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UK: Fewer Indian students opt for science, technology courses

The reduced number of Indian students this year has led to concerns in some British universities over the financial viability of courses and departments particularly in the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

As universities report a drop of between 20 and 30 per cent of Indian students in the forthcoming academic year starting later this month, the drop has caused much concern over the future of STEM courses that have been popular among postgraduate Indian students.

In oral evidence presented to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee of parliament, senior figures in higher education and industry noted the concern among vice-chancellors about the impact of fewer Indian students on the financial viability of STEM courses and departments.

The committee, which published its report on ‘Overseas Students and Net Migration’ last week, recommended that Indian and other non-EU students should be removed from overall immigration figures since most of them return home after their courses.

The recommendation, however, was rejected by the government keen to cut immigration from outside the EU. Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, which represents all universities and higher education institutions, told the committee that vice-chancellors were “particularly concerned” about the impact of fewer Indian students on STEM subjects.

She said: “I think it is too early to draw apocalyptic conclusions about the closures of departments, but the trends are not good.

It is particularly apparent now, because of the reduction of Indian students students coming from the Indian subcontinent to study STEM subjects that is where there are already questions being asked about the sustainability of certain subjects”.

She said: “We are also seeing an actual reduction in student intake from some countries, particularly from India, particularly in the postgraduate market, and for some universities that is quite marked”.

Dandridge said some universities were particularly concerned about the impact of reduction of international student numbers on specific subject areas, especially STEM, where, “although they are manageable this year, the reductions may affect may affect the viability of some subjects in the future”.

Simon Walker, Director General of the Institute of Directors, told the committee that the impression generated abroad due to changes in student visa policies was having an adverse impact particularly in BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

Walker said: “I think it is damaging our business relationships. It combines with other factors in terms of getting here, and a sort of sense that Britain is not as open as it ought to be. So I think it is one of the factors, but a leading one. A lot of the atmospheric side of it is important”.

He cited a recent survey of members of his institute that one in six of them said they employed graduates from outside the EU, who have graduated from a British university in the last five years, to help with exports.

Walker mentioned a director’s comments from the survey: “I have worked with Chinese and Indian graduates who have assisted with taking business to China and India. They are a great asset to a company if you use them correctly”. (PTI)

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