The love for foreign education among upwardly mobile Indians is not new, but with the economy prospering and domestic education not keeping pace with aspirations, it has turned into a near obsession. Every year, more than 250,000 students venture out of India in search of better education in universities in the US, Europe, South East Asia and Australia. These numbers makes India the country with the highest student mobility in tertiary education after China. It should not necessarily come as a surprise. China and India are by far, the two most populous countries in the world. So the high numbers - over 800,000 Chinese students too try their luck in education outside their country every year - is a factor of demography. The growth in outflow of students from India however is staggering over the last decade and even China pales in comparison. At the start of this millennium, India was not even in the top five source countries that see maximum mobility of students around the world. The trend gained ground with the emergence of the Indian IT industry in the first half of the first decade and by 2005, India was just behind China accounting for 5.4 per cent of total international students, as per UNESCO. That share has only risen since then. Between 2007 and 2016, at least 6 per cent more students have gone out of India every year on an average. In recent times, the growth has been even more scorching. In 2014, nearly 12 per cent more students went abroad compared to the previous. The very next year, the numbers swelled again by a little less than 20 per cent. In both these years, India outpaced China, albeit on a smaller base. “For years, India's numbers have been a bit of a see-saw, but 12 per cent growth in 2014, and an even higher rate of 19.4 per cent in 2015 - this is the second year in a row that India's [growth] rate has been higher than China,” says Maria Mathai, director of MM Advisory Services that provides advice on international recruitment strategies in India. “In terms of growth rate we have said in the past that India is set to overtake China, and it is certainly on track even though in terms of absolute numbers China will still be far ahead.” A majority of Indian students who choose to head out for education drop anchor in either of the six countries: the US, UK, Australia, Canada, UAE and New Zealand. Universities in US are the main attraction accounting for nearly 45 per cent of all students. In fact, almost half of all international students in the US today are either from India or China. The two countries also account for almost a third of all international students in Canada. The preference of Australia as a destination for higher education has also risen since 2015, when it overtook UK to become the second most preferred destination for Indian students. It is a resurgence of sorts. With its large diasporic population and ample employment opportunities, Australia was always a hot destination but had gone off the boil for a few years since 2009 when a spate of racial attacks grabbed headlines. Another emerging study destination is Germany, which aided by Brexit, is tipped to overtake UK as the most preferred country in Europe. Countries like Sweden, Denmark, Italy, and Ireland are now also in Indian students' consideration sets. An IIM Bangalore study conducted by Rupa Chanda and Shahana Mukherjee in 2012 says more and more Indian students are looking at countries where “education is considerably cheaper and part-time jobs are easier to secure.” The reasons for the inherent desire to go abroad for studies in upwardly mobile Indians are numerous. India as a country scores terribly low in quality of education and does not offer adequate infrastructure for cutting edge sophisticated research. As per the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings 2018, only three Indian institutes - Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, Bombay and Indian Institute of Science Bengaluru -figure in the list of top 200 universities in the world. The top 20 has 11 entries from US, four from UK, two each from Singapore and Switzerland and one from Australia. IIT-Delhi, Bombay and IIS Bengaluru were placed 172, 179 and 190 respectively. Intense competition and an acute paucity of seats are other reasons that nudge students out of the country. The higher education infrastructure in the country has simply not kept pace with the rising demand from Indian middle class. In 2012, 500,000 students sat the entrance exam for 9,590 seats at the country's premier technical colleges - Indian institutes of technology (IITs). Similarly the premier management institutes - Indian institutes of management (IIMs) - received close to 200,000 applications for 15,500 seats. The demand-supply mismatch is so acute, it throws up some amusing trends. In 2011, one of India's leading commerce and economics colleges Sri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) that counts among others finance minister Arun Jaitley as an alumnus, set a minimum cut-off mark for admission at 100 per cent for students with science subjects. After being reduced to becoming a butt of jokes, the college stood its ground citing rising number of students with near perfect scores each year for the same number of seats. In 1987, when a million students took grade 12 exams, SRCC had 800 seats. In 2011, when 10.1 million students appeared for the same exams, the number of seats at the college was still the same. “Even those with 90 per cent marks cannot assume they will get into the Indian institution of their choice,” says Mathai. “Students leaving India are some of the best brains.” Higher disposable incomes, proliferation of finance schemes for foreign education at low rate of interest and better job prospects after completing education in developed countries are also reasons that aid the outflow of students. Further, even if the student decides to come back for a career in India, a degree from a foreign university gives him a head-start over an Indian institute. “An important aspect is the prevalent perception in Asian countries that a foreign degree is more valuable and thus increases chances of better employability,” says the 2012 IIM Bangalore study. “Another factor, particularly true for major source countries like China and India is the rising income levels of middle-class families in the last decade, which has made foreign education a feasible alternative. The existing education infrastructure in many of these countries is weak and continues to remain neglected. Consequently, a growing number of students seek better quality education and therefore look to foreign education markets for the same.” Most Indian students go out at the graduate level, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics remain the most popular fields. In the post-graduate level, business administration is the most sought after course though there has been an increasing trend towards research, medical sciences and academics as well. The outflow of students does entail a cost to India's domestic economy in terms of lost revenue. According to a study done by Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry of India, the estimated hundreds of thousands of Indian students studying abroad costs India as much as $17 billion a year. “Studying in a foreign institute maybe a dream but it is not cheap. An IIT student pays an average $150 monthly fee, while students opting for education in institutions in Australia, Canada, Singapore, the US and UK shell out $1,500 to $4,000 in fees every month,” says ASSOCHAM Secretary General D.S. Rawat. “That capital goes out of the country. Most students also stay back in their host country.” Clearly, the much-maligned brain drain phenomenon starts early in India. But the lure of emulating names like Indra Nooyi in PepsiCo and Sundar Pichai at Google, is pretty damn hard to beat.