The most popular choice of degree among Indian students for graduate studies in the USA is physical sciences. Earlier engineering was the preferred one.
Recent data reveals that the percentage of students taking the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for studying engineering is shrinking. Now, physical science subjects such as physics, chemistry and earth sciences are the most popular choice for degrees. However, it must be noted that the data reflects the choices of test-takers who have specified their intended graduate major at the time of examination.
GRE is a standardised examination to study graduate programmes in the United States. The GRE scores are also accepted by universities in the UK, Ireland, Canada and Australia. It is a common criterion that universities can use to compare the academic merit of applicants from all over the world. Educational Testing Services (ETS), the conducting body of the examination, is headquartered in the USA and assesses proficiency in writing, reading and mathematics.
There has been a significant decline in candidates seeking to study engineering in the US with the numbers dropping from 34% ten years ago to 17% in the year 2021-22. On the other hand, candidates interested in taking physical sciences increased from 27% to 37% over the same period of time.
Experts think that this particular trend can be because physical science graduate programmes will ask for GRE scores more than engineering programmes in the USA. Several top universities including the University of California, Los Angeles follow this pattern.
The rise of physical sciences and the decline of engineering is further supported by the report of Open Doors compiled by the US State Department and the non-profit Institute of International Education which shows the proportion of Indians pursuing engineering degrees in the USA fell from 38.8% in 2009-10 to 29.6% in 2021-22.
B S Murthy, IIT Hyderabad director commented that BTech graduates get good and highly paid jobs in India. Getting an annual package of 50 lakhs per year after college is a normal thing which was not 20 years back. This is the reason why one will not find many Indians engineering in the US as they did in the past. In fact, it is evident that many Indians are pursuing master's degrees abroad in physical sciences as job scopes in that area in India are not good.
Apart from that, more people are interested to study business. In 2012-13, only 1,697 people took GRE with the intention to pursue post-graduate business courses. In 2021-22, the numbers quadrupled and hit 7,912. The number of students seeking to study humanities and arts subjects makes up a very small proportion of the population. It has declined from 0.3% in 2012-13 to just 0.1% of test-takers in 2020-21 and 2021-22.
The same observation can be made for life sciences courses too. In 2012-13, students taking GRE added up to 5% of the test-takers. This number has now dipped to 2%. Associate Vice President of Global Higher Education at ETS, Alberto Acereda, said that besides the broad factors such as economic and social, such as Covid-19 impacts, this pattern can also be partially attributed to the fact that some biomedical sciences do not need GRE anymore.
There is a limited correlation between scores of GRE and success in biomedical PhD programmes. For this reason, biology, medicine and associated faculties rarely consider GRE scores as a part of the admission process.
The Open Doors Report also show that fewer students are interested to study life sciences. The Indian students enrolled in life science programmes fell from 10% in 2013-14 to 6.5% in 2021-22.
However, ETS has stressed that the data only takes into view the intended graduate majors at the time of testing and the subjects may change during enrollment.
In 2021-22,199,182 Indian students went to the USA which is an increase of 18.9% from the previous year. The number of GRE-taking students in India has increased to 1,11,476 in the past testing year which is more than double of what is in India.
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Source: The Indian Express