Tough Rhetoric Prompts Indian Students to Reconsider Plans for US Education

Rahul Kolli, a 23-year-old engineering graduate from India’s southern Chennai city, was happy when he gained admission to Michigan Tech University in the United States to complete his masters degree in data analytics.

He was chasing the same dream pursued for decades by tens of thousands of Indians – studying in an American university, working in the United States for a few years and sometimes settling there.

But in November, Kolli ditched his plans to go to the U.S. and opted instead to go to a university in Ireland.

His main concern: after spending a huge amount of money on an education in the United States, will President Trump’s tough rhetoric on protecting jobs for Americans make it hard to land a job?

‘Trump effect’

Kolli says many of his Indian friends at American universities discouraged him, saying that recruiters at job fairs had told them that U.S. citizens would be preferred for new openings.  

“Before Trump yes, they were asking me to come. But after Trump being elected as President, they were like, ‘think over your decision. I don’t suggest you come to the U.S. Why don’t you try some other country?’ ” he explained.

Kolli is not the only one who changed his mind about pursuing higher education in the United States, which has long been the top choice for Indian students and has attracted its brightest and best.

The number of Indians at U.S. universities has grown in recent years. India accounts for the second highest number of foreign students at American universities – more than 200,000 were studying there last year. The scarcity of quality universities at home forces many Indian students to look at foreign countries for both undergraduate and postgraduate studies.

For years, Chennai-based Preston Education Consultancy sent all but a handful of its student clients to American universities. But now, its head, Ilaya Bharathi, found a whopping 40 percent opted for countries such as Ireland, Canada, Germany and Australia, even after gaining admission to an American university.

“It’s basically what is called in the market the ‘Trump effect.’ They are reluctant to take the U.S. as an option now,” said Bharathi.

He points to growing nervousness among students and their parents, who often spend tens of thousands of dollars from their savings to fund their children’s education, about a possible change in policies by the Trump administration that would make it difficult to stay and work in the U.S.

Bharathi said that with a majority of those going overseas being software engineers, many are opting to study in Ireland, which has emerged as an information technology hub in Europe and which recently liberalized its policy to allow students to stay after the completion of their education and work for two years instead of one.

Safety concerns

Jobs are not the only concern. There is also growing apprehension among students and parents about whether the United States will continue to be a safe and hospitable place for foreign students and workers as more anti-immigrant rhetoric is now being heard.

Such worries have intensified after the shooting of two Indian engineers last week at a bar in the state of Kansas, in an incident that is being investigated as a possible hate crime. The death of one of the two men, allegedly by a Navy veteran who shouted “Get out of my country,” was widely covered in India.

These days, Kavita Singh, who runs the New Delhi-based college admissions counseling firm, FutureWorks Consulting, faces questions that were seldom posed about the United States. “What is the environment going to be like on campus?” she asks.  “Is it going to change and is it going to be different?”

This concern, said Singh, is greater among those planning to pursue undergraduate students. Belonging to richer families, which can fund an expensive education, these students often do not want to stay back and work in the U.S., but they fear the environment may turn more hostile.

“Some even say we only want to look maybe now at colleges on the east and west coast which voted blue (Democrat) and we are not really sure we want to look at the middle of the country,” said Singh, who earned a Masters of Business Administration degree in the United States.   

Wait-and-see approach

Education consultants say many postgraduate students are waiting and watching to see how policies on students staying to work in the country and on work visas will unfold under the Trump administration.

But not everyone is discouraged. Among them is Shraddha Gulati, a science undergraduate student in a Delhi University college, who shrugged aside worries about job openings and said she would like to pursue studies in the United States if she gets the opportunity.  

For Gulati, the lure is a quality education. “There are so many good colleges there, the top 50 and 100, and not (here) in India,” she said.

Consultants agree that with the U.S. being home to many of the world’s top universities, it will continue to be a beacon for many Indians and the aspiration for a seat at Ivy League universities and other top-tier colleges will not dim. But that may not be the case for other educational institutions.

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