18 Dec 2015 20:09 IST

‘We are keen to attract as many Indian students as possible’

The Chevening programme is extending 130 scholarships with a £2.6-m budget for 2015-16, says Andrew Soper of the British High Commission

The UK government’s Chevening scholarship programme is now the world’s largest and is extending 130 scholarships with a budget of £2.6 million for 2015-16, says Andrew Soper, Minister Counsellor (Political and Press) British High Commission, and acting High Commissioner to India. Soper recently kicked off the Education UK Exhibition, which was attended by 60 UK-based universities in the capital. He spoke to BL on Campus on why the UK is a compelling destination for Indian students to study abroad. Excerpts:

The options to study abroad are expanding, with students going to other European countries, as well as New Zealand and Australia. Why would Indian students opt for the UK instead of these countries?

We are very keen to attract as many Indian students as possible to come and study in the UK. We recognise that it is a great deal to decide to study abroad. You have to get a visa, and the education itself is quite expensive. We are trying to address these issues and make things easier. We are trying to make the process for an Indian student to get a visa as simple and painless as possible.

We are simplifying the application process, and are extending advice and guidance on how to apply. We have opened more visa application centres all over India. There are more centres in India than in any other country. The net result is that getting a student visa for the UK is not difficult. You just need to have admission in the University, and need to speak good enough English, and you are pretty much going to get your visa. Last year, 88 per cent of visa applications to the UK were successful.

The other thing is scholarships. We recognise that it’s very expensive to study overseas, and we have been increasing the number of scholarships. For example, in the Chevening country scholarship scheme, a flagship international scheme of the British government, we have invested much money in India over the last two years. And this year, we are offering 130 fully-funded (fees, accommodation, living expenses, airfares) Chevening scholarships. These are post-graduate scholarships to study in the UK.

We now have in India our largest Chevening scholarship programme. And then there are ‘Great’ scholarships that we offer; this year, we will offer 260 Great scholarships in collaboration with British Universities. So, students can expect attractive offers.

Do Indian students get employed in the UK after their education is complete ? In case they go back home, is the UK system conducive to working in an emerging economy?

The basic principle is that you get a student visa to go and study. There you get a really good degree which will be a passport to global success. Statistics show that.

We are very confident that the degree you earn in the UK will be a very valuable one and will bring you success as a freshman in India or anywhere in the world. If you choose to study and then work in the UK you can do so, so long as you get a recognised graduate level job that pays you about £21,000 a year. The idea is, you use your degree to start a professional career and not just stay back to work in Pizza Hut. Students can stay back as long as they are fortunate to get a good job in the UK.

How many Indian students are you expecting will come to the UK?

Traditionally, we have had a huge flux of Indian students coming to study in the UK but the numbers have come down in recent years. It’s now just under 21,000 students. We are expecting many more to join and are pretty confident that, over time, the numbers will go up.

The UK attracts over 93,000 international students annually and, of those, the largest numbers are Americans, Chinese and then Indians. Looking at the statistics, in terms of where Indian students go to study internationally, at top of the list is the US, followed by the UK.

How important India is as a strategic partner to the UK?

We definitely see India as a strategic partner for the 21st century. We are making huge investments in India and are looking for a long-term relationship. India is a young country, there are so many young people here who need education, and this forms strong grounds for a bilateral relationship. By hoping to educate young people, we will help them know more about the UK, and when they go out to work internationally, they will be looking to work with the UK as well.

What are the programmes Indian students are usually more interested in?

Traditionally, Indian students have opted for management, business, IT and engineering courses. But the UK has about 40,000 different courses and now they are taking up various other vocational courses too.

Should Indian students have any safety concerns while studying in the UK, as incidents related to racism have occurred in the past?

In the UK students find a very diverse, tolerant society. They fit into it very easily. That is mostly everybody’s experience. Most people are usually surprised at how international, diverse and tolerant our communities are. I don't think racism is an issue, or there have been any such incidents in the UK recently that have really caused any problem for Indian students. When problems like these do arise, they have been dealt with very forcefully.

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