Mumbai just got a new Consul General for the United States of America. David J Ranz a native of New York and a career diplomat since 1992, is passionate about promoting US education in India. Ranz shares his plans to encourage more Indian students to embrace US education. In a conversation with Jescilia Karayamparambil and R N Bhaskar, he talks about why US education offers students opportunities that few other countries can match. Edited excerpts:
The United States is the largest centre for Indian students going overseas for education. How do you see those numbers developing in the coming years?
We clearly view India as a critical source of foreign students coming into the United States. At present, there are around 2,00,000 students in the institutions of higher education in the US.
This is nearly a 100 per cent jump in the last five or six years. We are already seeing a further dramatic increase of Indian students studying in the US. It is worthwhile to compare India with the largest source of students—China.
We are talking about two countries that have roughly the same size of population. However, English is widely spoken in India compared to China. In India, there is a fine system of education yet we have more students coming from China— about 3,00,000.
This difference represents the opportunity that is available and the growth potential that can come from Indian students.
There are several reasons why the US would like to see more Indian students:
For the US, students from any country represent an important cultural bridge. The relations between India and the US are improving tremendously and such connections help further strengthen the relationship.
Foreign students are also a very important commercial opportunity for the United States. Many US universities rely mainly on foreign students for their profitability. We see this as a great opportunity for export of critically important services in the United States, which we are proud of. Like the rest of the world, India also considers US institutions of higher education as the finest in the world.
These universities provide all types of skill development programme. The skills that these students acquire help them become good employees in the future. The universities in the US are renowned for nurturing skills of critical thinking, which are important when you go into the professional world.
The US education system prides itself in providing those skills. When you study in the US, you do not just acquire technical knowledge, but you develop basic writing, communication, and critical thinking skills as well— these are critically important in today’s world when it comes to employment.
That is why, I think Indian students should really look at the US as a principal opportunity for them. As all of those skills will be valuable to them in the Indian workplace.
The US is trying to reduce the number of Chinese students to its educational institutes. Does that mean that this gap will be filled in by more Indians?
Obviously, when one source of student inflow will drop, universities will be looking at other sources. Right now, in the case of foreign students the only country that has the same number of qualified students would be India.
As a graduate of Princeton and Yale, I recommend Indian students and families to not focus exclusively or primarily on those known (wellknown) universities, but look for other reputed universities as well.
This is mainly because those (larger) universities are great institutions and if the students can get into those universities there is nothing like it. But there are hundreds of universities in the US that provide world-class education and many of them are not well-known in India.
It is important for students to carry out their own research and know which university suits them. There are a series of centres and services the US government funds.
These centres should be the first stop for any Indian student that is thinking of studying in the US. These centres are equipped to provide personalised services to students.
Actually the first stop is for students to visit the US Education websites and the twitter handles https://educationusa.state.gov/experience- studying-usa/us-educational-system and http://www.usief.org.in/.
After doing that, they should talk with our education officers who do offer personalised advice and suggestions. They can also tell a student which type of course or educational institution would be good for the financial budget that the student’s family has.
Which course is more attractive among Indian students- IT, management, arts, commerce, or science?
Broadly speaking, about 80 per cent of the Indian students in the US institutions are for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) courses.
The five top fields of study for students are mathematics, computer sciences, engineering, life sciences, healthcare etc. All these come under the STEM field. In case of STEM, American universities are world leaders. But there are other courses in the United States that are popular.
We would like to see more Indian students look at liberal arts education and other fields of study too. A liberal arts education provides more than substantive knowledge. We would love to see more Indian students opt for undergraduate courses.
Majority of Indian students are at the graduate level. We would like to see Indian students going beyond STEM courses. There is a large disparity between Indian men and women who are taking up courses in the US.
Only 28 per cent of Indian students are female in the US while in Indian universities it is over 50 per cent. In the US, more than 50 per cent of students enrolled are women.
So, we would like parents of woman students to encourage their daughters to pursue US education.
Many students come to the country due to branding, learning and networking. There is one more part they look at and that is “Can I work in the country”?
We do have the optional practical training programme that allows any student that has graduated from US universities to stay an extra year and do a practical training that extra year.
If the students complete an accredited STEM course of study, they can stay an additional two years and that makes it a total of three years. When we mean practical training programme, it means training at an entry level position in their respective fields.
I would like to highlight that two thirds of H- 1B recipients are Indian citizens. The H-1B programme is the non-permanent employment programme for foreign workers who want to work in the US temporarily.
After the students take the practical training programme and plus two years, if they get employed by a US company, do they get fast tracked to get a work permit in the US?
There are work-based immigration visas available. In the end, it is up to the company to decide how it wants to approach this—have a foreign student to come to the US for shortterm or long-term.
We want foreign students to come to the US and we expect the students to go back to their country after education. But some do not go back. And the US has benefited immensely from immigrants. The secret to our richness and success is cultural diversity, ethnic diversity that immigrants bring to our country.
We are happy when outstanding students or employees want to stay in the United States. At the same time, it is important to us that India succeeds economically. It is a critical partner for us. So, we hope that most of the students come back to their home country after learning new skills in the US.
What kind of financial concessions are available for Indian students?
The US government does not provide any kind of financial concession. We provide as much information as possible. Students or parents should firstly start start a dialogue with Education USA to understand further about the US education system.
The universities offer many incentives to students coming to the US. Hence, Education USA is a good first stop. Education in the United States is expensive.
It is expensive for not just Indians but American students as well. Not every Indian student will be able to effort a private education. For such students, there are a lot of other opportunities.
It is overwhelming for the majority of people when they are made aware of those other options. There are universities that are really attuned to the needs of international students. There are support system for these foreign students as well.
Is US facing intense competition from other countries?
I do not view this as a competition. There are great universities all over the world. I will not tell the Indian students to not go to the UK or Canada because the United States is better.
The key is to do your homework and explore all the options that are available; and see if the US is going to be your best option. And pick the university or country which suits you.
In many cases, the US is not the best option but at least a very strong option. But seeking this kind of information is critically important. We are showcasing universities through fairs and reaching out to not just metros but tier II and tier III cities.
We are providing opportunities for students to come and talk to our experts and universities’ representatives. This allows them to talk directly and understand the opportunities that are available to them.
The US government’s role will be to provide the information through various centres and make these centres and information as accessible as possible. In India, we have seven education centres.
What is the per cent of Indian population among foreign students?
About 17 per cent of the total foreign student population is Indian. Among the overall student population, around 1 per cent is Indian. One in five foreign students in the US is Indian.
In percentage terms, how many Indian students opt for undergraduate and graduate?
About 12 per cent of Indian students opt for undergraduate programme; about 50 per cent are at graduate, masters or PHD level, and little under 40 per cent is under optional practical training.