By Dr Anand Kulkarni
The recent visit to India by the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (UK), Theresa May, brought into sharp focus her increasingly strident stance on Indian students overstaying their welcome.
This comes on top of a decline in the number of Indian students going to the UK from around 40,000 in 2010-11 to 18,320 in 2014-15. Indian authorities have blamed this drop on an earlier decision to curb post-education work visas. Added to this is the growing resentment about the more onerous skilled migrant regulations that have been imposed on Indians.
More trade, less people
The implications of this stance are profound. Firstly, it imperils attempts by the UK to negotiate any sort of comprehensive trade and investment deal with India. Both economies are strongly service-oriented. The service economy, especially its higher value components, is ultimately about people’s skills, knowledge and the flow of ideas through mobility. A protectionist approach to students and skilled migration will end up being harmful for a trade deal.
This was eloquently put by Priyanka Tikoo, bureau chief of the Press Trust of India, who said that it appears that the policy approach from the UK is about “looking for more trade but less people.”
Secondly, the UK is potentially at risk of losing students who may turn into valuable skilled migrants. According to Deloitte’s ‘The Value of International Education to Australia (2015)’ report, graduates likely to migrate after their studies would improve the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita by 0.5% or A$8.7 billion (US$6.6 billion) in GDP.
To this, one can add the myriad of flow on and indirect positive effects. In the UK there are very significant shortages of engineers, for instance. Clearly, the government should look to correct these imbalances.
A recent survey by QS, titled ‘What matters to international students? Focus on India’ looks at Indian students studying abroad.
It found that 53% of respondents indicated that obtaining employment was of great importance. Presumably, this includes not just employment back home but in the host country as well. Thus, moves to send students back home would fly in the face of the motivations for studying abroad.
In addition to these considerations, one must consider the fact that students living abroad are members of a knowledge diaspora. Through their connections in the host and home countries, they become important players in sharing knowledge and ideas. This, in turn, assists research and promotes commercial and cultural ties.
This is a ‘win-win’ for both countries and the UK should take advantage of it.
There is also the messaging that is tied up in all of this. It could be perceived that the UK is not as welcoming to Indian (and presumably other) students as before and that populist, protectionist forces have taken over. Brexit, and the Trump presidential victory in the United States (US), both reinforce the perception that some countries are simply turning inward.
The US’s attitude to international students is likely to change. Certainly, Trump’s attitude to immigration generally, and to trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, does not bode particularly well.
A changed educational landscape
In the longer term, one could see a redefining of the global educational landscape. This could include a number of possibilities. The first is that of student ‘diversion’, that is, Indian students simply go to other parts of the world with an equally strong tradition and history of accepting students, to the extent that these countries remain open. Germany, Canada and Australia spring to mind.
Secondly, there is the possibility of emerging hubs becoming recipients of larger numbers of Indian students. Potentially, China and Malaysia fit the bill, opening the possibility of new region-based student and economic agreements, as distinct from global ones.
Thirdly, there is the possibility that institutions from the UK may accelerate the development of transnational education to tap into the large Indian market, which would then put further pressure on the Indian government in terms of market liberalisation.
Finally, there is the possibility that the Indian government and the private sector may choose to ramp up investments at home in higher education. However, this would place immense pressures on budgets and physical capacity and challenge India’s regulatory and quality assurance mechanisms.
All in all, we are at a crucial fork in the road when considering the future of globalization. The movement of people, which so far, has been rather free, may soon take a different path.
Dr Anand Kulkarni is a Consultant/Principal Adviser for Victoria University, Melbourne Australia.
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