A record number of Indian students are applying to study in the UK. This is a great change from the situation just three years ago, when Britain was accused of creating a hostile environment for Indian students. Times are changing as Indian talent is globally more in demand than ever before.
India is now the second biggest market for non-EU student applications to the UK after China. Applications from India via to attend British universities in September grew by 11 per cent year on year. The number of Indian applicants surged to 8660 from 7830 in 2021. This is notable as it constitutes just a bit over 10 per cent of all applicants to British higher education institutes this year, with a total of as of the time of writing of this article. It is a robust demonstration of Britain’s continued appeal as a destination for students from emerging markets, despite the many domestic economic challenges stemming from both Brexit and the pandemic. Partly anticipating the increased Indian and foreign student interest, UCAS has introduced an integrated new app called Myriad (also available as a browser) which provides information on courses, funding/scholarships, accommodation, and student jobs for the area that they plan to apply to.
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UCAS projects that this trend of Indians students applying to study in the UK will only increase with time. It is likely to be accelerated sharply if India’s elite educational institutes, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) in the UK as has been recently reported. This would improve India-UK collaboration in the educational sector. Part of Narendra Modi’s New Education policy, it would increase the exposure of India’s elite higher education sector to the dynamics of operating in a modern knowledge-based economy such as the UK. The IITs are well-reputed in India and increasingly abroad, as the latest global University rankings put them in the . It would be beneficial to both British and Indian students to have access to this level of research and teaching, besides giving IITs exposure to British academic management practises that will be useful for their growth. The UAE has already signed a under the terms of a recently signed – the UK can also do something similar.
There is a geopolitical aspect as well to the need for the UK to cultivate ties with India in education. India is a much less risk-laden bilateral relationship compared with China, with whom there is an acute and growing risk of political confrontation. This makes it much more likely that diplomatic ties between China and the UK could be snapped if there were to be confrontation of any kind involving China in the Indo-Pacific. No such risk exists in the UK-India relationship, making it potentially much easier for Indian academic institutes to operate in the UK, and indeed for British institutes to operate in India.
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Trade and economic growth are key areas of focus for both the British and Indian governments, and a robust growth in the presence of Indian students in the UK will be beneficial. It could help to jump start bilateral trade. India-UK bilateral trade is at a respectable , with real potential for rapid growth in the potential aftermath of signing a free trade deal (negotiations are ongoing). As people to people ties between India and the UK are already robust in the form of the Living Bridge, there will be greater input into the high-tech sectors of both countries. Britain is an economy that depends on specialist knowledge and services led growth, with . Attracting the most talented engineers, business managers and doctors from India would benefit the UK greatly. The latter would be especially useful for an NHS creaking under the strain of thousands of delayed appointments as Britain emerges from the pandemic. An exchange of personnel and knowledge in fields such as medicine and IT would have both economic growth benefits for the UK in a digitalised world, and advantages for public well-being more broadly.
Trade could be hugely boosted by an infusion of Indian talent into the British economy via the increased entry of Indian students. That would create more opportunities for trade as Indian exporters could cater to Indians in the UK, even as the UK benefits from simplified trade rules under a prospective FTA.
is a UK-based writer and political analyst specialising in political conflict and counter-terrorism. With a Masters in Comparative Politics: Conflict Studies from the London School of Economics (LSE), his core interest is in international relations with a special focus on the rise of India and its impact on the world stage.