You’d never guess which country has the largest number of Indian students

Higher education, backward communities, SC, ST
More than 1.2 million Indian students are now studying in campuses abroad, twice more than a decade ago | Illustration - Prathap Ravishankar

Asked to guess the country with the largest number of Indian students, most people would perhaps name the United States or Britain. But according to Ministry of External Affairs data, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is home to the largest population of Indian students outside of their home country, with Canada a close second.

The US, after years of unfriendly visa regulations, has not only seen a decline in fresh enrolment but a compounding drop in the total Indian student population too.

More than 1.2 million Indian students are now studying in campuses abroad, twice more than a decade ago. The UAE has 219,000 Indian students, Canada 215,720, the US 211,930, Australia 92,383, Saudi Arabia 80,800, Britain 55,465, and Oman 43,600.

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Consultant Maria Mathai said there are different kinds of Indian students abroad. There are those who join a campus abroad. “But many of the students in UAE or Saudi Arabia are those who have joined a campus there as their parents are working in those countries,” Mathai told The Times of India.

Then there are Indian universities that have set up campuses in the UAE and offer Indian students a foreign-campus experience. Under such an arrangement, students join the international campus towards the end of their study programme.

An international degree, the diversity of classes and a taste of freedom, both academic and personal, are among the pulls of a foreign campus. The competition to get a seat in good Indian institutes also pushes many out.

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“Canada is a top destination for high-quality, globally recognised education in an open, tolerant, safe and multicultural environment. Our colleges are leaders in applied higher education, offering a variety of recognised credentials including university transfer programmes, academic and applied degrees, and postgraduate diplomas,” Amanda Strohan, deputy high commissioner of Canada to India, told ToI.

The US, after years of falling student intake, saw an overall drop in the total population. “The Trump administration’s adverse immigration policies, which were not welcoming of students, pushed them to other countries like Canada, Australia, UAE. Also, students with a tighter budget also prefer the UAE, apart from the fact that with the large Indian expat community, a relative or friend is easy to reach out to in case of an emergency,” education counsellor Karan Gupta told the newspaper.