Home Spotlight A run of deaths of Indian students in USA brings spotlight on the study abroad ‘rush’

A run of deaths of Indian students in USA brings spotlight on the study abroad ‘rush’

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The shocking news of death of Mohammed Abdul Arfath, a 25-yearold student from Hyderabad studying in Cleveland, US is the 11th Indian student reported to have died in first four months of this year. While the cause of these deaths doesn’t point to a pattern, still the number is high enough to draw worrying inferences.

An analysis by the Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Studies (FIIDS) as reported in some news platforms, found the causes of these incidents range from suspicious shootings/kidnapping, environmental deaths due to lack of safety knowledge (monoxide poisoning, hypothermia), mental issues triggering suicides, and even suspicious accidents to violent crimes (for money or personal reasons. A few people also see racism and Hindu phobia  among these reasons). Experts are, however, cautioning against overreaction and asking stakeholders not to pay heed to rumours while remaining engaged and alive to the issue for addressing it with a measured response.

In USA, Indian students form about 25% of the foreign students (Indian-origin students are around 275,000) and bring in $9 billion per year in terms of fees and expenses. US remains the preferred choice for most Indian students and there is year on year increase in the number of students leaving India for studying in the US.

The unprecedented surge in the number of students from India going to study abroad (about three-fold increase in the last 5 year) has its own dynamics.  Cultural acclimatization is time taking and often very hard. This along with other factors including lack of family support add to student vulnerability on foreign soils. “ Even in normal situations when we’re not talking about this sad toll, many students can be found crying due to socio-emotional issues, homesickness, increasing costs and adopting to new academic environment. So, prospective students and their parents must ensure they do a serious research on the university and the city they are moving to. Knowing legal rights and what support services are available is also very important. Equip yourself better and if needed ask for help,” says a Delhi-based guidance counselor.

According to Jasminder Khanna, co-founder of Mumbai-based Gresham Global, a company offering in-country services to half a dozen UK and other universities in India, there is a need to understand that most of the Indian students going abroad are going for masters (74%) and bulk of them move there straight after graduation as against the rest of local or international students who usually join the program after a work experience or gap of a few years. “The age difference between Indian and other students though necessarily doesn’t cause any friction but Indian students being young and inexperienced aren’t that mature as others to handle situations at times,” he adds.

Experts also point to another common practice in India where parents are overtly engaged in placing the student abroad by handholding him/her during the entire decision making process besides funding. “Parents don’t accept their children as individuals, so sometime the choices they make also keeps them unhappy,’’ says another career guide.

Then parents and students also need to educate themselves on the global trends. The traditional popular destinations outside USA such as Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand have their own set of limitations in accepting more international students.  From housing to xenophobia and political agendas, these international education destinations though value Indian student market, also want to bring in more diversity from unexplored regions. These countries are also conscious about the quality of their education and therefore have become choosy to added ‘filters’ to recruit students who would add to their profile.

In this backdrop, it is also a good idea if the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MEA) proactively assigns an education desk in the ministry for updating advisories for students going abroad and then also keeps active liaison with various departments, associations and HEIs  of foreign education destinations through its consulates for sensitizing them and also create a positive narrative about Indian students.

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