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A foreign degree is great, but is it really worth it? Here's what you need to know

It is clear that foreign education is not losing its shine. However, keeping in mind the return on investment, there have been significant changes in terms of popular destinations and courses.
Rupankit Saha considers himself to be among the lucky ones. He was able to get a job at a multinational company in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2017, after completing an undergrad degree in accounting and finance at the University of Exeter in the UK. The transition from an international student on a tier-IV visa to a tier-II visa was smooth only because his employer sponsored him for the work visa even before he graduated.

“During my third year of graduation, I interned with a company and was lucky to be considered for a permanent assignment after that,” says Saha. Not everyone, however, is as lucky as Saha.

Several Indians who have gone to countries such as the UK and US are having to return as immigration rules become tougher for working and living abroad. This has raised the question: is a foreign degree worth the investment?

Yes, says Saha, but only because his parents, Gurgaon-based professionals, could afford to pay for a UK degree, which could cost between £15,000 & £18,000 only in tuition annually. “It is important to be focused on the employability factor.”


Britain has emerged as one of the toughest destinations for overseas education for Indian students, as staying back requires a skilled-job offer from an employer with a tier-II sponsorship licence. Some like Adr i j Chakraborty, who recently finished his master’s in economics from the University of Edinburgh, had to come back because he could not find an employer who would sponsor his tier-II visa. “After a rigorous one-year course, I faced uncertainty in the UK after the Brexit vote and decided to come back to India,” says Chakraborty, who is now working in Delhi as a Parliament intern.

He had received a scholarship for his education in the UK, which covered over 75% of the tuition costs. “Without a scholarship, UK is very unaffordable for average Indian students.” But it’s not just affordability that is a deterrent for Indian students who are looking at options overseas. While complete enrolment data for fall 2017 in the US, so far the top destination for Indian students, is not yet available, trends suggest that the number of new Indian students enrolling in US colleges has been declining sharply.

“These differences are primarily due to immigration issues,” says Rahul Choudaha, executive vice-president of Studyportals, a US-based online platform for international students. “There is increasing concern among students about gaining sponsorship for future H1B work visas. Besides, there is a higher level of rejections of student visas.”


Recovering part of the investment in US education by gaining work experience there has always been an important factor for Indian students, many of whom have a three-year window of optional practical training after studies to gain experience in the US. As the uncertainty over the future of H1B visa sponsorship becomes a reality for Indian students in the US, many are considering alternatives such as Canada and European countries, including the Netherlands, France and Germany.

Canada is emerging as a top destination for Indian students. Canadian colleges and universities are finding many takers for science and technology courses. It might soon overtake the US in terms of attracting Indian students. The fact that international students have an opportunity to gain work experience in Canada during their studies and can transition to a permanent residency through various ways — such as express entry — adds to the advantage.

These and other reasons made Malay Mishra, an entrepreneur from Delhi, choose McGill University in Montreal, Canada, over Cornell in the US for an MBA. “Post-study work permits, which are given liberally to international students graduating from Canadian universities, help recoup costs and gain employment experience.” The cost factor was also a major contributor to the decision. “Canadian schools not only charge a much lower fee, but the cost of living is much cheaper in the cities here.”

Reputation & Competition
Increasingly, the one country fits all formula is becoming less suitable for Indians looking to study overseas. Adarsh Khandelwal, cofounder, Collegify, a study abroad consultant, says every student has to now consider diverse factors in view of what they are looking for from an overseas education.

“Some are looking for top-ranked universities, irrespective of employment opportunities, while others consider permanent residence to settle overseas as a priority after graduation.”


Khandelwal adds that the intense competition to get into topranked universities in India, along with the rising cost of education, is also a reason for people exploring overseas options. With affordability and return on investment emerging as one of the top factors for deciding on an overseas education, it is no surprise that students of science and technology are considering Germany as an option. An example is Ajmal Hasan Monnamitheen Abdul Gafoor, who finished his master’s in structural engineering from IIT-Guwahati and is now doing a PhD at the Braunschweig Institute of Technology.

“Besides the reputation of Germany’s technical universities, there are a lot of funding opportunities for researchers. Living expenses are low and jobs are available on campus for overseas students.”

It should come as no surprise then that Gafoor will be looking for post-doctoral work opportunities when he finishes his course. Considering that most German universities charge no or low tuition and that the cost of living for international students is affordable — between €700 and €1,000 a month — the return on investment is higher here than in many other destinations.

“A wide range of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programmes are available in English,” says Aditi Gosavi, senior advisor, German academic exchange service, in Delhi. “Moreover, every student learns basic German for free, and language skills open up job opportunities.”

Another reason why Germany is becoming increasingly popular is that it offers foreign graduates a blue card, which allows the holder to work and live in most European Union countries.

France too has been making a concerted effort to attract Indian students. “French institutions did not know India very well. But that is changing over the last few years,” says Emilia Cartier, attaché for academic, scientific and technological cooperation at the Embassy of France in Delhi. An education from the country is value for money, says Digvijay Sharma, an alumnus of ESC Rennes School of Business.


Not only did a masters’ degree give him an international experience, but it also opened up networking opportunities and helped him get a job. “I have worked in Belgium, the UK and France. I am now the country manager for a Belgian company in India,” says Sharma.

He adds that management courses in France work out 30-40% cheaper than similar ones in countries such as the US, the UK or Australia. Indian students in France have up to 24 months to find a job after completing courses. Almost 4 lakh Indian students travelled abroad to study last year. The number is likely to go up this year.

It is clear that foreign education is not losing its shine. However, keeping in mind the return on investment, there have been significant changes in terms of popular destinations and courses.

“Ease of working abroad based on visa policies has emerged as an important factor and direct advantage has been gained by Canada,” says Arun Jagannathan, cofounder & CEO of education consultancy CrackVerbal. In terms of costs, countries such as Germany and Ireland are also getting preference. Students are now better informed than ever before. As the cost of education goes up at home, they’re looking at various options across the world before putting their money into a campus.

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