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Schools see triple leap in three years
- Tighter US visa procedures make UK most preferred student destination

Record numbers of Indian students are gaining places in universities in the UK, prospective applicants were told at a British Council briefing in Calcutta recently.

A total 12,000 students are expected to enrol in British universities in the academic year 2003, out of approximately 70,000 Indian students studying abroad worldwide. The figure represents a threefold leap on the 4,000 travelling to Britain for study in 2001.

The numbers have soared following a Prime Minister’s Initiative launched by British leader Tony Blair, aimed at attracting high-paying overseas students to Britain. Business, IT engineering and media and communications studies are among the most popular subjects drawing Indian students.

“We are expecting a 20 per cent increase on the total of 10,000 students from India accepted at British universities last year,” said Sujata Sen, director of the British Council in East India, which offers travel advice on immigration procedure and documentation.

“The numbers are phenomenal. This is partly a result of easier visa procedures in effect since 2003, when the UK relaxed the strict guidelines on foreign students in place beforehand. Indian students are now free to remain in the UK to work for up to two years after completing their qualification, and are allowed to work a total 20 hours per week during their studies,” Sen added.

The preferred destination for Indian students remained America, but numbers travelling to the US had fallen drastically due to stricter immigration controls imposed in the wake of the terror threat.

Britain has, meanwhile, loosened its entry requirements in a bid to attract more Indian students, who spend an estimated Rs 3,500 million each year on tuition fees. The average price for a year’s study in the UK was estimated at Rs 10 lakh for tuition, accommodation and living expenses.

However, 15 per cent of students applying to British institutions each year continued to be denied visas, conceded British deputy High Commission vice-consul John Hamilton. “We need to see evidence that students have the necessary funds to pay their tuition fees and arrange for their accommodation,” he said. “Students must submit final acceptance letters from their colleges to our Visa Facilitation Service. If we have any doubts, we will request the prospective candidates to appear for an interview.”

Tapan Chandra, regional director of Map educational services, which assists students in enrolling in courses in the UK, said the drastic rise in numbers flocking to Britain was a direct result of tighter visa control in the US.

“The favoured destination for prospective students in India has in recent years been America, which used to account for some 60 per cent of the total numbers seeking qualifications abroad,” he said. “The UK was, previously, a very difficult destination, with extremely rigid entry requirements. But since the terror scares in America, visa restrictions have increased dramatically, while job prospects are grim. The percentage of Indian students applying to the US has fallen by half, while the numbers studying in the UK has risen shaply. Without foreign students, UK universities would be bankrupt.”

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