Even as the admission season has begun for both junior and senior college courses, these institutes are not very hopeful when it comes to foreign students seeking admissions.
While the unrest in West Asia is affecting visa allotment to students from there, a gradual dip in the number of foreign students seeking admissions in Pune has been worrying colleges in the city.
Though the overall number of foreign students has seen a drop of 10 to 15 per cent in the last few years, the numbers could have been much higher, but for the scholarships offered by Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).
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“Pune, Delhi and Bangalore have traditionally been the cities that attract the maximum number of foreign students. But Pune may be losing its edge to cities like Bangalore which are catching up in a big way. While we haven’t seen a drop in the number of foreign students, it has certainly not risen substantially. I think poor promotion of the Indian higher education sector is to blame for this. We can definitely take more students than what we have currently,” said Vidya Yeravdekar, principal director of Symbiosis Society. Pointing to national figures, she said that in an ideal scenario, of the 3.3 crore students in higher education sector, at least 15 per cent should have been foreign students. “But we have less than 35,000 to 40,000 students, which is not even one per cent. It definitely needs review,” she said.
At Savitribai Phule Pune University, the figures for the last few years are telling. In 2013-2014, the number of foreign students registered with the university was 2,201. It came down to 1,898 by the next year and to 1,750 by 2015-2016. Another 250 students might have visited the city for various short-time exchange programmes, said officials at the International Students Centre (ISC).
Asked about the reason for the drop in numbers, Vijay Khare, director of ISC, it was a fluctuating figure. “There are multiple factors. Certain tie-ups and fellowships that were earlier offered to foreign students by the government could have been discontinued. However, the main reason is the crisis in West Asia which is affecting countries like Iraq, Yemen, Iran, which sent the maximum number of students here. Stricter visa norms for citizens of these countries as well as their increased financial constraints have affected their flow,” he said.
At Fergusson College, which sees a bulk of the foreign students through the Pune University, the number has trickled down from an average of 350 students to about 300 students this year, said principal Ravindrasinh Pardeshi. “The number of self-financed students is going down,” he said.
However, the loss of self-financed foreign students is compensated by a higher number of students coming through ICCR programmes.
At Symbiosis, the number of full-time foreign students, which stood around 1,600 for the last few years, has slightly increased to 1,900 this year, thanks to a high number of Afghan students coming through ICCR scholarships, Yeravdekar said.
As per data of admissions in 2015-2016 at Pune University, the maximum number of students came from Afghanistan (400) and Iraq. The third was from Yemen (125), but authorities say the number used to be much higher. Also, a bulk of the students come from African countries, especially from Sudan, South Sudan, Nigeria and Rwanda.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the choice of courses, there has been a change in the preference of the foreign students over the past few years. “Earlier, most foreign students would choose commerce and humanities. Now, we see a lot of interest in management, pharmacy and science degrees. Besides, the number of students for intensive courses in English language has also remained consistently high,” said Khare, the ISC director.