Fleeing the nest, not just for money

Prof. Mathew C Ninan,  Director of Little Rock, Brahmavar, Udupi
Published in the Deccan Herald dated February 1, 2023

This is not a sudden development. We have had young people go abroad for higher studies and finally settle there. We dubbed it “brain drain” and just ignored it. Some thought it was fine because of the foreign exchange coming from the migrants. But that is a simplistic way of looking at things. Come to think of it, it has far-reaching implications.

It is reported that the number of students who went to study abroad rose from 4,40,000 in 2019 to 7,70,000 in 2021. The United States is the most popular destination, with more than 50 per cent of Indian students studying in North America; Canada accounts for nearly half of them. Other countries that attract a large number of students are Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Germany, Russia, and the Philippines. Students go to China and even some of the Middle Eastern countries.

Unesco data from January 2021 says that more than one million Indian students are studying in 85 countries worldwide. The Open Doors Report of 2021 says that 1,67,582 students went to the US in 2021–22 for higher studies.

As per the data from the Government of India, the total number of Indian students studying in the US was 2,06,708 out of a total of 5,53,440 students studying abroad in 2021. Canada is second on the list, and Australia holds the third position.

In recent times, Canada has become a popular destination due to the strong Indian diaspora presence there and the benefits offered by the Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP). Unofficial figures suggest that migration is rising by 40 per cent every year. In South India, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu witness the highest migration. Kerala leads in the number of students in proportion to its population.

Indications are that the number from Kerala will cross one lakh in the next five years.
The figures show a trend, namely, a tendency among the young to go abroad for higher studies and eventually settle down there. This tendency is rapidly spreading. It’s not clear if the governments at the centre or in the states have tried to figure out the reasons for this exodus or its implications.


Why do our young people want to study at foreign universities? Most of them go to study there at considerable financial cost to their families. Very few of them get any kind of scholarship, assistantship, or bursary. Education in most of these countries is prohibitively expensive. The annual cost can range between $20,000 and $40,000, or approximately Rs 16 lakh and Rs 32 lakh.

The ultimate aim of these youngsters and their families is to secure their future in one of the western countries. Because passing English language tests is a prerequisite for admission to most western universities, Indian students take IELTS and TOEFL. In 2021, 1.4 million students took the IELTS, and 0.32 million took the TOEFL.

Commenting on the trend, RedSeer, a research and advisory firm, said, “Student outflow abroad for higher education is expected to grow at an accelerated pace. Indian students’ overseas spending is expected to hit a whopping $80 billion a year by 2024.”

According to a study conducted by the leading publication, Manorama, most of the respondent students (33.51 per cent) prefer to go abroad because suitable jobs are not available in India. The second most (29.56 per cent) common reason was the better standard of education abroad when compared to India, besides the better quality of life abroad.

The young respondents were frank enough to say that they do not approve of the gender bias and male dominance prevalent in our society. Moral policing and a conservative societal culture that wants to impose its views on the young are reasons for them to seek foreign shores.

As a society, we need to take a hard look at this situation. The fact of the matter is that we are losing our brilliant youngsters. Unless we correct our perspectives and think and act in tune with the changing mores of the new millennium, we will continue to lose the richest treasure we have, viz., the young blood that should make our nation richer and stronger.

A large number of Indians are giving up their citizenship, as per data presented by the government in parliament recently. It showed that around 160,000 Indians renounced their citizenship in 2021 to acquire citizenship elsewhere. This is indeed alarming.

We cannot expect our youth to live like their previous generations. We have to create progressive living conditions in consonance with the modern world. The onus is on the governments to create an environment conducive to the younger generation’s living in our country.