US-fed Education data misleads the world and themselves…

India believes that USA is the No. 1 destination for Indian students. Indian Minister for HRD has stated this too. Indian academics and students will be spontaneous in their acknowledgement of the same. All based on “spinned” data.

In reality, this is complete non-sense and is not backed by data at all.

The data released by IIE purposely highlights the “enrolment” figures and not focusing on the actual number of Indian students proceeding to USA each year. Even if that data is also in the document, it doesn’t figure in the press releases primarily because that will make USA look poor in comparison to Australia and United Kingdom in the Indian market. And how can USA accept that reality. Hence, the spin…

The press releases get picked up by the media and it reports…

The number of students from India enrolled in US universities and colleges crossed 100,000 for the first time ever this year even as international enrollments in America registered the largest percentage increase since 1980, defying broad economic trends.

The Indian numbers went up 9.2 per cent from 94,563 in 2007/2008 to cross 100,000 for the first time to retain its position as the top place of origin for international students in the United States. China remained in second place, although there was a sharp 21 per cent spike in students from China, going up from 81,127 last academic year to 98,235 this year. South Korea (69,000 to 75,000) remained in third place.

This is the eighth consecutive year that India has remained in the top spot.

Authors of the report said the findings do not reflect the full impact of the past year’s economic downturn, since decisions to come to the United States to study were made before the financial effects were fully felt in the sending countries.


There is nothing inaccurate in the information provided above but it simply confuses the Indian students, Indian governments and Indian media to believe that there were more than 100000 Indian students choosing USA during 2009. The real actual start numbers hide behind the enrolment figures and nobody wants to point to it.

The catch is in the word “enrolment”. An enrolment data is a cumulative data and includes continuing students from previous years. If there is a slowdown in the economy and there are less jobs, students tend to continue as students by re-enrolling to keep their visas in USA. This leads to an increase in enrolment statistics even if the actual visa numbers are falling. This happened post 9/11 for a few years and is happening now again.

The reality is that less number of Indian students applied to USA in 2009 and USA actually became No. 3 choice destination for Indian students.

Shocked. Let me provide the  actual data now… Education Journalist Ishaani Duttagupta reported in TOI titled US F1 visas fall 25% (link)  …

It’s official. There were less F1 student visas for the US issued across India in financial year 2009 (Oct 08-Sep 09) than the previous FY08. In fact, 25,860 issuances in FY09 actually translates into a whopping 25% decline over 34,510, which was the number issued last year.

Most experts and consultants feel that the fall in numbers of Indian students choosing to go to the US for higher studies is because of the fall in financial aid offered by institutions rather than any visa strictures.

And even as most experts agree that lower financial aid and scholarships are the reason for the drop in number of Indian students going to the US, many are hoping that as the recovery kicks in the numbers will improve.

So, enrolment rises even when the actual demand for that country has declined. There is evidence that this is not unusual but the fact is that reliance on this data can lead to wrong planning and even incorrect implications. Not just journalists tend to use the terms “enrolments” and “student-starts” interchangeably, even institutions get misguided. I have visited several institutions and very few of them take a detailed analysis out of the falling “actual” numbers and just gloat over the increasing enrolments.

Interestingly again, while the world knows that the number of students going to Australia from India has fallen steeply in recent months(possibly even 50-70%), the enrolment of Indian students has actually increased in the same period due to less numbers moving into residency or work permits due to the tightening of the process. This is akin to what happened in USA. Will it be right for Australian planners to give much credence to the enrolment growth at this time???

Look at this report that shows up the Aussie replay of the US enrolment-actual syndrome.

Despite the increasing value of the Australian dollar compared with other currencies, and widespread reporting across Asia of attacks on Indian students, the nation’s universities continue to attract more foreign fee-paying students.

The total number of foreigners enrolled in universities, schools and vocational and English language colleges also rose, by 6%, to almost 390,000 in the 12 months to February.

More worrying for the institutions that have come to rely heavily on fees from foreigners is the fact that in the same period, the number of students beginning a course this year fell by nearly 3% to 98,000.

Yet universities managed to boost their commencements by 10%, bringing the total number of overseas newcomers on campus to 31,000.

China and India were the largest markets for both enrolments and commencements in all sectors. China accounted for 27% of total enrolments and 29% of commencements while India accounted for 17% and 9.4% respectively.

In the higher education sector, the two largest markets were also China, with almost 34% of enrolments and 39% commencements, and India, with 11% enrolments and 5.4% commencements.


Hence, anyone wanting to really gauge the demand for an education destination should ONLY look at the fresh student entries into that country during the year. Enrolment statistics are only “red herrings” and will misguide planners.

Also, the fact is that

  • USA was No. 3 choice destination for Indian students during the year 2008-09 after Australia and United Kingdom.
  • USA has been No. 3 choice destination of “full fee paying” students from India for a few years now.
  • USA gets far less “vocational” Indian students than several countries.
  • USA is however No. 1 destination for “research” students and for “scholarship” students.

There you go… another MYTH shattered. Did I wake you up???

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  1. Dear Ravi,

    I remember when you tried to clarify numbers of students issue at UK Conclve last year in March 2009 at New Delhi.

    I feel Indian major visa offices like for USA, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, etc. should declare exact details of how many total student visa applications they received and how many got approve? This will give fair idea to all.

    Prasanna Acharya


  2. I have attended the AIRC session in LA last year and I must appreciate the AIRC team for this initiative. There rules and regulations are all set to see that agents are ethical and operate in a professional way. But again they need to actually educate the students and institutes in India and US about this. The agents who are into US education marketing here in India are often documents creators and preparation of fake bank balance certificates is one of their main jobs. US bound students do not need any detailed explanation about the visa procedures or institutes as most of the information is available on the websites.

    I am also very surprised that many of the agents in India do not understand the difference between the Ivy League and other universities. They do not know the meaning of College of Liberal Arts and what it actually does. Even more surprising is that they do not have the knowledge of explaining the components of tests like SAT, SAT Reasoning test or GRE. In fact a few agents I met do not know the meaning of “Associate Degree”. Many of them are not aware that every state monitors its education institutes and has different laws and not aware of the different accreditation organisations.

    The market is full of education agents without any knowledge of the education system or facts of US education. The agent’s main duty is to submit application and gets the students their I-20’s. Many US universities have appointed agents in India who lack credibility. In addition to this agents prepare fake bank balance certificates to get an I-20 and the US universities without any questions accept them. (I am not at all sure why US Universities need these fake or manufactured bank statements when they are aware that they are fake) It is these education agents who have actually caused havoc in our Indian market and today we talk about doggy agents all over. Hope AIRC looks into this aspect too and they need to market themselves in India aggressively and build a brand.


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