W Power 2024

Study Abroad: A launchpad for India's Vision 2047

Higher education abroad not only imparts students with skills and knowledge but also contributes towards a strong economy, writes the co-founder and MD of upGrad

Published: Apr 26, 2024 01:06:47 PM IST
Updated: Apr 26, 2024 01:20:26 PM IST

Study Abroad: A launchpad for India's Vision 2047The trend of Indians pursuing higher a significant shift in household income rise. Image: Shutterstock
India’s journey towards economic prowess and global leadership has long been fuelled by numerous factors, from domestic policy reforms to technological advancements. However, one critical growth driver that is often overlooked is the impact of overseas education. As students increasingly pursue higher education abroad, they not only acquire valuable skills and knowledge but also contribute significantly to India’s economic strength through higher inward foreign remittances. This symbiotic relationship between education abroad and economic empowerment is reshaping India’s position on the global stage.

In recent years, India’s economic aspirations have gained momentum, with joint efforts from policymakers, entrepreneurs, and citizens alike. The vision of a $5-trillion economy reflects not just a numerical target but a collective ambition to establish India as a leading economic force. Central to this growth story is the role of overseas education. The trend of Indians pursuing higher education abroad has witnessed a significant uptick since the pandemic. According to reports, the number of Indian students studying abroad has increased 35 percent in 2023 compared to 2022, reaching an estimated 1.5 million, of which postgraduate students accounted for 70 percent. The trend can also be reinstated through observations identified in upGrad’s report, which included more than 25,000 aspirants, 57.2 percent of who came from tier 2 and 3 cities.

Rising Ambitions

In the last few years, India’s tier 2 and 3 cities have started witnessing a significant shift in household income rise. It has facilitated improved access to the internet and wider information. Interestingly, students from state boards see foreign education as their chance to explore, learn, and grow, not just personally but also professionally. Better jobs, quality education and permanent residency have remained the top three motivators among aspirants, suggesting a strong correlation between international education and career aspirations. This indicates that while a significant number of aspirants value the academic excellence offered by foreign institutions and want better global opportunities, foreign education is also viewed as a pathway to immigration and a long-term commitment to a new country.

Demographic advantage

India is said to be experiencing what is called a ‘Youth Bulge’, meaning 65 percent of our total population comprises children and people below the age of 35. This population, coupled with rising aspirations to study abroad, indicate a great potential in India to build a robust talent pipeline. With a large pool of young, ambitious individuals eager to pursue higher education globally, India can contribute not only to its own workforce but also supply skilled professionals to meet the needs of global economies. Moreover, with the advent of emerging-technologies such as GenAI, there is a vast global skills gap that needs to be bridged. WEF suggests that 23 percent of global jobs will change in the next five years due to industry transformation, including through artificial intelligence and other text, image, and voice processing technologies. This presents yet another opportunity for India to leverage its manpower potential, enhance talent mobility, and build the largest talent economy.

Also read: Home or overseas education: Which is better?

Cultural Immersion for Global Economies

Overseas education provides Indian students with a unique opportunity for cultural immersion, personal growth, and professional success. By exposing themselves to diverse cultures, students not only cultivate adaptability but also hone essential cross-cultural communication skills. This assimilation into local cultures and the nuances abroad equips them with the cultural intelligence necessary for thriving in a globalised world. Reports indicate that 98 percent of students believe that their experience abroad improved their understanding of their own cultural values and prejudices while also advancing their worldview. Therefore, when these learners return with their enhanced perspective, they play a crucial role in fuelling innovation, fostering international partnerships, and driving economic development in India. Their ability to bridge cultural divides and leverage their global perspectives contribute to India’s economic growth and influence.

Driving economic growth

With inward foreign remittances witnessing a 26 percent increase in FY23, totalling about $112.5 billion (oil import—$120 billion, IT exports—$190 billion), bilateral and trade initiatives have fuelled the hiring of Indian skilled workers, with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries being prominent destinations. Central government data shows that more than 2.8 million Indians went abroad to work between January 2020 and July 2022. Data further reveals that Gulf countries continue to attract an influx of Indian talent, with a total of 7.93 million living in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman alone. India’s youthful population and a surge in talent mobility continue to reshape the narrative around brain drain. This trend reflects strongly on how Indian talent is making its mark across global marketplaces and job sectors already.

Wider Partnerships

Soaring inward foreign remittances further demonstrate India’s growing potential in becoming the talent capital of skilled individuals. This also opens up a window for us to widen our collaboration with foreign universities who are looking at expanding their reach but have geographical limitations. Collaborations with academic institutions and universities provide access to a larger culture-rich talent while also facilitating the development of tailored programmes backed by industry veterans and global faculty that meet the evolving needs of students and industries. By fostering wider collaborations and partnerships across the education and skilling ecosystem, we can bridge the gap making India the largest talent supplier.

The symbiotic relationship between overseas education and India’s economic growth is evident. The surge in Indian students pursuing education abroad, driven by rising aspirations and the demographic-advantage of a youthful population, positions India as a prominent player in the global talent market. Leveraging partnerships with foreign universities/fostering collaborations across the education and skilling ecosystem, we have the potential to bridge the global skills gap and emerge as the talent capital of the world. As India advances towards its dream of Viksit Bharat@2047 to achieve economic prosperity and global leadership, overseas education will remain a vital catalyst for its success..

(This story appears in the 19 April, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)