Despite visa restrictions the United Kingdom remains the top foreign destination for Indian students. According to data available for 2010, almost twice the number of Indian students who applied to study higher education abroad chose colleges in the UK over the United States.
Latest data for entry into college for 2010 show that the UK has issued 57,500 student visas, almost double the number issued by the US (32,000). In 2009, the number of new student entrants stood at 34,000 for the UK against 27,000 for the US.
The increase came even as Britain ended a six-month suspension of issuing student visas in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Britain has also tightened up on student visas this year to include restrictions on those wanting to enrol in English language schools, and set more stringent requirements for English language proficiency for other courses.
The revised norms were drawn up after the UK Border Agency suspended student visa applications from North India, Nepal and Bangladesh in February as it investigated an inexplicable six-fold increase in student visa applications.
Educational consultants said this widening gap could be partially attributed to the availability of shorter courses in destinations outside the US.
"The US banks have also laid down stricter norms for lending money to students to fund their educational expenses. In some cases banks have also stopped lending to international students without co-signers," said Naresh Gulati, an education consultant.
Australia's loss in attracting Indian students has also turned up a boon for colleges in the UK.
A change in visa laws coupled with incidents of racially motivated attacks has turned out to be the major concern for Indian students considering studying in Australia. The last academic year saw an overall decline of more than 60% in Indian students going to Australia.
Notably, information provided by the Council of Graduate Schools in the CGS International Graduate Admissions Survey shows that there was little to no growth in the numbers of applications from prospective graduate students from India in 2010. Initial offers of admission to prospective graduate students also fell 4% in 2010 following declines of 14% in 2009.
For India, this is the third consecutive year of decline in offers of admission.
According to information shared by the UK Border Agency in India, 15,000 student visas were issued for the academic year 2004-05 but the number went up to 16,227 in the next academic year and 2006-07 saw the figure almost touching 20,000. The numbers rose further to 23,500 in 2007 and 27,000 in 2008.
However, the US still has the biggest pool of Indians enrolled, with over 100,000 Indian students on American campuses.
Peggy Blumenthal, Chief Operating Officer of the Institute of International Education in the US, said visa statistics for 2010 up to July would not capture the majority of Indian students who typically applied for their visas from May to late August, with many applying in early September.
"Students are not permitted to apply more than six months before their expected start date at a US institution. Right now, hundreds of students in India are still going for visa interviews at all five consular offices every day," said Blumenthal.