Holding a degree from a foreign institution has always been held in high regard in India. While it was a novelty in the pre- and post-independence era, more students were able to go abroad to get degrees from other countries after liberalisation in 1991. With a generation of parents having more expendable income to send their children abroad for an education, the number has increased manifold over the past decade.
The aim is either to find a job abroad or to come back with a degree from an international university to have an edge over other job seekers in India.
Twenty-two year old Sneha from Surat was one among the lakhs of students who went to the United Kingdom to study. She completed her MSc in Marketing at the University of Leicester. She has been searching for a job since her graduation in August, and is now back home in India. Sneha is yet to find employment.
Speaking to The Core, Sneha said, “I used to send out hundreds of applications every week. I even managed to get a few interviews, but the process is very taxing and disheartening. There were multiple rounds of interviews and a lot of times even a rejection didn’t come. I eventually decided to return to India to find a job.”
For international students, the usual path is to find a job in the country where they study or recover their cost of education before returning to India by getting work visas. In order to get an extension on their visas, students must find jobs quickly.
However, jobs have dried up significantly because of the global economic downturn after the Covid-19 pandemic. In the UK, the Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) by S&P Global, plummeted to 46.8 in September from 48.6 in August. Now, companies have frozen hiring, more so for international students whose work visa fees they’d have to reimburse.
Without a job, it becomes difficult for students like Sneha to continue to live abroad as the cost of living is steep. Sneha and others like her have returned to India hoping to find a job here banking on their international degrees. Samarth, a 25-year-old from Delhi, secured a MBA degree from Canada and had to return to India when his internship failed to convert into a full-time job and he couldn’t find another one.
“I had a part time job which I hoped would convert to a full time opportunity. But they had budget constraints so they refused. I have now returned to India and am looking for jobs but I'm not satisfied with the offers I'm getting here,” Samarth told The Core.
Over 13 lakh students from India have gone abroad to pursue higher education from India in 2022. While many such students are coming back to India, their international degrees aren’t helping them.
Back home in India, the economic conditions are much better. Markets are optimistic, foreign companies are coming in, there’s ample movement. Naukri.com’s survey reveals that 92% of recruiters expect fresh hiring over the next six months. However, according to recruiting agencies in India, an international degree has lost its edge, let alone securing a better pay package.
Companies Don’t Care About Students’ Expenses
Dhara Shah, founder at Anther HR specialising in hiring for media and advertising told The Core that companies hiring in India were not willing to pay the premium for hiring job applicants with foreign degrees.
“The fact that someone has spent lakhs of rupees to get the international degree does not make a difference to these companies. They are offering more or less the same packages to an international degree holder as they would to someone with a Postgraduate degree or other diploma holders from India,” Shah said.
In a post-pandemic world, every company has put in cost cutting measures, and that reflects in the pay packages too. “Candidates who hold these degrees quote numbers that are very out of budget for agencies. The company’s offers reflect Indian standards - a fresher was offered a CTC of Rs 5,40,000 per annum by an agency even though he held a Masters degree from Spain for which he would've spent lakhs,” she added.
Recruiters said that companies are not looking to hire people specifically for their foreign degrees either. S Pasupathi, COO at HirePro, which specialises in campus hiring, told The Core, “While seeking talent, employers are not very particular about an international degree holder. In fact, there might be additional validation done for such candidates to check salary expectations and long term interest in working out of India.”
According to Rohan Sylvester, a talent strategy advisor at Indeed India, in many cases, international degrees carry more weight for middle and senior management positions that demand broader skills and global experience. However, he said that for entry-level positions, other factors such as aptitude, specific skill sets, and cultural fit may play a more important role in the hiring process.
Mismatch Of Qualifications And Perception
With more students studying abroad, the competition is higher, leading students to choose institutions or universities that are not so prominent. All of the top 10 universities with most Indian students in the UK rank below 500 on QS world rankings and Times Higher Education rankings.
According to Pasupathi, “A person's employability is purely dependent on the value they bring. The reality is that with increased affordability, the number of international degree holders is rising. Students are not necessarily focussing on the tier of the campus and employers have realised that an international degree from such institutes does not give any additional edge over candidates graduating from Indian universities.”
Traditionally, the international degree tag came with the assumption that the quality of education and experience would be better than India. The Leap-Ipsos Study Abroad Outlook Report which came out in December 2022 revealed that 83% of Indian students believed that overseas education would improve their job prospects and provide an edge over competition. According to recruiters this perception doesn’t hold true anymore.
Rajneesh Singh from SimplyHR said, “For companies that work in the Indian market, the case studies or research work done overseas has little value. So, they'd go for someone who has studied and interacted within the Indian market.”
There are also certain circumstantial reasons that work against international degree holders. They usually do their job searches abroad first and then return to India when nothing works out. By that time, the college placement within Indian institutes is already done. So, the entry level jobs become even more difficult to find. There is also ample guidance and support that domestic students enjoy from their placement cells that international universities don't.
A Sliver of Hope
The only candidates who’d be able to tell a different story would either have a very reputable university degree or be in a field where the Indian education system hasn’t matched international standards.
Pasupathi said, “It all comes down to ‘edge’. If you come from a highly recognised university - MIT, Princeton, Oxford, Cambridge; or if you come with experience then your chances of securing a good offer and position are higher. Your university or work experience should have a perceived brand.”
Speaking for the media and advertising industry, Shah said, “On the corporate side, there is still scope. A Godrej or a Tata might be willing to pay more or give preference for the exposure and experience of an international degree holder.”
According to Singh, the only companies that would actively search for such candidates will be ones looking to expand internationally and can make use of their exposure and experience.
There are distinctions according to the sectors as well. Sylvester pointed out that some sectors, such as information technology and consulting, may consistently place a high value on international degrees due to their global nature. In contrast, other sectors may place greater emphasis on domestic qualifications and experience.
Where Does This Leave Candidates?
“It’s a take it or leave it for them,” says Pasupathi, “The job market is very practical. Loan and other liabilities of the student are not considered while deciding the compensation. It is purely on merit. This is one of the reasons why candidates also look for opportunities in countries where salaries are higher and currency is stronger than the Indian Rupee.”
“It's quite demotivating for the candidates. They mostly settle for whatever they can get so the situation is much worse for those who have education loans to pay,” says Singh.