India-EU Student mobility – A Win-Win Opportunity for the EU?


  • Education services industry has a global turnover of up to 90 billion dollars.
  • International student fees assist in financing the higher education sector in host countries.
  • According to available statistics present with UNESCO, there were 51566 Indian students in Europe in the year 2009 of which 34065 were based in UK.
  • According to a large number of studies, Indian students are amongst the best and the most highly achieving studentsespecially in the fields of IT, engineering, medicine and biological sciences
  • Providing better employment opportunities for Indian graduates from EU-based universities should be seen as a mutually beneficial arrangement as it addresses the growing skills shortage in the OECD countries as well as provides strong incentives for Indian students to choose EU countries for higher education.
  • Financial feasibility of foreign education and employment prospects are the driving forces for Indian students in European (non-English speaking) countries.
  • Steps should be taken to reduce the high monetary impact on Indian students by providing scholarships to meritorious students with conditions regarding their return to India.
  • European universities should implement a mechanism of integration to assist Indian students to bridge the cultural and language gaps in host (non-English speaking) EU countries.


Education is an important area of cooperation for both India and the European Union (EU). India-EU strategic partnership in education has been further strengthened through the revision of the Joint Action Plan (JAP) in 2008 which addressed the issue of student migration, education and academic exchange (Mukherjee and Chanda 2012:1) Apart from promoting positive bilateral relations between the two economic powers, promoting student mobility is also mutually beneficial in terms of the huge economic incentive it provides. A profit-churning industry with a global turnover of up to 90 billion dollars (Mukherjee and Chanda 2012: x), education services is a sector that the EU should promote further in the coming decades.  

Indian students abroad

Since the past ten years, there has been a remarkable rise in the number of Indian students pursuing higher education outside India. India is one of the key markets targeted by the leading providers of higher education. India has grown considerably in terms of its contribution in the international students market and is the second most important source country after China[i]. Even though the US is till the top destination for Indian students (53.6% of Indian students abroad chose to study in the US in 2009[ii]), its market share has drastically reduced since 2000 mainly because of stricter immigration policies post 9/11.

On one hand, the percentage of Indian students in the US has reduced, but on the other hand, a combination of political and economic developments has promoted Indian students to seek Europe, in particular UK, as a destination for higher education. UK has attracted over 17 % of Indian students in 2009[iii], becoming the second most important destination after the US. It has been the most preferred destination for Indian students in Europe due to four reasons – colonial heritage leading to a long standing relationship between UK and India; presence of reputed institutions of higher education; Indian students’ preference to study in programmes taught in English; and the presence of a large Indian diaspora in UK providing a ‘home-away-from-home’. However, UK education comes with some disadvantages as well which includes its high cost such as premium tuition fees coupled with sky-high living expenses.  

In such a situation, other European countries are slowly gaining favour amongst the Indian student community, especially countries such as France and Germany.  In addition, Indian students also fulfil the shortage created by low EU student enrolment in science and engineering courses. According to a survey carried out by the Erasmus Mundus programme[iv], students from India usually do not perceive the EU as a single entity and see differences in between member countries with regard to living costs, tuition fees, facilities provided, visa regulations, work permit regulations, quality and teaching methods. Mainland/continental European countries are slowly gaining favour among the Indian community for higher education because of cheaper tuition costs, availability of scholarships and growth in programmes taught in English.

UK has recently changed its immigration policy and removed its post-study work visa (PSW) route for non-EU nationals. This visa was an essential incentive for non-EU students to come to UK as it allowed them to work in UK for 2 years (without a need for a sponsor) after they graduate from a UK university. With the change in immigration policies in UK, it is a crucial time for other European host countries to gain momentum and attract more Indian students to join their higher education establishments.

Essential aspects for promoting India-EU student mobility:

  • Scholarships – Scholarships, such as those provided through the Erasmus Mundus Programme, need to be increased to provide financial assistance to meritorious Indian students. These should be given with conditions regarding the students’ return to India.
  • Employment – employment policies need to be made more flexible to fill labour market shortages in the EU and give an opportunity for Indian students graduating from EU-based universities to gain work experience. Internships and employment through tie-ups with European companies based in India can act as an incentive.
  • Student exchange programmes – Partnerships between Indian and EU-based universities need to be promoted so that there is exchange of students, faculty members and researchers between the two regions.
  • Advertising and Marketing – Strategic promotion has to be conducted in India to promote European universities and improve visibility of programmes taught in English through education fairs,  virtual discussions on online student forums, etc.
  • Flexible visa and immigration policies – policies tackling illegal migration should not affect genuine students and a special visa facilitation system should be introduced for students to make the visa process more standardized and simplified across the EU.
  • Integration mechanism –language training and cultural workshops need to be conducted (both pre-course training as well as later upon arrival in host country) to alleviate cultural and language barriers.

Indian students, along with the rest of the international student community, pay premium fees for studying in countries such as USA or UK which can be almost three times the amount charged to local students (Lall 2008 cited in Mukherjee and Chanda 2012:3). Not only is the income generated through these fees beneficial for the host country economies , but the presence of meritorious Indian students also creates a healthy competition amongst the student community and raises the performance standards of host universities (Khadria 2001 cited in Mukherjee and Chanda 2012:3). In the present globalised world, the EU needs to make sure that it promotes student mobility through specialized education policy framework, which can in turn maintain EU’s competitive edge at the global level and fulfil the predicted labour market shortage in specialised sectors. 

The MPC Team

[i] UNESCO database on International students at tertiary level (ISCED 5 and 6) cited in Mukherjee and Chanda 2012: 6

[ii] UNESCO database on International students at tertiary level (ISCED 5 and 6) cited in Mukherjee and Chanda 2012: 8

[iii] UNESCO database on International students at tertiary level (ISCED 5 and 6) cited in Mukherjee and Chanda 2012: 13

[iv] Survey titled ‘Perceptions of European Higher Education in Third Countries’ cited in Lall, M. (2006) Indian Students in Europe: Trends, Constraints and Prospects – Living in ‘the Age of migration’, Briefing Paper for the Academic Network for European Research on India


Mukherjee, S. and Chanda, R. (2012) Indian Student Mobility to European Countries: An Overview, CARIM-India Research Report 2012, Migration Policy Center (MPC), Florence, Italy

Lall, M. (2006) Indian Students in Europe: Trends, Constraints and Prospects – Living in ‘the Age of migration’, Briefing Paper for the Academic Network for European Research on India

Note: This brief is largely based on MPC’s research report titled ‘Indian Student Mobility to European Countries: An Overview’, CARIM-India Research Report 2012, written by Shahana Mukherjee and Rupa Chanda

Schengen Visa Facilitation system’s failure in ‘facilitating’ mobility of highly skilled migrants

To date the Schengen visa facilitation system set up by the European Union is turning out to be a failure in ‘facilitating’ visas for highly skilled migrants, according to recent MPC research conducted in Ukraine and Moldova. Instead of facilitating applications, current visa facilitation procedures deter mobility due to ineffective implementation practices . Originally this system was created with the intention of promoting interaction between EU citizens and contracting States by facilitating the issuance of visas for a short stay for a selected group of countries including Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the Russian Federation[i]. But alas, it is not an ideal world hence facilitation practices may not actually coincide with the idealised processes. Within official EU discourses, highly-skilled migrants are considered a positive component required for maintaining the EU’s global competitiveness. This is reflected in the categories of people included in the visa facilitation agreements, and the idea of the Blue Card[ii]. Unfortunately, highly skilled migrants are still being considered as potential irregular workers or illegal visa overstayers.

MPC’s preliminary research has highlighted the experience of highly skilled migrants who come from Ukraine and Moldova[iii]. It has emerged that the reality of the visa facilitation system seems to be very different from what was planned by the EU. Instead of being considered, by default, as ‘bona fide’ travellers, the onus is put on highly skilled migrants to prove that they are not requesting a visa for illegal purposes. Though the costs of visa application and number of documents have reduced, it is but a minor change. The main frustration lies with the cumbersome delays, lack of knowledge of relevant policy tools, lack of transparency in decision process, additional costs related to external service providers and possibly inappropriate working practices of consulate officials.

EU wishes to create a ‘European Research Area’[iv]. It intends to “enable researchers, research institutions and businesses to increasingly circulate, compete and co-operate across border”[v] and enable research and development in a transnational perspective. In addition, the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research[vi], the DG Education and Culture[vii], the DG Development and Cooperation[viii] and other EU frameworks such as the EU Visa Code[ix] wish to promote more innovation and research through transnational mobility of researchers and academics.

All these policy tools clearly wish to promote cutting-edge research and training in the EU. The failure of applying effective practices lies partly with the European Commission which has not been effective in supervising the implementation of these policy tools by the respective Member States. One cannot expect a visa officer sitting in an outpost office in the EU neighbourhood countries to know the link between all these policy tools and visa facilitation agreements. Responsibility for this inefficiency of implementation lies with the respective host country’s Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Education. These bodies should communicate and coordinate with each other for these policy tools to be effectively  implemented.

Furthermore highly skilled migrants should not be seen solely through the perspective of economic benefits for the host EU countries. Immigrants can integrate into the host society and at the same time sustain a thriving social and professional link with their home country. Regrettably, these crucial links are the ones getting severely affected due to the multiple discrepancies between the clauses of the visa facilitation agreement and their implementation by particular member states. For example, families visiting a highly skilled migrant in the EU have to go through the time-consuming and expensive process of visa application every time they wish to visit their relatives. A vast majority of highly skilled migrants from Ukraine and Moldova are not even aware that their close family members can apply for a multiple-entry visa if they have previously visited their family member. Similarly, highly skilled migrants, who are invited for conferences or short training programmes in the EU, decide not to attend due to the cumbersome and expensive visa application process. This situation negatively impacts EU-based companies and research institutions, hampering the flow of  highly skilled migrants throughout the continent. In the research conducted by MPC, it has emerged that in many instances the visa officials arbitrarily decide on visa applications. This lack of transparency and arbitrariness of application decision-making process puts the credibility of the whole procedure in question.

Though a visa-free regime is still an elusive dream for the EU Neighbourhood countries, some changes in the policy can make a positive difference and promote mobility of highly skilled migrants. MPC’s research has provided some recommendations as given below:

–          Implementation of the Visa Code should be accompanied by binding legal guidelines agreed within local Schengen cooperation that will end the discretion of the Schengen Members states in the following areas – the lists of supporting documents; the length of visa procedures; and the mode of lodging the application (via an outsourcing centre or in person).

–          Introduction of special procedures for frequent travellers: maximum term multiple-entry visas, special windows for express procedures, legal minimum of the documents needed.

–          Full information to be provided to applicants on their rights granted both by the Visa Code and Visa Facilitation Agreements both on the consulates’ website and available in print in one’s own language within the visa centres.

–          The possibility of appealing against the decision on a visa in one’s own language following a clear transparent procedure.

–          Pilot visa-free regime for biometric passport holders.

–          Pilot visa-free regime for individuals involved in cross-border EU programmes and projects.

The current visa facilitation situation is turning out to be counterproductive due to the failure of the European Commission and Member States in the proper and thorough implementation of the relevant policy tools as mentioned in our discussion above. This not only adversely impacts the political image of EU but also has high economic costs. The status quo needs to be changed urgently to ensure that the EU’s dream of having ‘people-to-people contact’ does not remain an enigma forever.

The MPC Team

[i] For the original texts of the agreements, please visit the section on ‘Visa facilitation agreements’ at


[iii] For the original research paper conducted by MPC, please visit: