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Aug 31 2014 : The Times of India (Delhi)

Hyderabad sends more students to US than Delhi + Mumbai

The actual number of full-time Indian students in the US exceeds existing estimates by a large margin. So far, it was assumed on the basis of an earlier study that there were 100,000 F-1 Indian visa holders in the US. A recent report by a Washington DC think tank puts this number at 168,034. India ranks second only to China in the list of 74 nations with a large number of F-1 visa holders.

The report on foreign student population in the US, published by the Brookings Institution for 2008-2012, offers some remarkable insights on India. For instance, Hyderabad was issued 26,220 F-1 visas, almost as many as Mumbai (17,294), Pune (5,551) and Delhi (8,728) put together. In fact, there are more students in the US from (undivided) Andhra Pradesh than any other state in India. Chennai (9,141) and Bangalore (8,835) are running neck and neck. The outlier is Kolkata, which was issued only 3,881 F-1s. But here is the twist in the tale:while most Indians from other cities came to the US for their master's, 44% of Kolkatans came for their doctorate. For Hyderabad, the comparable percentage of doctoral students was only 5%, and for Chennai it was 14%. This could suggest a sound master's programme in West Bengal.

The study also shows that two-thirds of foreign students are studying STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) or business, management and marketing fields, compared to 48% of US students. At 70%, STEM preference is particularly pronounced among Indian students. In this list, engineering is the top choice, followed by computer, information sciences and support services; business, management, marketing, and related support services; biological and biomedical sciences; and health professions and related programmes.

The Brookings report sees the foreign student inflow as an economic bonanza for the US that Washington and local metropolises should capitalize on. It is easy to see why: Indian students, for instance, ponied up more than $5 billion in 2008-2012 period to study in the US ($3.1 billion in tuition fees and $2 billion in living expenses), with students from Hyderabad and Mumbai coughing up $650 million (tab from each city).

It is no secret that US institutions crave foreign students because of the money, brains, and prestige they bring. The report suggests several measures to maximize the benefits of the foreign students' local presence. “Foreign students,” it reasons, “offer valuable knowledge of the business, cultural and societal norms of their city and country of origin, which can serve as a bridge to help globalize local economies.”The report shows other interesting facts about the ‘Asian craze’ for a US education. Bangladesh (5,319), for instance, has almost as many students in the US as Pakistan (5,767), but that could be because of strict visa controls that apply to the latter. The real surprise, however, is Nepal, which got nearly 20,000 F-1 visas, compared to Sri Lanka's 4,113. Another surprise is Iran with 9,611 F-1s compared to Israel's 4,588.

The Brookings report also assessed the financial contributions that foreign students haveon118 metro areas in the US. New York and Honolulu had the highest percentage (75%) of graduates working for a local employer.Seattle, Miami, and Las Vegas also ranked high for students who remained in their areas to work after graduation While large population centres, such as New York and Los Angeles, have high numbers of foreign students, small or mid-sized metro areas that are home to large universities have the most significant concentrations of these students. Ithaca, New York (home to Cornell University) tops the list with 71.2 F-1 students per 1,000, compared to 22.4 for the nation as a whole. Boston, Massachusetts and Santa Barbara, California also rank at the top of the list.

The University of Southern California, Columbia University in NYC, and the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign (jocularly referred to as the University of Indians and the University of Chinese) are magnets for foreign students, each taking in around 13,000 F-1 visa holders. NYU, City University of New York (CUNY) and Purdue hosted around 11,000 each. While this data suggests that foreign students typically flock to metropolises, the foreign student inflow is also a boon to small university towns such as Lafayette and Bloomington in Indiana, and Durham and Chapel Hill in North Carolina.

The report offers a two-pronged approach to help metropolitan leaders make the most of their heavy foreign student population. It suggests leveraging foreign student connections with their home communities abroad to facilitate and deepen economic exchange.It also advocates the following: developing programmes to connect graduates to employers located in the school's metropolitan area, helping local employers obtain the necessary visas for foreign graduates with in-demand skills and advocating for immigration reform to make more visas available for graduates who want to stay in the US.

"Increasingly, US colleges and universities are educating the world's business, scientific and political leaders of the future. Metropolitan leaders should capitalize on this trend to strengthen their position in the global marketplace by giving local employers access to a larger pool of workers with valuable skills and knowledge already living in their areas,'' says Neil Ruiz, associate fellow for the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and author of the report.