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Sheetal Doshi, a final-year engineering student from Mumbai, spends her day catching up with term-work and assignments, and her evenings studying for her GRE. She plans to appear for her GRE and TOEFL some time in September. Like many of her classmates, she plans to pursue her MS from the US.
Rajesh Nair graduated with an electronics engineering degree in 2005. During his final year, after appearing for the GRE and TOEFL, he applied to a few of universities in the US. He had an average academic record in his bachelors (aggregate of about 60%) and his GRE score was 1250. He managed to secure admission into an MS program at a university in Chicago, USA. Rajesh finished his MS in May 2007 and currently works at a leading telecommunication company in Chicago earning about $75,000 per year.
Rajesh never applied to any master’s program in India. Like Rajesh, Shetal has no intention of applying for the ME degree offered by Mumbai University or MTech program offered by the IITs or for that matter, any equivalent Master’s program offered by any university in India.
Sheetal and Rajesh are no exceptions. Scores of Indian students prefer pursuing MS programs in the USA, rather than doing equivalent programs from India. But is this really feasible? How much sense does it make to apply abroad, especially considering the heavy costs involved? Is a foreign degree really better? What about the returns on investment and job placements?
Why students opt to pursue an MS from USA
“I considered the option of doing an MTech from the IIT but found the GATE exam difficult to crack. Also, admissions in India are very competitive. The GRE was much simpler and I didn’t need to be an outstanding performer to secure admission to a US university. “With so many options, securing admission abroad was a much more ‘doable’ task,” informs Rajesh. When asked about the money he spent on education abroad, he says, “I spent nearly a lakh rupees only on my applications, visa fees and air tickets; another ten to twelve lakhs on my MS program fees and living. I had to pay my first two semester fees out of my pocket, after which I got funding from the university. But it was worth it. I made the right choice. I actually got to learn a lot during my MS”
Rajesh makes a valid point. You don’t have to an outstanding performer to secure admission in a US university. This is what makes the US degree popular. In addition, the quality of education and the resources available to students are far better than what gets offered at colleges in India. While no doubt there is competition in the US as well, and performance does matter. However even academically average students, manages to seek admission and decent career opportunities – provided they take their MS seriously, study sincere, and are willing to put in hard work.
Returns on Investment of an MS degree in India
Not all students who go to the US for higher education plan on settling there. Gautam Pandit, after completing his MS in computer science from the US, made a conscious decision to return to India. Today, he works as a software engineer with a leading IT company in Bangalore. Gautam joined at a starting salary of about Rs 35,000 – which was about Rs 5K higher than his colleagues who were recruited around the same time from various engineering (BE/BTech) programs in India. He says “I don’t think the fact that my MS was from a US university helped me in any special way. I would have got an equally good job had I done my MTech in computer engineering from a reputed university in India.” Recruiters and HR managers in India agree. Most hiring managers in India do not give added preference to candidates having a foreign MS as compared to those holding an MTech from India. “We consider the candidate’s overall profile. A Master’s degree is always a plus. We treat a foreign MS on par with the Indian ME/ MTech,” says the HR manager of a leading IT firm in India. “Salaries that we offer fresh MTech/ MS graduates are only slightly higher than what we offer fresh BTech/BE graduates. Experience counts more than mere additional educational qualifications”, he adds.
A continued discussion with many students and industry personnel made one things quite clear:
When looked at it from a pure Return on Investment (ROI) perspective, the ROI of a foreign degree is much higher for students who preferred to pursue a career abroad. However in the long run, having a master’s degree adds boost to one’s career growth.
It would be unfair to gauge the returns from higher education just by comparing the salaries after graduation. There are many intangible and long terms benefits of education - change in the individual’s outlook being vital. In conclusion, this discussion leads to an interesting debate: Students like Sheetal and Rajesh, after a US education, ended up with great careers aboard. Can they be cited as success stories or as classic examples of the brain drain?!
Jothsna Rege -jothsna [at]academyone.net
Jay Rege - jayrege[at]academyone.net