With the United Kingdom proposing a policy of 3000 pound visa bond and with the falling student enrollment from India, a teacher questions the wisdom of spending money on education in the UK.

Jayalakshmi Jayaraman

Life overseas has a lot of glamour and prestige attached to it in Indian social life. This is not very surprising considering the sorry state of the country today. I know many Indians who made a choice to remain in India 30 years ago because they did not want to leave their families and their country and looked down on their cousins and relatives who chose to emigrate westwards. Many of them now think that their cousins made the smart choice and they have have achieved nothing with their education or in their businesses by staying back in India. Indians who live abroad certainly seem to have a better quality of life than those of us who live here and have to struggle everyday with lack of infrastructure, hours of power cuts, bureaucracy and corruption. So, social status associated with living overseas where life is easier seems all but natural and understandable.

What worries me however is that we seem to be in the middle of an unwritten and maybe unnoticed boom in India for the past few years, which may lead not to a better quality of life overseas but to a lot of money down the drain in a few years! I speak of the current rush to get an overseas education amongst youngsters in India today. There are so many advertisement and so many consultants in this area everywhere in the media today!

An overseas education has always been a chosen route for the affluent sections of Indian society who can well afford the huge cost involved, since many of these students do not face the need to get a return on their investment. But of late, we find many people from the middle and lower classes, putting in hard earned savings, taking educational loans etc to finance an education overseas. I have known people who mortgaged their parents’ homes to study overseas! I recently watched a news item on BBC World about the Indian economy, where a youngster who faces an uncertain job market in India, took an educational loan and went to study abroad in the hope that it would increase his chances in the job market.

But what is the reality of the usefulness of a degree from overseas? Do overseas qualified students find it easier to get jobs overseas or in India? From the recent trends of Western economies and the social problems developing there, there seems to be a huge sentiment against immigration in most countries where qualified Indians have traditionally immigrated. One wonders if our Indian graduates with overseas degrees for which they have invested their parents’ life savings or taken an educational loan that needs to be repaid can actually compete in a labor market where the trend against immigration is so strong. So the advice to students who go overseas to study who are looking to get employed overseas would be to look carefully into the job market for their chosen specialties and not rush blindly into this current fancy for overseas degrees in India, which nobody knows for sure, is leading anywhere.

The second scenario is the job market for overseas qualified Indians in India. From a look at the prospering foreign educated persons in India, one finds that most of them are employed in their own family business or have very good financial backing. To make money out of a foreign MBA or MBBS or engineering degree for a person from a middle class background may take a lot of hard work or just plain luck. The additional expense of an overseas degree may actually add to the stress of the person looking to establish his or her career in India and would like to be paid more than the Indian educated counterparts. There is no evidence that Indian corporate or Indian organizations look favorably on degrees from overseas or pay more for persons educated overseas. The Indian government certainly does not look favorably on degrees from overseas so a person who wants to make a career in the Indian government does not gain any advantage with an overseas degree.

Some of the questions that we need to look into regarding the current fancy for getting an education overseas are:

  • Is it going to yield a financial return? Is it going to boost the career chances of the student concerned? Or is it going to make him overpriced and overqualified in the job market?
  • What are the safety mechanisms for Indian students to safeguard their investment in an UK education that have been set up by universities?
  • I had the personal experience of not being allowed to research a topic that I felt was suited to the needs of the Indian job market, but my college consistently refused to listen to my appeals and wanted me to research something that was totally irrelevant to the situation in India. I was the one who had to give in to protect my investment.
  • Indian students face a lot of cultural as well as academic issues when overseas and there is no support structure that makes life and studying easier overseas. We really need to look into the experiences of people who have studied overseas to understand if they have found that experience useful or overpriced.

With more and more people from middle class families leaving for studies abroad this looks like an area that the Government of India should look into. But we all know that the Government of India only wakes up after a problem becomes severe and cannot be ignored anymore! The writer wants to caution parents and students who are investing lot money with great hopes for the future career of their wards, to make their choices and decisions after sound research. Otherwise, the overseas degree that is supposed to launch the career of your children may well become the stumbling block to their starting a career because of being overpriced in an already dull labour market.