International students

Amal Chatterjee
10 min readApr 24, 2018

Synopsis: Studying in prestigious universities abroad remains a dream of many students because only a few get admitted while others get discouraged due to high cost. I look at the growth of private universities that are being run as business that cater to the rich but leave behind many brilliant students who just can’t afford the cost.

Source: Google photo

Now we see more and more students who study abroad for their higher education giving rise to a multi-billion dollar growth in the education sector. Some universities are so sought after that they reap huge benefits in revenues from foreign students and advertise constantly to lure more students to their campus while others simply open up new campuses overseas that offer the same curriculum or tie up with other universities in the home countries of the students with exchange programs or credit to courses.

This has made it easier for the foreign students to attend the universities of higher education in their own countries where they set up campuses or have intra university tie ups.

Here in the Philippines I have known that the Cornell University in the USA offered its students to do his research for dissertation in the Philippines because of such tie ups with the university here and a friend of mine brought students from the Philippines to his university in the USA to earn some credits in some courses through such exchange programs.

When I was a graduate student in California a long time ago, I was frequently asked by the Americans if I was an exchange student and were very surprised when I said that no one was exchanged for me. I was on my own and worked part time to meet my expenses.

This trend of studying abroad has picked up considerably lately because the universities actively seek foreign students who bring in huge revenues to them and help the universities an increase in their prestige, popularity and rankings. Not all the foreign students return home after their graduation so many opt for staying; getting a residency permit that eventually may lead to their acceptance as citizens.

They get jobs, marry and settle down in their new country but there are many who return home and find jobs there. I did not return home after my graduation from California University but I did not stay there either because I opted for the international life I chose and enjoyed.

I want to focus today on why so many young people choose to go abroad. I also want to look at the means of getting there that has changed dramatically since I was a student so long ago.

During my time there were only very limited options available to poor students like me. One was to seek a scholarship from a foreign university that paid for all or most of the expenses including the airfare or sea fare. The second option was to go as independent using own resources that was a much harder option because the cost of such education was high and beyond reach of poor students or their families.

There was a third option that I chose because I was lucky to be chosen as a volunteer to work in Vietnam in an agricultural team that paid me a small stipend that I saved meticulously for two years that then enabled me to go for higher studies in California. The part time job there helped meet my expenses so I graduated with 50 dollars still in my pocket and a bright future in Algeria but you can say that I was lucky and daring.

To be jobless and moneyless after graduation in America is a very difficult proposition for a foreign student in there because there is absolutely no one to help you out even temporarily and there is no family to support you like back home. So many foreign students who intend to stay there after graduation start looking for jobs frantically even before graduation and apply for the resident permit that allows them to work. In other countries like Australia, they make it easier for the foreign student to get the necessary permits so that they can stay and work and eventually get the citizenship because they want new graduates who have brought in new skills that the country needs.

When I was young, our parents could not afford to pay for my foreign education so I had to find a way to do it on my own and I suppose it was true of most families so going abroad for studies was a big deal in those days. Only those who got scholarships could do it but such people were few in numbers.

Now the economic situation has improved dramatically for the ordinary middle class in many countries like China and India so many families now can afford to send their children abroad by saving for such huge expenses for a long time.

The question to ask is why students opt to go for higher studies abroad in the first place when there are many good universities at home? The answer is the prestige of such education that gets them jobs easily and the opportunity to settle in a new country where they can earn more and live the life with some measure of prosperity. That seems to be the ultimate goal of higher education for most if not all people.

People do not get education just because they want to be educated but they do it to learn some marketable skills that are in great demand somewhere with good pay and a promise for a better life than at home.

The older generation of our parents and grandparents was content to find a job in their home country and raise their family on meager salaries because they could not imagine sending their children abroad. It was simply out of the question. They expected their children to get a good education and find a job near them just like everyone else and be happy with the mediocre life of a small town person with small salary because going abroad was for the rich people and not the ordinary poor folks.

The next generation that came along during the era of rapid technological advance and the age of internet, free Skype and instant messaging service worldwide has now become more audacious than the previous generation and seeks opportunities on-line and finds them.

You can get admitted to a good university somewhere on-line or find a job on line and get interviewed on line through Skype. You can apply for scholarships on line and can search the internet for all the scholarships available worldwide to seek the one you want. You can get the response also on line and quickly. This kind of advancement in technology was unheard of during the previous generation that has allowed many young people to find ways and means to go abroad and study in a school of their choice.

I did it in the old-fashioned way before the era of internet and Skype so it was considered unusual by many at that time but it is no longer unusual anymore. Many are going and many more are falling in line to go by seeking work visas in the US because they have the education and skills that are in demand there although there has been some backlash now.

How the foreign students are treated abroad?

Now I come to the sticky part of this issue when I see that some Indian students in Melbourne have been attacked by the local thugs who see them as undesirable aliens who must be beaten up because they are of dark skin etc. so racism is involved. In other countries the far right local politicians are saying that these foreign students of dark skins are taking away jobs from the locals and want to settle down instead of going back to where they came from etc. that encourages such attacks on them by local thugs. This sort of thing is not widespread but it gets headlines back home making other aspirants to think twice before going abroad.

An ancient tradition:

Students going abroad for studies they could not get at home is an ancient tradition dating back thousands of years. The University of Taxila and Nalanda in India had many foreign students thousands of years ago. There was no visa and passport requirement in those days. Students just appeared at the universities and were admitted, housed and fed and taken care of by the sponsors who were the kings and queens or other rich people who saw the merit in doing so. The student could stay for many years if he so desired and find employment easily later. Many returned home to become teachers themselves. The destruction of such centers of advanced learning in the hands of Muslims is another story that is out of the scope of this blog here.

Hiuen Tsang came to India from China on foot crossing the mighty Himalayas to study at Nalanda centuries ago such was the fame of Nalanda that reached China. Taxila was even older than Nalanda meaning before Christ. They had massive libraries of hand written books and scrolls in parchment or on palm leaves that were systematically burned by the fanatic hordes of Muslims who burned the universities to the ground but it shined as a center of learning for a very long time before that.

The university at Timbuktu in Mali was also very famous where many students from around the world attended long ago but nothing remains now except some parchments of their once massive library that is slowly crumbling to dust.

The modern era:

We now come to the modern age of learning when we have seen a rise in the number of centers of higher learning everywhere phenomenally in the last century first due to endowments making land grant colleges possible in the United States that has served as a model for other countries to do the same. We have seen the rise in the numbers of private universities everywhere that are run purely as business where students are trained in skills in demand but where the students are required to pay high fees for their education.

The high cost of education in some countries now makes students indebted because they take student loans they pay back for years to come. Some female students get into prostitution to earn to pay for their education but the foreign students are spared because either they have sponsors or financial assistance from the university. I was denied financial assistance by my college because they did not believe my argument that I saved 600 dollars in my bank account to pay for my return ticket to India.

We have seen a rise in the colleges and universities that are funded by the religious institutions like Vatican or other religions thus we have the Benares Hindu University or the Aligarh Muslim University in India, Catholic universities in the Philippines and the United States where the religion is emphasized.

But long ago the tradition of non-denominational centers of learning based on pure knowledge in science, mathematics, astrology, logic, astronomy, economics and many such subjects was born in India that welcomed anyone irrespective of caste, religion, race or ethnicity so students came from everywhere to learn from the masters there.

Now many see higher education is a business to make money so they invest in massive buildings, staff and laboratories and pay good salaries to all staff. Students are housed in modern dormitories and have all the facilities to live on campus nicely and get the education they want. They just have to pay the price that rules out poor students who have to go elsewhere.

The advances in technology now allows a professor to teach a class through Skype in another country or another place far away and the students now go to their classes carrying laptop computers that they use for instant searches of reference materials they need.

However, for most of the poorer countries where they lag behind in the development and use of such technologies, students have to contend with very limited resources available to them. I see it here in the Philippines where the libraries are so poorly stocked of books they are supposed to keep that students borrow the book to photocopy at great expense adding to the financial burden on their parents.

In numerous countries worldwide, the dream of a poor student to get higher education just remains a dream while for some, getting any sort of education especially for girls remains a goal that they find hard to achieve. I have written about Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan who is fighting hard for the education of all girls everywhere but it is an uphill battle for many.

I envy the countries in Europe where higher education is guaranteed by the state to anyone who wants it, where all expenses are paid by their government and where everybody is encouraged to be educated. The governments there invest heavily in the education sector by subsidizing everything or pay for everything so that everybody has a chance to get education. But in countries where education is a business, students get into serious debt problem as a consequence.

I see the future not in rosy terms for those less fortunate than others who also want to go abroad for studies because of high cost and a lack of sponsorship so what is the alternative? The education should not create the elite class that then reaps all the benefits leaving behind the vast majority that ends up just dreaming.

Is that the only way a country makes progress?

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