India-EU Student mobility – A Win-Win Opportunity for the EU?

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  • Education services industry has a global turnover of up to 90 billion dollars.
  • International student fees assist in financing the higher education sector in host countries.
  • According to available statistics present with UNESCO, there were 51566 Indian students in Europe in the year 2009 of which 34065 were based in UK.
  • According to a large number of studies, Indian students are amongst the best and the most highly achieving studentsespecially in the fields of IT, engineering, medicine and biological sciences
  • Providing better employment opportunities for Indian graduates from EU-based universities should be seen as a mutually beneficial arrangement as it addresses the growing skills shortage in the OECD countries as well as provides strong incentives for Indian students to choose EU countries for higher education.
  • Financial feasibility of foreign education and employment prospects are the driving forces for Indian students in European (non-English speaking) countries.
  • Steps should be taken to reduce the high monetary impact on Indian students by providing scholarships to meritorious students with conditions regarding their return to India.
  • European universities should implement a mechanism of integration to assist Indian students to bridge the cultural and language gaps in host (non-English speaking) EU countries.


Education is an important area of cooperation for both India and the European Union (EU). India-EU strategic partnership in education has been further strengthened through the revision of the Joint Action Plan (JAP) in 2008 which addressed the issue of student migration, education and academic exchange (Mukherjee and Chanda 2012:1) Apart from promoting positive bilateral relations between the two economic powers, promoting student mobility is also mutually beneficial in terms of the huge economic incentive it provides. A profit-churning industry with a global turnover of up to 90 billion dollars (Mukherjee and Chanda 2012: x), education services is a sector that the EU should promote further in the coming decades.  

Indian students abroad

Since the past ten years, there has been a remarkable rise in the number of Indian students pursuing higher education outside India. India is one of the key markets targeted by the leading providers of higher education. India has grown considerably in terms of its contribution in the international students market and is the second most important source country after China[i]. Even though the US is till the top destination for Indian students (53.6% of Indian students abroad chose to study in the US in 2009[ii]), its market share has drastically reduced since 2000 mainly because of stricter immigration policies post 9/11.

On one hand, the percentage of Indian students in the US has reduced, but on the other hand, a combination of political and economic developments has promoted Indian students to seek Europe, in particular UK, as a destination for higher education. UK has attracted over 17 % of Indian students in 2009[iii], becoming the second most important destination after the US. It has been the most preferred destination for Indian students in Europe due to four reasons – colonial heritage leading to a long standing relationship between UK and India; presence of reputed institutions of higher education; Indian students’ preference to study in programmes taught in English; and the presence of a large Indian diaspora in UK providing a ‘home-away-from-home’. However, UK education comes with some disadvantages as well which includes its high cost such as premium tuition fees coupled with sky-high living expenses.  

In such a situation, other European countries are slowly gaining favour amongst the Indian student community, especially countries such as France and Germany.  In addition, Indian students also fulfil the shortage created by low EU student enrolment in science and engineering courses. According to a survey carried out by the Erasmus Mundus programme[iv], students from India usually do not perceive the EU as a single entity and see differences in between member countries with regard to living costs, tuition fees, facilities provided, visa regulations, work permit regulations, quality and teaching methods. Mainland/continental European countries are slowly gaining favour among the Indian community for higher education because of cheaper tuition costs, availability of scholarships and growth in programmes taught in English.

UK has recently changed its immigration policy and removed its post-study work visa (PSW) route for non-EU nationals. This visa was an essential incentive for non-EU students to come to UK as it allowed them to work in UK for 2 years (without a need for a sponsor) after they graduate from a UK university. With the change in immigration policies in UK, it is a crucial time for other European host countries to gain momentum and attract more Indian students to join their higher education establishments.

Essential aspects for promoting India-EU student mobility:

  • Scholarships – Scholarships, such as those provided through the Erasmus Mundus Programme, need to be increased to provide financial assistance to meritorious Indian students. These should be given with conditions regarding the students’ return to India.
  • Employment – employment policies need to be made more flexible to fill labour market shortages in the EU and give an opportunity for Indian students graduating from EU-based universities to gain work experience. Internships and employment through tie-ups with European companies based in India can act as an incentive.
  • Student exchange programmes – Partnerships between Indian and EU-based universities need to be promoted so that there is exchange of students, faculty members and researchers between the two regions.
  • Advertising and Marketing – Strategic promotion has to be conducted in India to promote European universities and improve visibility of programmes taught in English through education fairs,  virtual discussions on online student forums, etc.
  • Flexible visa and immigration policies – policies tackling illegal migration should not affect genuine students and a special visa facilitation system should be introduced for students to make the visa process more standardized and simplified across the EU.
  • Integration mechanism –language training and cultural workshops need to be conducted (both pre-course training as well as later upon arrival in host country) to alleviate cultural and language barriers.

Indian students, along with the rest of the international student community, pay premium fees for studying in countries such as USA or UK which can be almost three times the amount charged to local students (Lall 2008 cited in Mukherjee and Chanda 2012:3). Not only is the income generated through these fees beneficial for the host country economies , but the presence of meritorious Indian students also creates a healthy competition amongst the student community and raises the performance standards of host universities (Khadria 2001 cited in Mukherjee and Chanda 2012:3). In the present globalised world, the EU needs to make sure that it promotes student mobility through specialized education policy framework, which can in turn maintain EU’s competitive edge at the global level and fulfil the predicted labour market shortage in specialised sectors. 

The MPC Team

[i] UNESCO database on International students at tertiary level (ISCED 5 and 6) cited in Mukherjee and Chanda 2012: 6

[ii] UNESCO database on International students at tertiary level (ISCED 5 and 6) cited in Mukherjee and Chanda 2012: 8

[iii] UNESCO database on International students at tertiary level (ISCED 5 and 6) cited in Mukherjee and Chanda 2012: 13

[iv] Survey titled ‘Perceptions of European Higher Education in Third Countries’ cited in Lall, M. (2006) Indian Students in Europe: Trends, Constraints and Prospects – Living in ‘the Age of migration’, Briefing Paper for the Academic Network for European Research on India


Mukherjee, S. and Chanda, R. (2012) Indian Student Mobility to European Countries: An Overview, CARIM-India Research Report 2012, Migration Policy Center (MPC), Florence, Italy

Lall, M. (2006) Indian Students in Europe: Trends, Constraints and Prospects – Living in ‘the Age of migration’, Briefing Paper for the Academic Network for European Research on India

Note: This brief is largely based on MPC’s research report titled ‘Indian Student Mobility to European Countries: An Overview’, CARIM-India Research Report 2012, written by Shahana Mukherjee and Rupa Chanda