Foreign students in US – China, India, South Korea

Someone forwarded this article from New York Times: Getting Ahead in India Means Getting Out of Town. Here are some excerpts from the article:

“… is among a rising number of students in India’s rapidly expanding younger population who want, and can pay for, a better education. Yet they know that in a country where thousands apply for each spot at a handful of top universities, the chances of this happening are remote. These students say a good foreign degree will get them a better job and a better life. And if the potential return on investment appears worthwhile, they will put their money on it”

“… the number of Indian students going overseas annually has doubled in the past six years, reaching more than 200,000”

The fact that the education in India at this level lacks in quality is a well-known problem. However, just so you understand the scale, consider this: India produced 400,000 technology graduates and 2.5 million general college graduates (75% of former and 90% of latter are unable to find work – When More is Worse). So we are talking about 7% of graduates coming out of India universities. Story of rest of 93% is much less glamorous – most of these are about sub-par skills and scarcity of jobs in India.

To understand this data about students going to US for higher studies, I also looked at past trends (thanks to Open Doors Data) to understand this phenomenon better. Here are some interesting findings I had:

  1. China, India and South Korea together account for 45% of all foreign students in US universities.
  2. China has been accelerating its share extraordinarily since 2007, both in graduate and undergraduate section.
  3. South Korea dominated (by a big margin) in terms of undergraduate students till 2007, when China started accelerating and finally caught up this year. South Korea has been flat, and low in terms of graduate students.
  4. India dominated in terms of graduate students 2002-2009, China’s steady acceleration from 2007 finally caught up with Indian numbers this year. India has been largely flat in terms of undergraduate students over these years.

Chinese acceleration is very interesting, and having lived in China for 2 years 2008-2010, I can certainly see why this acceleration would be there, private wealth creation has been extraordinary over these years. Another point to note is India’s relatively flat undergraduate numbers – undergrad doesn’t have much scholarship and so this cost must be borne by parents. Also, this may also be because of confidence people in Indian colleges and universities at under-grad level.

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