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Study abroad: Obsession or aversion?


Yun ilm ki pyas me niklen hain manzil ka nishan maloom nahi;

 jana hai udhar manzil hai jidhar, manzil hai kidhar maloom nahi !!

(wandering for the quest of knowledge, without any clues of destination; wanna go where the destination lies, Lo I’m unaware where is the destination)

An Urdu couplet profoundly summarizes state of a curious traveller of learning journey.

Its a fact that knowledge knows no borders. Human civilisation evolved with the contributions of all human beings of the planet during different periods of history. Thus, whatever advancements mankind has achieved are a common civilisational heritage that belongs to all. Its’ a different matter that some communities will have a greater proportion of the contribution at a particular time and a few others in another period, in this ongoing human stride. Therefore, seeking knowledge, building knowledge and producing new knowledge for the benefit of humanity cannot be done in isolation within the temporary borders of nationalities, or natural differences of colour, race and region. It needs a wider, long-term and sincere collaboration between human societies, institutions, academics and individuals.

Studying abroad appears to be a manifestation of herd mentality for some and a fashion for others. Seldom, it could be seen as a case of genuine passion for the quest of knowledge. This has resulted in a phenomenon called Brain Drain. That is, young and promising youth (youth are always promising, aren’t they?) are flocking out of their home country for better opportunities of earning and comfortable life and eventually settling down in the host country, becoming immigrants and abandoning their homeland. Given the fact that it has more negative impacts than positive ones on the world, this phenomenon cannot be considered ideal.  Instead, effective and corrective measures need to be put in place to discourage such an exodus of talents. The root cause, however, lies in the public psyche or social conscience of a society and also in the current education system(s) whose elaboration needs another separate proposition. Due to the ensuing problem, wherein India (and many other ‘developing’ countries) is losing some of its bright minds, some people rule out the idea of studying abroad and display a complete aversion to it. In my view, both the attitudes of obsession and aversion provide no solution to the problems of the world we live in. Instead of this retaliatory action, a conciliatory and conscious approach is needed to instill in the young generation a sense of belongingness, compassion, responsibility and social conscience towards the problems of the world. Thus, this article aims to present higher education opportunities available outside India, not to propel brain-drain but to those students who have courage and candor to wish and think beyond the shallowness of green card, blue card, dual citizenship and permanent residence. Dr Girish Karnad, a distinguished Rhodes fellow, could be an example.

Studying abroad has it own advantages and disadvantages. One of the major advantages with universities abroad is a wide range of specialisations, flexibility of courses and cross-disciplinary options. This particularly helps those students who are passionately looking to venture into a new field. Moreover, the level of exposure and kind of rigour one gets will definitely help in broadening intellectual horizons, grooming one’s overall personality and also enables to solve the greater problems of the world. Below are some of the suggestions for those who are looking forward to pursue masters or research degrees:

 1. Choose university and course

There are hundreds of reputed universities in the world, each one having its own niche areas. There can be several factors which should be considered for an informed selection. International reputation, academic standing, faculty, facilities and most importantly, the design and content of the course you like to pursue are the matters which one should be very conscious about. For research courses, concurrence from proposed research supervisor will be crucial.

Although it is good to have the ambition of getting into a particular university, it’s always better to choose at least three or more universities for initial application. The QS World Universities Ranking and Time Higher Education websites would provide academic ranking of world universities based on various parameters. Alumni feedback and discussing with friends and professors will also help in choosing the right university. Most of the universities keep the course details and prospectus readily available on their websites. Go through each detail diligently.

2. Contact the university, respective department or professor

It will be a good practice to have a conversation with respective institution and professor and get clarification on course, eligibility, fees, deadlines etc through email. This will also help you establish a cordial relation with the concerned persons, which will be of advantage in the long run.globeabroad

3. Select course start date

Different universities have different term start dates. Many of the western universities have major intakes in Fall/Autumn term i.e Late August/September and Spring term i.e during January. Carefully go through details on when a particular course will start and mark the application deadlines.

4. Eligibility and prerequisites

Different courses, even of same level, may have different eligibility criteria like language and aptitude tests like IELTS, TOEFL, GRE, GMAT etc. Make a note of these and put in your efforts to achieve the maximum pointers.

5. Supporting Statement

Most of the universities globally ask for a comprehensive statement of purpose (SoP) in favour of your application for a post graduation/research course. It is an importance factor in application selection. This is an opportunity for student to present him/herself before the selection panel. Many universities will have very strict word limit and format to be adhered to. Give ample time and put efforts to come up with a vivid and pleasant write-up to present yourself. Good statements will usually have 500 to 1000 words. The stronger your statement (in terms of language, presentation and relevance), the greater the chances of selection. Justify appropriately, if there are any inconsistencies in your academics, describe your achievements, voluntary works, publications and everything else which you can present as relevant to the course and application. Get multiple peer reviews from able people in your surroundings.

6. References

Most universities require the application to be supported with two or three reference letters from people of established repute, who have observed, supervised or worked with you closely in the academic/professional work. Check the guidelines from university website and choose your referees carefully.

7. Scholarships/Funding

Where there is a will, there are many ways! While it’s a fact that most of the universities abroad charge extraordinarily hefty fees for international students, there are a number of funding/scholarship assistance-ships available for outstanding and passionate students. These scholarships vary in quantum, nature and procedure. Some offer full tuition fee, air ticket and maintenance allowance like Chevening Scholarship, Commonwealth Scholarships for study in UK, Fullbright Scholarship for study in US, DAAD Scholarship for study in Germany etc. There will be numerous partial scholarships by trusts, foundations and charities. Universities themselves provide hundreds of full/partial scholarships every year to attract bright students from across the world. Go through the scholarship section on the university website and make a note of application deadlines. Many scholarships will have a very early application deadline such as a year prior to start of course!! Therefore, if you would like to start your studies in next year August/September, you must start your preparation from August/September of previous year. This will enable students to apply for as many scholarships as possible. TODAY is the right time to start your work because tomorrow doesn’t come!

Below are some of the popular scholarships. There are innumerable part scholarships available out there, for those who have patience and perseverance. Good luck and all the very best.