Oft mis-interpreted IIE Open Doors 2016 enrolment statistics… Sorting out the real data on Indian student numbers to US and its future post Trump…

Like each year, US released the enrolment statistics and confused many. Most “incorrectly” believe (including experts and student counsellors) that number of Indian students who went to US in 2015-16 was 165918. Just google and you will find enough media coverage re-hashed from the press release issued.

There is a lot of information in the Open Doors report (see fast-facts-2016 ) and can be some kind of a measure for planning but I find it bothersome that they leave out the actual and most relevant statistics that should be the way to gauge any growth or decline in interest in US Universities during that time. They don’t even mention this data in passing in the fact sheet.

Let me begin by explaining what is an “enrolment” that has been used for comparison:

Enrolment is not the “new students who commenced” during the year at the University. It is “new students” plus “any other students who may still be enrolled” at the University from previous years. Thus a PhD student may remain enrolled for several years and thus reflect in the statistics given out for all those years.

While it may still be useful to know as to the total number of students from a nationality in a country, it is incorrect way to compare primarily because the level of students being undertaken from certain countries can even include English Language students or pathway diplomas or community college diplomas while for other countries it may primarily be University students. We end up comparing apples with oranges. Indian students to any country rarely enrol only for English language preparation schools while that may not be true for other countries. Any student commencing at the language or even school level tends to remain enrolled for several more years in a country if we assume that a student beginning to learn english goes on to a community college and then to the University. Thus we continue to keep counting a student for several years and in the case of some countries because of the student being enrolled for additional years of education prior to the University, the count is for further years… Thus an Indian student commencing for Undergraduate degree is counted as enrolled for about 4 years while a Chinese student starting in a language school or pathway will get counted for about 6-7 years.

What is even more bothersome is that strategists and planners just pick this data of enrolments and pitch it against the data that is released by Australians or Kiwis or British or Canadians which is often the student visa grant numbers for the year. How absurd.

For the south-asian regions, the enrolment  statistics as presented by IIE Open Doors 2016 is as follows:

asia-open-doors-2016-copyHaving indicated the above, I want to re-emphasise on the importance of looking at “fresh starts” during the year as a better indicator of increasing or decreasing demand for the Universities in a particular country.

Talking of Indian student interest in USA, USA has done very well and I am now sharing the F1 (or simply speaking students) visa grant data for India from the official US source (https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/law-and-policy/statistics/non-immigrant-visas.html ).


So the actual number of student visas issued to Indian students for the full year was 74831 and this grew by over 32% over the previous year. The above chart also shows the decline and growth in interest which can be mapped against certain major developments in US.

Why I remain anti use of enrolment stats for US is that if enrolment stats are mapped similarly, it hides any immediate impacts on student numbers due to students already enrolled in the system from previous years.

I am also attaching the downloaded detailed country wise numbers here.


This data clearly indicates that the demand for US education has been on a steep increase in recent years and in terms of growth %, it is well more than what the 25% growth in enrolments leads us to believe.

Will this demand continue to sustain even post Donald Trump’s election remains a question mark. I am of the view that we need to note the following:

Trump’s campaign was often seen as anti migrants but when we take a closer look, it appears that he is often referring to illegal migrants only. He may have talked against outsourcing of American jobs or may have given an indication that he will prefer Americans being considered first for jobs before inviting workers from overseas. However at no point he is talking of tightening visas for students (especially students from South Asia). He has also generally projected himself as pro-India. My gut feel is that Indian student numbers to USA will continue to grow and even there will be no change with the current policies on OPT or pathway to H1B and Green card for graduating students from quality institutions. 

Since there is some talk of the possibility of changes to the H1B regulations and its possible impact on the Indian tech-industry, I share the following excerpt from an article in FIRSTPOST… I too believe that Trump’s position will change and some of the election posturing will get a bit diluted.

In summary, the business partnership between US and India possibly is at its best times given the huge technology opportunity in front of the world.

In my view, the industry will closely watch as to how Donald Trump steers the US Immigration Bill in terms of costs, free movement of skilled Indian workforce to the US, and limitations on the number of people that can work in the US. Indian technology industry has a significant presence in the US and continues to have Indian skill-force working for US clients through the H1-B visa regulations. Any downside changes in the US Immigration Bill would clearly have a negative impact on Indian technology companies.

Another aspect that needs to be seen is how will the Indian currency move. The overall balance of trade between India and the US will also play a key role. The currency factor is important for Indian technology companies given their dependency on export earnings. In my view, Donald Trump would mean good for business but one would need to carefully wait and watch how the policies play out especially on immigration, trade agreements with various countries and his engagement with Indian polity and businesses.

The strength and robustness of the Indian technology industry would be strong grounds for the US to continue to partner in areas of global innovation and technology. However, Indian technology companies would need to accelerate their adoption of newer technologies and shift gears on areas of artificial intelligence, cloud, etc, and leverage this opportunity to foster even closer ties with the US in the area of technology.


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