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The International Student Phenomenon

Visiting India after the Pandemic –Part 3

Los Angeles, April 26, 2023 Sanghera
Ramesh/ A.Gary Singh

Read Part 1....Click Here
Read Part 2....Click Here

The phenomenon of students from India in general and Punjab in particular going abroad to study is not something new. It started under the British rule in the early 20 th century. A number of prominent lawyers, activists and professionals used to go abroad to study. A few would decide to settle abroad. However, a vast majority of them would return to India and become active participants in Indian politics or other professions.  Some of them became prominent freedom fighters. This trend has continued in the twentieth and twenty first century. Most of these foreign educated individuals proved to be a great asset to their motherland India. However, the current trend that began more than twenty years ago is very different.

 During the past twenty plus years, hundreds of thousands of students, mainly from the Punjab, have shifted to the western countries on the pretext of studying. However, ultimately, they would like to settle down in their adopted countries, if possible. This has provided a new lease on luring advertising and bill boards. Not long ago, such advertising was confined mainly to the big cities. But now, even small towns and villages are full of these luring bill boards urging students to study abroad and settle there. Canada, USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand are some of the favoured countries being promoted. Out of these Canada is number one on their list. During the two months I was in the Punjab, I had an opportunity to travel extensively throughout the state. Every- where I went these bill boards were staring at the public.

The question of international students has affected Punjab very much. Not only that, it is affecting the Indian diaspora abroad also. This brain drain, especially from Punjab, should be a major concern to both the central and provincial governments. A recent report in the media here in Canada reported that last year (2022), 226,000 international students from the Punjab arrived in Canada alone... This is just Canada receiving so many students from the Punjab. When other western countries where students from Punjab go to study are taken into account, the numbers are staggering. A vast majority of young people in the Punjab are eager to leave for any of the western countries regardless of the consequences.

I had an opportunity to visit a higher secondary school in our area. The principal mentioned that just out of curiosity he asked his students as to what did they plan to do after graduating. He said that he was surprised to learn that nearly 80 % of the students expressed a desire to study abroad, particularly in any of the western countries. This is a scary trend. Punjab is losing not only its brains but also millions and millions of dollars, euros and pounds that are leaving the country.

One must ask oneself as to why are students in large numbers eager to study and settle abroad. The reasons are many. First one seems to be the concern about law and order situation and drugs in the Punjab. A lot of people don’t seem to feel safe. As such, they think their children will be safer in western countries. Incidentally, Bhagwant Mann’s government is very concerned about this too and has already taken a number of measures to improve the situation. Lack of quality, affordable and accessible education seems to be another factor. The private schools are there but most of them seem to be quite expensive and beyond the reach of ordinary families. However, one of the major reasons for youth’s disappointment seems to be the lack of opportunities and suitable jobs after the students complete their studies. This is a big disappointment for parents and students. Some of the unscrupulous elements capitalise on these frustrations and offer young people false promises of studying abroad and “enjoy the good life. “ A vast majority of these young people do very well abroad. However, unfortunately, this may also mark the beginning of a rather unpleasant journey abroad for some of them.

Balwant Sanghera

(Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist)