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Why opt for a course abroad?

Why opt for a course abroad?

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Indian students in the U.S., Australia, Italy, New Zealand and Canada give suggestions for improving higher education at home.

The number of Indian students going abroad for higher studies is rising every year. Not only are students attracted to countries such as the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, where English is the national language, but also to Germany and Italy where English is not the official language. Why do Indians choose foreign universities for higher studies? Is it for prestige or for better career prospects or for any other specific reason? If the quality of education, reputation of the university, research facilities and career prospects could be cited as some of the reasons for Indian students to prefer a foreign university, then these questions arise: Is the higher education system in India not up to the international standard? Do our universities not give much importance to research? What ails higher education in India? What measures should be taken to make our higher education desirable and good, if not great?

Aravintakshan, pursuing his master’s in mechanical engineering at the University of Toronto, Canada, says the main reason for choosing the university was the high-end research facilities available at the university. His interest in research in the field of mechanics and materials and the high reputation of the university — ranked ninth in the world, made him choose it.

For Adlin Selestina, specialising in software engineering at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, it is not just the reputation of the university that mattered, but also courses that matched her interests and the freedom to choose from a wide range of courses.

Elson George had planned to do his master’s either in Germany or in Italy. After weighing the merits and demerits of studying at various universities in the two countries, he landed at the University of Siena, Italy, where he is specialising in electronics and telecommunication engineering. He cites the reputation of the faculty in the university as the main reason for his choice. Avanthi Gopal, pursuing her master’s in electrical engineering at California State University, Los Angeles, U.S., states two reasons for opting to do her master’s at the university. “CSU is a public university with better visibility and affordability and it ranks as one of the safest universities,” she says.

The uniqueness of the programme also makes students opt for a particular university. Vishnupriya, doing her master’s in Applied Science (Information Security and Assurance) at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, says she chose the university because information security and assurance is a blend of both technical and management aspects of information security.

What do Indian students studying overseas think about our education system? They say that the higher education system in the country has both merits and demerits. India has many premier institutions such as IITs, NITs, IISc, IIMs, BITS Pilani and JNU. These institutions do prepare students to face the challenges of the real world. Higher education in India is affordable and the cost of education is cheaper than in many countries. Students with an underprivileged background can also seek admission at top institutions.


However, the demerits outweigh the merits. Everyone agrees that our education system does not promote creativity and fails to focus on developing students’ practical knowledge. Adlin says that students do not have freedom to choose courses from within the programme and are not given an opportunity to develop their practical knowledge and skills. “A student pursuing ME Computer Science has to study all the subjects in the syllabus even when his/her interests are more specific. The curriculum encourages the students to study what is in the book rather than exploring the real world scenario in which those techniques/tools/concepts are used,” she says.

Aravintakshan is of the view that research takes a back seat in India. “Most universities lack research facilities and there is not sufficient fund for research. Lack of facilities for carrying out research is the main drawback in the Indian education system.”

Elson says that education in India is based on rote-learning and is exam-oriented. The system focuses more on marks than on assessing whether the students have understood the concepts. According to Avanthi, “Except a few top ones, most institutions do not focus on improving the quality of education.”


Indian students who move to a foreign country, after having studied in India for over 16 years, do not always find the transition easy. Getting oneself accustomed to a different education system takes time. “It took me one semester to adapt to the educational system here. The transition period was very tough. I underwent a rough patch in the beginning. Being a topper in undergraduation was of no use. Nothing seemed to help but knowledge about the practical applications of what I studied so far,” says Adlin.

Though most students experience an ‘academic shock’ because of a different education system in a foreign country, they get used to it quickly and gain confidence. “In Australia, the academic environment is totally different. Students are given freedom to choose what they want.

The courses are flexible and the pace of learning can be altered according to their comfort,” says Vishnupriya. She also adds that her university was very helpful in providing support to international students.

For Elson, the transition was not difficult as he was mentally prepared to face challenges. “The expectations of professors in Italy are very high. The system here is that the students need to clear a written exam and then an oral exam, which is not like the viva voice conducted in India. The oral exam is a personal interview between the professor and the student and only those who have deep knowledge of the subject can clear the exam.”

Although all of them initially find the transition difficult, they are positive about their experience in a new environment. They gain more confidence and insight by befriending students of different countries, joining different clubs and getting involved in various co-curricular activities.


What are the positive aspects of the education system in the U.S., Australia, Italy, New Zealand and Canada? Some of the salient features of most universities in these countries are application-based learning, purposeful research, institution-industry interaction, 24x7 library and lab facilities, superfast WiFi on the campus and faculty support.

Students in Canadian universities acquire knowledge through research-oriented assignments and project work. “The focus is on developing students’ autonomy. Though professors are there to provide a helping hand, it is our work that helps us gain knowledge.”

Echoing the same view, Elson proudly states that the education system in Italy makes students independent and responsible for their learning.

American universities help students gain in-depth knowledge of the courses by providing them with opportunities to work on projects in a team, to present research papers and to interact with the industry. “We also get opportunities to meet and work with people from different places and culture and learn to celebrate diversity,” says Avanthi.

The students believe that India has the potential to compete with the top research-based universities such as the Harvard, MIT and the University of Toronto provided some radical steps such as changing the assessment pattern and providing adequate funds to research laboratories are taken by the HRD ministry.

Indian universities should also attract more foreign students. It is possible only if our policymakers and educationists are ready to undergo a paradigm shift and listen to the voices of education reformers.

Suggestions and recommendations:

  • There could be more practical learning and research-oriented assignments as these would kindle the inquisitive nature in the students.
  • Individuality of the student should be considered and appreciated rather than expecting a monotonous outcome from all students.
  • The courses should be structured with more flexibility.
  • Research should be given importance and students should be encouraged to carry out purposeful research. Research laboratories should be funded adequately.
  • Students’ knowledge and not their marks should be valued. Their knowledge and skills should be tested continuously through research-based assignments, individual and group projects, paper presentations and so on.
  • Facilities such as 24x7 library, high speed WiFi, 24x7 lab should be provided so that students can work anytime.
  • Institution-industry interaction should be made compulsory.
  • Cross-disciplinary courses should be introduced.

The author is Professor of English and Head, Higher Education at KCG College of Technology, Chennai. Email:

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