It’s that time of the year again as more than hundreds of Indian students leave the country to study abroad.
Every year, numerous Indian students seek higher education abroad, considering factors like prospects, interests, multiculturalism, and quality of life. Ministry of External Affairs data reveals over 13,00,000 Indian students studying in 79 countries in 2022. Around 211,930 of those students were in the US alone. This year, the number went up by 68%, according to data by Subhas Sarkar, Minister of State in the Ministry of Education.
Traditionally, STEM courses have been the preferred choice for Indian students due to their longer stay-back periods and promising job prospects. Recent trends, though, suggest a shift towards non-STEM fields such as Business, Data and Marketing Analytics, and Psychology.
Students have encountered their fair share of challenges related to job prospects and visa complexities, which can dampen aspirations. For Indian students, especially those pursuing non-STEM courses, challenges have surfaced in the post-pandemic era. Factors like the economic slowdown and employer’s hesitancy to sponsor visas have compounded the job market’s uncertainties. Many students find themselves working part-time jobs while seeking full-time opportunities, making the transition from academia to the workforce a daunting task.
The changing dynamics of the job market raise a crucial question: Are non-STEM courses abroad worth pursuing?
Riya, 23, is preparing to leave for Manchester for her master’s in Psychology this month. “In my case, at least, the field I wanted to specialize in is unexplored in India,” she says. “There are a lot of pros of studying psych in India – there’s a huge research opportunity, a growing need for industrial psychologists, and an increasing awareness of Developmental Psychology. On the other hand, if you do go abroad, the advantages are that you have a variety of specializations to choose from and many job opportunities are available – despite the financial burdens. So for me, it was an obvious choice,” she further adds.
In the USA, though, the rising cost of living combined with limited job opportunities has shattered the dreams of many aspiring students. For international students, studying abroad is about choosing courses that allow a maximum stay-back period and easy post-study work permits with lucrative packages. STEM courses generally offer a longer stay-back period than non-STEM courses because of their high demand in the labour market. Similarly, STEM graduates get the opportunity to work in high-tech firms.
Mayuresh, 26, is another such student who moved to Boston 3 years ago to pursue an MBA in marketing. It was easier for him, he acknowledges, since his younger sister, born in Chicago, holds a US passport. However, pursuing a marketing course was still a risk. “Anyone planning to pursue marketing or any non-STEM courses abroad, I believe it would definitely fare better for them to stay back and gain some work experience first. I had to spend too many of my days here part-timing at Dunkin’ and I think it could have been avoided had I not rushed,” he adds.
Jayashree, 24, echoes Mayuresh’s sentiment, that it’s far easier to migrate with work experience. Beyond well-ranked universities, many find that their foreign education does not fetch them any significant premium in the job market. “If you want to study in the USA, I would definitely suggest opting for some kind of STEM program because you’ll need it for getting H1,” she says. Even if one has money, she says, studying abroad is the easier part, but landing a job – not so much.
Apart from European countries and the USA, there is a smaller number of Indian students pursuing unconventional courses abroad. Kaurpreet, 23, is one of the more than 1,300 Indian students studying in South Korea. With at least 40 universities in the latest QS Rankings list, the 10th largest economy in the world is now becoming a go-to place for study abroad aspirants. Kaurpreet admits her life in South Korea is certainly a lot different than the life of her peers who are now in the US/UK. Rent and tuition expenses are relatively low in Korea, making it an affordable choice compared to other popular study-abroad destinations.
There is a surge in the need for skilled IT professionals and researchers in South Korea – but for non-STEM students, getting a job in South Korea isn’t easy either. “Your choices are limited because of the language barrier, strict visa policy, average salary, finite job market, and distinct work conditions,” Kaurpreet adds. “One of the most common ways to find a career here is through teaching English, as many of my Indian classmates in Korea have.”
So despite the allure, is it worthwhile? “This is a question that only you can truly answer. ,” says Jayashree. “Sure, there are challenges, navigating immigration rules can be complex, and searching for jobs will be frustrating. But in this chaos, if your privilege allows you, there’s a unique sense of enjoyment and achievement. Above all, one constant I believe in is that investing in education always pays off,” she concludes.