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Top Destinations for Indian International Students (2018-2020)

The international education sector of many first-world countries has a lot to thank Indian international students for. For about a decade now, India has been among the top source markets for global learners and has boosted the economic growth of main study-abroad destinations. This includes Australia, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and some countries in Europe.


According to the Migration Policy Centre (MPC) at the European University Institute (EUI), Indian international students are known to be achievers in the programs such as information technology, engineering, medicine, and biological sciences. Most higher education institutions (HEIs) in top destinations offer these courses along with state-of-the-art learning facilities.


In this article, we will revisit the favorite destinations of Indian global learners. This will also touch on the strengths of these top countries and what makes them an ideal destination for international students.

Key Takeaways:

  • As of the latest data available from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the top five destinations among Indian international students include the US, Australia, Canada, the UK, and Germany
  • In 2019-2020, some 193,124 Indian students attended US colleges and universities. 
  • A total of 73,316 students from India were enrolled in Australia in 2018.
  • Some 34,806 students from India were enrolled in Canada in 2018.
  • In the continent of Europe, the United Kingdom and Germany had 19,599 and 15,473 Indian international students in 2018, respectively.

The United States

In 2019-2020, 193,124 Indian students attended US colleges and universities. This number proves that, historically, the US has been the top favorite destination for Indian global learners. Even during the pandemic, the annual Open Doors Report on International Student Exchange shows that the US remains to be the most preferred destination among Indian students


According to the US India Education Foundation or USIEF, HEIs in the US are loved for their top-notch quality of education. Apart from granting international students meaningful networking opportunities, earning a degree in a US HEI also allows them to be highly qualified and employable in their respective fields.


A 2015 study done among 116 Indian companies revealed that having leaders who studied or worked abroad is deemed to be a competitive advantage. Besides employability in a general sense, Indian international students also find studying at an American college to be an effective pathway to land a job in a US-based company post-graduation. This aligns with the immigration aspirations of most Indian youths.


The influx of Indian students in the US international education scene has also impacted the country’s economy positively. According to the US Department of Commerce, the economic contribution of the Indian global learners amounted to $7.7 billion in 2019.


Besides being widely recognized as a generally safe haven for foreigners, Australia is a popular destination for Indian global learners due to the affordability of education and the relatively low cost of living. According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), there were 73,316 students from India who studied in Australia in 2018. 


Due to the country’s welcoming communities, a significant number of Indian families have migrated to the Land Down Under, making the country a top-of-mind choice for those who have connections back in India. Several other criteria that match the aspirations of most Indian students also make Australia attractive among Indian global learners. This includes the availability of pathways to permanent residency, post-study work rights, and employment.


Despite pandemic-induced challenges, Australia remains an appealing study destination for global learners due to the impressive university rankings of Australian HEIs. As a vital piece of the nation’s economy (the international education sector in Australia is worth $14.6 billion in 2019), the government and some organizations such as the Australian-Indian Sports Educational and Cultural Society (AISECS) implemented ways to entertain foreign students who are keen to study in Australia.


AISECS, for instance, devised initiatives to support students’ mental health as they suffer unemployment-related stress due to persistent lockdowns. Emotional support efforts were also given to the bereaved friends and families of casualties due to the fatal second wave of COVID-19. Meanwhile, New South Wales and South Australia initiated plans to assist the return of Indian students and pitched a student return plan to the federal government.


In addition, through the Global Talent Independent program (GTI), more applicants are expected when borders reopen. The GTI program is the fastest pathway to residing permanently in Australia. In the first quarter of 2020, a total of 265 highly skilled Indian nationals were reported to be invited to seek permanent residency under the GTI program. 


Based on UIS data, 34,806 students from India were enrolled in Canadian institutions in 2018. Meanwhile, the Canadian High Commission in Delhi revealed that in the first four months of 2021 nearly 100,000 study permits were issued to international students. This is an impressive 66,000 increase from the same period last year and 96,000 in the same period of 2019. In a recent report released by CIC News, it was revealed that Indians comprise 30 percent of Canada’s new international students.


Due to a large middle-class population with a high level of English-language proficiency, Indian global learners are compatible and eligible for programs offered by Canadian educational institutions. Studying in Canada is also attractive for them due to its competitive packages and dynamic immigration systems. 


For instance, international students can get the opportunity to work and obtain a post-graduation work permit to gain professional experience from a Canada-based company. This is just one of the more than 80 economic-class immigration streams and 100 different Canadian immigration pathways for skilled workers, business people, and even their families to choose from.


Offering these competitive and comprehensive study-work-immigrate packages also benefits Canada on a macro level. Due to its aging local population, younger immigrants help boost the economy and workforce.


Lastly, overall expenses in Canada are deemed less expensive than in other international education destinations (such as the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom). A good explanation for this is the performance of the Canadian dollar. Historically, it is observed to be weaker than the U.S. dollar, the British pound, and the Euro.

The United Kingdom

According to UIS, 19,599 students from India were enrolled at academic institutions in the United Kingdom in 2018. This influx of Indian global learners is likely an off-shoot of the long-standing relationship between India and the UK.


Additionally, the MPC states that the political and economic developments in the continent have made European HEIs appealing to Indian international students. This is especially true in the UK where programs preferred by Indian students are backed by state-of-the-art facilities. These include business management, engineering, and accounting, among other things.


Although UK education is admittedly described by the MPC as more expensive due to premium tuition fees coupled with a high cost of living, Indian international students are still highly influenced by the Indian diaspora in the UK to pursue their study abroad ambitions there.


However, in a survey shared by MPC which was conducted by the Erasmus Mundus program, countries in the Mainland or Continental Europe are also gaining appeal among Indian global learners. This is due to the lower tuition fees, availability of scholarships, and an increase in programs that are taught in English.


Germany is fifth on the list of top countries preferred by Indian international students. According to UIS, there were 15,473 Indian global learners in Germany in 2018. World Education News and Reviews (WENR), in turn, noted that Germany has a strong international reputation when it comes to high-quality scientific research.


Germany’s higher education landscape is also generally top-notch and its impressive STEM programs continue to appeal to Indian global learners. The attractive HEI and scientific research scene in this European country is a likely result of the Excellence Initiative that was implemented by the German government in 2005.


The success of Germany’s Excellence Initiative in attracting global learners aligns with the common deciding factor among Indian international students– the ranking and reputation of HEIs in terms of high-quality education and faculty profiles.


Other factors for Indian students as stated by ICEF Monitor, which the above-mentioned top five destinations satisfy, include job placements, cost of tuition and living, scholarships, and support from alumni and student recruitment agents to help them with the application process.


In addition, the potential return of investment is also a factor for both Indian students and their parents who are financing their education. In the context of the pandemic, however, perception of health and safety has become an important determinant of whether a destination will be chosen or not.


Despite the physical, emotional, and mental stress associated with confronting the COVID-19 pandemic, the volume of Indian international students continuing their education journey is inspiring. It only shows their unfazed spirit, their fortitude, and their will to succeed. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)

#PartnerForLife #GlobalEducationForAll #InternationalEducation #InternationalStudents #MSM

MSM VP Global Suneetha Qureshi

MSM President-Global Marketing Office (GMO)

Suneetha has more than 10 years of experience in the international education sector. As president of MSM GMO, she fortifies its business development outreach globally, particularly in the face of MSM’s foray in edtech-based recruitment via MSM Unify. She preserves the premium, value-adding services provided to each GMO partner institution, including dedicated teams on the ground, agent management, lead generation and inquiry management, application pre-screening, and student and parent support through pioneering pre-departure briefing sessions.


She has an impeccable track record of successfully launching the representative offices in Asia and Africa of many North American and European higher education institutions. Her key strengths include hiring, training, and developing teams as evidenced by the successful results of the dedicated in-country college and university client teams.

Suneetha also has taken the lead in developing several initiatives at MSM, including building robust standard operating procedures, the Rise ‘n Shine team engagement platform, and the organization’s data analytics and audit segments.



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