Where to study?

Only a couple of decades ago, education abroad was still the preserve of small elite of potential superstars. Not anymore. The number of students going abroad for higher education has increased many folds.

What is driving this solid growth and “massification” of students going abroad? Three things: Perception of informed parents and students that the quality of education abroad is a lot better and up-to-date than in Pakistan universities and higher educational institutions. Second, the “foreign-qualified” candidates see better response in not only local but global job market as compared to those with similar qualifications from local universities. And effective marketing of education services with the help of facilitations in immigration rules by their governments.

Two of the children of M are studying in different universities in United States of America. On the issue of study abroad he says, “My son T graduated in computer science from reputed university here. He wanted to pursue the subject further but no local university was offering higer degree in the discipline of his interest so he had to go to America. On the other hand, my daughter H has been offered full scholarship by another American university that was difficult to decline.” M’s younger daughter A who is doing her “A” level says, “My brother and sister have gone after post graduation whereas I am planning to go abroad after completing my “A” level.

Aiming at long term benefits, western universities are now helping Pakistan to reverse the so called ‘brain drain.’ “The scholarship offered to H has a condition that she will come back after completing her education and stay in Pakistan for at least two years,” informed M.

In 1947, there was only one University of the Punjab. Today, we have almost 35 universities in the public sector, more than 100 in the private sector, and this number is growing with newer disciplines being added every year. After the new concept of private education has taken over, many private universities have shown their results whereas some of them have even left their mark on world map. No doubt these universities are playing their role in promoting quality education, but at the same there is a difference between graduates from privet sector universities and public sector universities. The difference is more visible when it comes to getting a job. There is an even bigger difference when seen between local graduates and those who have graduated from abroad.

On the other hand there are not very many openings in local job market. Ask any decision maker in national or international organizations, private sector companies, multinational companies, NGO’s, and educational institutions about their hiring needs, given chance they will prefer graduates from foreign universities as compared to those passed out from local universities. “There is a better match between the modern organizational needs and the foreign education, particularly when the hiring concern has to operate globally,” says Professor Dr. Tehseen Sulehrya.

What is more, the glamorous and magnetic power of the world’s top universities in the developed world have speeded this growth even further. They are extensively marketing their education services. A growing number of rich countries are redefining both their education and their immigration policies in order to attract more students. Competition for the tuition fees that foreign students have to pay, which is particularly fierce from countries that will not allow their universities to charge realistic fees to home-grown students.

Another factor is the European Union’s policy of sponsoring student mobility within the Union so as to create a European identity among the young people. Several countries – most notably Australia and New Zealand – are trying to turn education into an export industry.

Foreign students are triply valuable. They pay fees to universities, spend money on things like food and lodging, and may even end up staying on permanently. What better way to shift an economy from its traditional reliance on primary production?

For the past 50 years America has effortlessly dominated the market for international students, who have brought both direct and indirect benefits to the country. Not only are the foreign students contributing some $13 billion a year to America’s GDP, they are also supplying brainpower for US research machine and energy for its entrepreneurial economy. After September 11, America’s leadership came under a challenge. The Institute of International Education reported that the number of foreign students on American campuses is on decline for the first time.

American leadership was alive to the situation and academics acted fast. Now the United States of America has streamlined its visa process for education purpose. Applicants earlier had to wait for 75 days for technical clearance, but the period has now been reduced to 13 days, and students can walk into the embassy without an appointment and apply for an interview at the visa desk. Similarly other western countries and their universities are also making changes to facilitate the students from third world.

Irony is that at government level, there are no proper channels to guide Pakistani students in this regard or institutionalize the process. Legal and illegal immigration consultants selling ‘study abroad’ can be spotted easily at educational exhibitions and in major cities though. Stakeholders have been demanding the government to establish such resource centre in collaboration with foreign embassies and streamline the process till the time the needs of the students desirous of higher education can be met at home.

Sadly, that has not started happening yet.

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