Friday, 14 October 2011

Can't get seat in Delhi University, can make it to Ivy League

NEW DELHI: When Moulshri Mohan applied to colleges, she received scholarship offers of $20,000 from Dartmouth and $15,000 from Smith. Her pile of acceptance letters would have made any teenager smile: Cornell, Bryn Mawr, Duke, Wesleyan, Barnard and the University of Virginia.

But because of her 93.5% cumulative score on her final board exams, Moulshri was rejected by top colleges at Delhi University.

"Daughter now enrolled at Dartmouth!" her mother, Madhavi Chandra, wrote, updating her Facebook page. "Strange swings this admission season has shown us. Can't get into DU, can make it to the Ivies."

Moulshri, 18, is now one of a surging number of Indian students attending American colleges and universities, as competition in India has grown formidable, even for the best students. This summer, Delhi University issued cutoff scores that reached a near-impossible 100% in some cases. The Indian Institutes of Technology have an acceptance rate of less than 2% - and that is only from a pool of roughly 500,000 who qualify to take the entrance exam.

"The problem is clear," said HRD minister Kapil Sibal, who studied law at Harvard. "There is a demand and supply issue. You don't have enough quality institutions, and there are enough quality young people who want to go to only quality institutions."

American universities and colleges have been more than happy to pick up the slack. Faced with shrinking returns from endowment funds, a decline in the number of high school graduates in the US and growing economic hardship among American families, they have stepped up their efforts to woo Indian students thousands of miles away.

Representatives from many of the Ivy League institutions have begun making trips to India to recruit students and explore partnerships with Indian schools. Some have set up offices in India, partly aimed at attracting a wider base of students.

With more Indians flying to Ivy League institutions, the US state department held a US-India higher education summit meeting on Thursday at Georgetown University to promote the partnership between the countries. Indians are now the second-largest foreign student population in America, after the Chinese, with almost 105,000 students in the US in the 2009-10 academic year, the last for which comprehensive figures were available. Student visa applications from India increased 20% in the past year, according to the American Embassy.

Although a majority of Indian students in the US are graduate students, undergraduate enrolment has grown by more than 20% in the past few years. And while wealthy families have been sending their children to the best American schools for years, the idea is beginning to spread to middle-class families, for whom Delhi University has historically been the best option.

American universities have now become "safety schools" for increasingly stressed and traumatized Indian students and parents, who complain that one fateful event - the final high school examination - can make or break a teenager's future career. This admission season, students exchanged exam horror stories.

One knew a boy who was sick with typhoid but could not reschedule. "I know a girl who saw the physics paper and she fainted," said Nikita Sachdeva, her eyes widening. Nikita, 19, graduated from Delhi Public School in 2010, with a 94.5%, one point shy of the cutoff to study economics at St. Stephen's, one of the top colleges at Delhi University. She decided to take a year off and work as an intern at a nonprofit group affiliated with the Who, while applying to American universities.

But for some students, it is not merely the competition that drives them to apply to study in the US. It is also the greater intellectual freedom of an American liberal arts education. India's educational system is rigid, locking students into an area of study and affording them little opportunity to take courses outside their major beyond the 11th grade. Only a few courses of study are considered lucrative career paths.

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