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Has the UK degree lost its sheen for Indian students?

Sakshi Shetty (name changed on request) is worried. The 28-year-old executive at a Mumbai bank is all set to join an MBA course in the UK in 2013. However, from April 2012, the UK has discontinued the two-year post-study work route for international non-EU students. Now students from India need to successfully find a job with a UK Border Agency-licensed Tier 2 sponsor to remain in the UK after they finish their courses.

Further, they need to receive a minimum salary of £20,000. The maintenance threshold for international students has also been increased from April 2012. Shetty, who had been planning to go to the UK for an MBA for the last two years, hopes to get a loan for the course. But she is worried that if she can't find a job in Britain before she finishes her studies, it will be tough to repay the loan.

With the post-study leave to stay back and look for a job ending, the value-for-money proposition of a UK degree has definitely come down.

The UK, which has so far held on to its position as the second most popular destination for international students, after the US, seems to be going all out to make things tough for them. And it is not just students who are pressing the panic button. Recently Universities UK, which tracks international student trends, has expressed concern over the falling number of international students. According to data from Universities and Colleges Admissions Service last month, applications from non-EU students in the UK are down compared with the same time last year, and as on November 19, there was a 0.8% fall in the number of non-EU applicants intending to commence their studies in 2013 compared with last year.

Students Feel the Heat

For Indian students too, the UK is becoming a less attractive destination and the trend is clear from the figures. In 2011, 30,000 student visas were issued at an approval rate of 75%. In 2010, the figure was 41,350 against 57,000 in 2009. Most experts are expecting the figures for 2012 to go down further. "We have been seeing a rush among Indian students in the UK to come back to India. Apart from not being able to remain in the UK after studies to look for jobs, the lack of jobs is also a cause for concern," says Kris Lakshmikanth, CEO, Headhunters, an HR consultancy. He finds the glamour of a UK education wearing out for most employers in India too.

Anuradha Sareen, who represents the University of Bristol in India, is almost certain that the overall number of Indian students choosing the UK for higher education is going to decrease in 2013. "Universities in the UK are highlighting career counselling and advising students on extra academic issues such as leadership skills and networking," she says.


Along with announcing tougher rules for international students, the UK Border Agency has become more strict in implementing them. Students are apprehensive of the new rules as well as of the lack of job opportunities. "I had to send out at least 30 applications before I heard back from anyone. It is very difficult for post-graduate students in an intensive course to put so much time into job hunt," says an Indian student who studied a post-grad communications course in the batch of 2011. While she found a job after a three-month search, many of her batchmates are still looking around. Building Brand Value

Even as the country loses its sheen as a campus destination, the UK authorities are making a strong pitch to support what is one of their strongest education markets. "There is no limit on the number of Indian students who can study in the UK," a senior official at the British High Commission in Delhi told ET Magazine. In defence of setting £20,000 as the minimum salary that students who want to remain in the UK after their studies need to get, he added that the average salary in London is now £26,000.

Other steps are also being taken — like the launch of a jobs portal that links highly skilled Indian graduates who studied in the UK with employers back home. "We are likely to see a small drop in the number of students from India in 2013 following the new rules. However, our students are global resources and we are working towards creating greater links between them and international employers," said Geoff Rodgers, pro-vice-chancellor of London-based Brunel University.

How far will the UK slip as a destination for students from India is a question that will be answered as the batch of 2013 firms up its choices. Many still argue that the quality of education at the top institutions in the UK outweighs the difficulties in getting jobs post-study. "The withdrawal of the UK work permit has had an impact on the number of students opting for the country as a study destination. However, many of my college juniors are enquiring about the admission procedures," says Delhi-based designer Aditi Sharma, who studied master's in industrial design from Loughborough University in 2010-11. For her, the value of her UK education came from the one-year master's programme rather than a course that lasts two or more years.

But it is likely that the Class of 2013 will seriously consider the availability of jobs and the opportunity to scout around before deciding on an overseas campus destination.

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