Indian students pursuing higher education in USA dropped by 4.4% last year

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The number of Indians going to the United States to pursue higher education declined by 4.4% in 2019-20, according to the Open Doors snapshot survey data for the year. This is the sharpest decline since 2005-06, when it declined by 5%. This comes after six consecutive years of growth, and could potentially drop further because of the pandemic.

There was a surge in Indian enrolments in 2014-15, but the rate of increase has steadily declined with each academic year. This could be because of US President Donald Trump’s administration’s stance on immigration, as well as potential changes in the Optional Practical Training periods for those on student visas and the tightening of H-1B visa regulations.

The report, released by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Institute of International Education, showed that the United States hosted more than 1 million international students (1,075,496) in an academic year for the fifth consecutive year. Of this, Indians are the second largest group (18%) in international students, overtaken only by the Chinese at 35%.

As per the report, there was a decline of 1.8% year-on-year in the number of international students in the US for the 2019-2020 academic year. This is a decline of approximately 20,000 students. This is the first time there has been a decline since 2005-06.

According to the US Department of Commerce, international students contributed $44 billion to the US economy in 2019.

For the current academic year, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the US saw a record 43% dip in the number of students choosing the country for higher education (fresh enrolments) for the Fall semester starting August 2020, which is both for in-person as well as online classes.

“Among new international students attending US higher education institutions both in the United States and those pursuing full-time course work virtually outside the United States, enrolment has decreased by 43%,” the survey said.

It added that more international students began their coursework outside the country rather than inside. It said that in the colleges it surveyed, 49% of new international students are in the country and 51% of new international students are enrolled online outside. “As a result, and not surprisingly, responding colleges and universities report that new enrolment of international students physically in the United States declined by 72%,” it said.

“...for international students signing into real-time studies during US working hours, there are challenges of adapting their academic hours while living in different time zones,” it said.

Many students have also deferred their enrolments. Over 40,000 international students have reportedly deferred enrolment. Country-wise data was unavailable.

For the Fall 2020 semester, the survey said that there was a 16% decline in international students studying both in the US as well as online due to the impact of the pandemic.

As many as 20% of all international students in the US choose engineering, followed by Math and Computer Science at 19.1% and Business and Management at 16.2%. Over half (52%) of international students pursued majors in STEM fields of study (engineering, math and computer science, physical and life sciences, health professions, and agriculture) in 2019-2020.

While the pandemic will certainly impact the numbers for 2020, a Joe Biden presidency could help, according to reports, as he is seen as a friendlier face. Education consultants reportedly expect an uptick in students applying to the US next year.