Indian students eye Ivy League universities like Cambridge, Harvard and Oxford despite rupee depreciation

The depreciation of rupee is unlikely to lead to a drop in the number of Indian students seeking admissions to the most coveted global colleges abroad. The best schools are betting that an increase in financial aid for foreign students will propel the number of applications, including from India, this year. Stiff competition during admission to Indian universities is expected to further boost the number of students opting to study abroad rather than battle it out at the home turf.


“The University of Pennsylvania has continued to see growth in applicant pool over the past several years, despite the steady devaluation of the rupee,” says University of Pennsylvania media relations director Ron Ozio.

The college received 465 applications from India last year, the highest in the college’s history and although admissions for this year have not started, a drop is not on the anvil. “I don’t see much evidence of students “settling”— the spaces in Indian universities continue to be extremely limited and highly competitive, and US colleges and universities continue to be regarded as a valid (and in some cases, preferable) alternative,” added the official in an email response to ET.

“The need and perceived benefit of a foreign education is so high that the rupee depreciation will not matter even if the dollar touches Rs 100,” said Narayanan Ramaswamy, KPMG head for education. Getting into a Harvard or Wharton will remain an Indian dream. Factors like a having to shell out few extra lakhs or even terrible visa regulations do not matter, he added.


Last year, the cut-off marks for admissions to top Indian colleges were 100 per cent for some courses, which forced many to head Westwards. In the UK, Cambridge University has spotted a 7 per cent increase in graduate applications from India in the last five years. “Undergraduate applications have increased every year for the last decade. Exchange rates are only one variable influencing patterns of application,” according to Sheila Kiggins, communications officer – education and access, Office of External Affairs and Communications, University of Cambridge.


The increase in demand of education loans for foreign varsities grows at 18-20 per cent every year and this year too it is expected to remain the same, says SP Singh, GM, Punjab National Bank. “The rupee depreciation will not have any impact on those who will go abroad for the top colleges. If there is any change, it will be for those who want to go to the second and third-rung institutes abroad because of the stricter visa regulations. Costs become insignificant to the potential of return on foreign education can provide,” he added.

Career Abroad, a Chennai-based education counselling firm, sends 400-500 students abroad, and has not seen its numbers go down drastically this year, but says, there will be some impact. Says chairman CB Paul Chellakumar: “The rupee fall will definitely impact those who want to study in the US and UK since they will spend 15 per cent more. Although the numbers have not come down but destinations are veering more towards New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Ireland than the US and the UK.”


Some of the top global universities have increased financial aid and scholarship programmes this year to attract more students. This January, the trustees of Princeton University have agreed to a 5.6 per cent increase in undergraduate financial aid and a 4.5 per cent rise in tuition fee, to $38,650. The average financial aid for an undergraduate student in the Princeton class of 2015 is $38,000 and about 60 per cent of the class of 2015 is availing the aid.

“The increase in the financial aid budget for 2012-13 to $116 million continues a trend in which Princeton’s scholarship spending has outpaced fee increases for a decade. As a result, the average “net cost” for Princeton students today is lower than it was in 2001, even before adjusting for inflation,” said Martin A Mbugua, University spokesperson, Office of Communications, Princeton University.

The number of graduate students who enrolled from India in 2009, 2010 and 2011 was around 70 for each year and undergraduates from India increased from 36 to 50 in the same time frame.

Dartmouth College, a member of the Ivy League brigade, offers free tuition to students from families with a total income of less than $100,000. Scholarships to take care of boarding, books and other expenses are also provided for. The Hanover-based college has seen an increase in number of international students in the undergraduate batch from 7 per cent (2010 batch) to 7.3 per cent (2015), said an official from the media relations’ office at Dartmouth College.

Under Harvard’s ‘zero contribution’ policy, families with normal assets making $65,000 or less annually will pay nothing for their student’s tuition, room, board, and fees. Those with family incomes up to $1,50,000 will pay from zero to 10 per cent of their income while families with incomes above $1,50,000 may still qualify for need-based assistance, said a Harvard official.

Colleges like Pennsylvania have funds specially allotted for Indian students despite a 3 per cent increase in fee to $58,000; the institute has not seen any significant change in requests for deferrals of admission from Indian students.

This helps colleges to compete with other global universities, said an official from Oxford University, which offers Rhodes and Clarendon Fund scholarships for Indian students who are the fifth largest nationality group in the campus.

Devina Sengupta

22 June 2012


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