There is a mad scramble by our students to indiscriminately sign up for courses offered by universities abroad because the intellectual calibre of today’s average student is sometimes worth far less than his financial standing in a world of plenty. Also, his hazy knowledge of the academic standard of educational establishments in his own country makes him an easy prey for the recruiting teams representing universities abroad, which regularly come over to this country in search of students.

What lulls him into a willing suspension of his ability to discriminate and make informed choices is the influence of a legacy handed down to him by his forefathers. It is the blind faith in the infallibility of institutions of higher education abroad. With its tenacious grip on the Indian psyche, handicapped by its intellectual and post -colonial hang-ups, it leaves our aspiring youth with few alternatives. There was a time when crossing the seven seas was considered a sacrilege.

In recent years,however, to become an NRI has come to be considered a relatively more enviable proposition, and one that is increasingly being accepted by the middle class. The temptation of freedom and choice in educational institutions abroad and the emphasis on the importance of being globally competitive are taking them off especially to the West, once described as “brain drain”. Faced with infrastructural bottlenecks, young Indians refuse to settle for second rate domestic alternatives.

Added to this, the increased availability of information has provided global templates against which Indian education might be evaluated. Seeking quality as also recognition, the middle class has become discerning beneficiaries of education. Education has finally become an investment. It has become another aspect of commerce. The global universities set up their stalls all over the world to attract students. So attractive are the qualifications and testimonials from abroad that many families will go out of their way to raise the money required by selling precious land, going into debts and disposing off gold and jewellery, and in the process, the flow of resources from poor countries to rich ones continue.

Until 2010, the USA, UK and Australia were the most preferred destinations for studying abroad. But now Canada and New Zealand have also entered the arena. According to a recent survey, around 14 per cent of the students in Canada are Indians. Indian students find Germany equally convenient as most of the courses have their tuition fees waived off. International students in Australia can work up to 29 hours a week and after graduation, they can also benefit from a post-study work visa. New Zealand has become a destination with affordable costs and provides easy entry procedures.

Is studying abroad actually more promising than that in India or is the glitz attached to going overseas that motivates our young learners to pack their bags for greener pastures? There are of course many positive points in their favour. They get the opportunity to be exposed to people of different cultures and this helps develop their outlook. They can get the opportunity to do their internships at internationally acclaimed institutions. During their stay abroad, they may learn various technologies used by the respective countries they visit, and as the employment market is fast expanding in India, with most of the multinational companies in operation students look for various lucrative options.

Nowadays, overseas education is considered a necessity rather than a luxury. With generous scholarships offered by universities abroad, the cost is within the reach of many of the aspirants and there is a temperamental change within the Indian middle class. The economic impact of this upsurge in qualitative education cannot be underestimated. It widens our national skill base, increases the diversion of our production and export capabilities and critically enhances our competitiveness. The ability to work in a foreign environments immediately after education abroad can enhance the value.

However, before taking the plunge it is important to know which foreign universities maintain good standards and offer strong programmes because it is not always prudent to go by rankings. Also, there have been instances of various private institutions in different countries such as Australia and the UK, jeopardising the future of thousands of students. Thousands of applications from India get rejected in Australia and the UK because of fraudulent documents. Even cases of human trafficking have come to light. Who can forget the Malta boat tragedy which took the lives of 300 youth after their boat collided with a ship during an illegal mid-sea transfer. Not that life abroad is quite as it was imagined at home. Expenses are much higher than anticipated. Shops display attractive apparels, shoes and electronic equipment, and if one wants to visit a pub or share a coffee corner with friends, the cost can be exorbitant.

As often as not, one is tempted to work in hotels and restaurants which are readily available. One becomes the lone struggler in the twilight world of clandestine labour. Many take on part time jobs working odd hours and have to use public transport which might be vulnerable after dark. A large number of them dwell in the city’s suburbs where crime rates are sometimes higher. The recent attacks on Indian students in Australia proved that xenophobia had gripped the young Australians making the country an unsafe destination. The saner approach is to improve the standard of education at home in cooperation with foreign academics, if necessary, on short term contracts.

Private initiatives in education should be more liberally encouraged. The upshot of this approach will be that foreign degrees will lose their glamour. However, they must ensure that their students get rid of the inferiority complex. There is little doubt that Indian students have displayed an aptitude, even passion for education, which other countries have discovered and exploited. An American trade entity, AeA, has lamented that the US is losing its competitive edge to other countries, with China and India effecting great strides in high technology. The report stated that “America’s brain drain will be India’s brain gain”. If the prediction were to come true, it would be an instance of homecoming.

(The writer is former Associate Professor, Department of English, Gurudas College, Kolkata. He is presently associated with Rabindra Bharati University)