing to go to. Community colleges that charge about Rs 12-15 lakh annually are also on the Indian students' radar now."
However, experts said it was too early to forecast the number of actual entrants to American universities this fall. "It depends on how many are accepted at universities and how many meet with consular approval," said an education consultant.