Karnataka reclaims status as education hub, beckons foreign students

Bengaluru’s ‘cool’ quotient — both its weather and its culture — apart from the quality of teaching, has resulted in more than 25% of the international students headed for India choosing the city as their home. Anil Budur Lulla has more.

At Kammanahalli junction, northeast Bengaluru’s fastest-growing food street, one can hear loud guffaws and banter in thickly accented English floating out of a cafe. Walk in and you’ll spot a big group of African students. “They are a noisy lot, but good customers,” says AnandSagar, who manages the cafe. “The Iranians are much quieter,” he says, nodding towards another table occupied by two girls and a boy.

Even as we talk, three girls walk in, dressed in colourful wraps and blouses. They seem to be regulars here. “Sri Lankans,” Sagartells me, before ushering them to a table by the window, away from the boisterous Africans.

The Africans, Iranians, and Sri Lankans are all students. No, they’re not backpacking across India between semesters. They are studying and are temporarily living in Bengaluru. And most of them are loving it. Ernest Mkelele (25) likes Bengaluru so much that he has enrolled himself for graduation for a second time! The young man, from “somewhere in central Africa”, has already completed his BBA and has now enrolled for a BCA. “I graduated late and when my brothers came to study here, I decided to hang on and enjoy their company. It’s a different college now and I just extended my student visa,” he says.

Over the past 10 years, Bengaluru, Mangaluru, and the coast up to Manipal, and Mysuru have become educational hubs and melting pots of cultures from across the globe. An increasing number of foreign students have been making a beeline for the city for their studies. For educational institutions in Bengaluru and other cities across Karnataka, it’s a kind of re-emergence of the nineties when Manipal University on the state’s coast and M S Ramaiah College of Engineering in Bengaluru used to attract most foreign students wanting to study medicine or engineering. In between, their numbers had reduced to a trickle, but a smaller number of students from Malaysia, Seychelles, Nepal, Bhutan, and some south-Asian countries continued to dribble.

“The boom happened in the last seven to nine years when African and middle-eastern students started coming here in droves for degree as well as professional courses,” says Dr John Patrick Ojwando, a Kenyan who studied at Bengaluru and Mysuru universities 20 years ago and later helped colleges hold admission shows across Africa.

According to a report by the ministry of human resource development (MHRD), Karnataka had the largest number of international students — 13,050 or 27.4% — across India in 2016-17. Bengaluru district topped in terms of the number of colleges with 1,025 colleges. The students come from Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Mauritius, Mali, Burundi, the three Congos, Gabon, Middle East, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives and some other nations. Karnataka boasts national-level institutions in almost every discipline such as health, management, science and tech, law, social science, education, linguistics, and regular bachelor courses. It is also home to the prestigious Indian Institute of Management-Bengaluru, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Indian Institute of Technology (Dharwad), International Institute of Information Technology-Bengaluru (IIIT-B), Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), National Law School of India University, NIMHANS, Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Regional Institute of Education (RIE) Mysuru, and a host of reputed institutes in other sciences.

A melting pot that attracts foreign students

Ask any foreign student why they like studying and living in Bengaluru and you’re likely to get similar responses — the quality of teaching is very good, everyone speaks English, people are friendly and accepting of diversity, the weather is pleasant, and there are great wine and dine options in the city. DrOjwando, who leads recruitment and admissions of international students for many top-notch colleges here, says, “I have had the opportunity to visit other states in India as well. Where Karnataka scores high is that it’s cities are friendly, safe, green, and lively, and it has good learning institutions. Even those visiting for the first time easily can find their way around and the locals are friendly and accommodating of other lifestyles.”

Maroof Abdul Bashir (26) from Afghanistan is studying MTech at Jain University. He has a bachelors’ in engineering from Pune. His MTech is in building science and technology and he works on green buildings. He says he chose Bengaluru because it is an IT hub and a versatile city with many opportunities. “The quality of education here is very good across colleges. Teachers give personal attention and a lot of focus is on learning,” he says.

The Kabul native switches to Hindi with ease and is learning the local Kannada language too. He shares his flat with a classmate from Kerala in order to assimilate better. “I feel Kabul and parts of Afghanistan and Bengaluru are similar. There are a few drawbacks here for a foreigner — like garbage and pollution which do not complement the city’s green status,” he says. On his future plans, he says he wants to explore staying back and working in Bengaluru.

KavisaraPaserjit, who is pursuing her BCA at Jain College, is from Thailand. She did her high school in Delhi before coming to Bengaluru for Class XII at Bengaluru International School. “The quality of education is very good. My course combination is cloud tech and information security. I am in the final year and I enjoy the city very much. It’s nice that everyone talks in English unlike in Delhi where our teachers used to teach half in Hindi and half in English,” she says.
She stays with her brother and some cousins and says the city is like her home. “People here are more open-minded. There’s a lot of variety in food — from Korean to south Indian idlis and dosas,” she says, adding she wants to continue living here and do an MBA.

A lesson in Karnataka’s education history

Karnataka has a history of religious mutts setting up engineering, medical, and higher institutes of learning. In the pre-Independence era, the Maharajas of Mysuru, visionaries in their own right, set up several colleges and universities, including Bengaluru and Mysuru Universities, on the lines of foreign varsities.
The state also had a headstart in the establishment of private higher education and specialised colleges. In the 1970s, educationist M S Ramaiah started the M S Ramaiah College of Engineering; now the group offers courses in 100 different streams. Manipal University, a deemed varsity, offers professional courses that attract students from other parts of the country and from distant shores.

“This is a time when private education is growing in India and Karnataka is in a special place as it has been a pioneer in education for generations already. It has always attracted students from distant parts of India like the northeast and foreign countries like Africa,” says Rahul Jayaram, who teaches at Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities in Sonipat, Haryana.

DrOjwando says, “In the past, we had students from mainly English-speaking countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Nigeria, but over the years, Karnataka has started to attract students from French-speaking regions such as Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Mauritius, Mali, Burundi, and the three Congos, among others. This can largely be attributed to the efforts of educational institutions and other organisations to welcome international students.” The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) is one such organisation that has played a big role in getting foreign students.

The fact that students like Maroof, Mkelele, and Paserjit love Bengaluru so much that they want to stay back here for further studies or for work shows the city must be doing something right to attract foreign students.

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