Increasing preference for specialised courses among study abroad aspirants

“Even with all restrictions on travel lifting, there is an increasing demand for higher education in the hybrid format”

2021 has been a breakout year for the study abroad segment globally and in India. The year showed an industry-defining bounce back from Covid induced setbacks with strong growth on all fronts. As per the Government of India data released, a total of 444,553 students went abroad for higher education in 2021 in comparison to 259,655 in 2020. That is a massive 71% increase in student outflow. As per trends we’ve seen, countries like the US, UK, and Canada lead the way in terms of top preferred destinations for Indian students.

Changing preferences

Increasing aspirations also made way for evolving preferences and trends among study abroad aspirants. Hybrid or blended learning grew popular with students opting to start the course program from the comfort of their homes via online mode and subsequently shifting to the campus when borders opened up. Even with all restrictions on travel taken off and campuses across the world opening up to welcome students, there is an increasing demand for higher education in the hybrid format. The main reasons for this trend are the cost, flexibility, and convenience factors. Students can save up to half of the total tuition and living costs by completing the initial year at home. With this flexible hybrid format, they subsequently finish the final year on-campus and pass out with all the benefits of a full-time international student.

Soaring demand for specialised courses

As per a recent research survey by RedSeer, almost 70% of outbound students are opting for specialised courses when studying abroad. Advanced courses that have seen a jump in demand include the likes of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Biotechnology, Data analytics, Cyber security, among others. Students are increasingly looking for courses that are niche, but slowly gaining importance, often looking beyond the Indian counterparts that are unable to offer these courses.

Some key reasons for this include:

  • High competition – Specialised courses in India are offered in a few select institutes resulting in high competition and relatively low enrolment opportunities, especially in STEM courses.
  • Lack of funding – Cash crunch is one of the main reasons which limits the potential of Indian universities to offer specialised course programs, which require advanced infrastructure and are comparatively costly.
  • More options – There is a larger diversity of advanced course programs students can choose from in foreign universities as compared to their Indian counterparts.
  • Flexibility – Foreign universities and their UG level course program options give more flexibility for students to specialise early on, keeping in mind their requirements.
  • STEM designation – STEM courses form a large share of students preferring advanced courses, especially in the US, the reason being that international students who pursue STEM courses will be able to avail of a three-year post-study work visa (OPT).
  • Better employability – Advanced courses due to their hands-on exposure nature has a better market and hence better employability abroad, especially in countries like the US, Germany, Canada, etc.

2022 will mark new milestones

The past year saw massive growth in the edtech industry. The disruption driven by the pandemic drove digitisation and opened greater possibilities which in turn attracted higher investments. The growth spurt was largely driven by the K12 segment, higher education especially study abroad, and upskilling categories. With changing learning models, strong internet penetration, and greater access to quality education, India’s edtech sector is poised to reach $30 billion in the next 10 years. 2022 looks very bright already with a record student outflow of 133K from India up till now, and will certainly mark the industry surpassing bigger milestones.

About the author: Vaibhav Singh is the co-founder of LeapScholar, South Asia’s largest end-to-end study abroad platform. He has helped over 3,000 Indian students achieve their study abroad dreams over the past five years. He co-founded LeapScholar with the aim of democratising access to global education for aspiring students across the spectrum.