Kerala is witnessing a steady trend of young people moving abroad for higher education and Malayali students can be found all over the world. In fact, even the tiny Dutch Caribbean nation of Curacao which has an area of 444 sq km and a population of just 1.55 lakhs has students from Kerala.
While, previously, Keralites traveled to other countries in search of work, now many do so for study. As a result, foreign education fairs, IELTS training centers and advertisements in the media and public places attracting students to study in places like the UK, Canada and Australia are common in South Indian states.
What are the economic and social consequences of this youth flight from Kerala? ‘Manorama’ examines the issues involved in detail.
One lakh students to leave the country
The most reliable source of data on the number of students leaving Kerala for study is the information provided by the Central Government in Parliament. According to the Center’s figures, 30,948 Malayalis went abroad for studies in 2019. This is much higher than the figure in 2016 – 18,428.
However, as this data was obtained from the passport office in Kerala, it does not include Malays traveling from places outside the states and Gulf countries.
Meanwhile, unofficial figures show that the migration of Indian students abroad is increasing 40 percent annually. In South India, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are witnessing the highest student migration abroad. However, Kerala leads in the number of students in proportion to the population. As per the indications, the number of students from Kerala will break through one lakh in the next five years, which is a huge number. In 2020-21, the number of students who completed the 12th standardized examination under Kerala Higher Secondary, VHSE, CBSE and ICSE boards is 4.23.2028. If a quarter of these students moved abroad at any stage of their academic life – whether during a degree, PG or PhD – it would cause major economic and social changes in Kerala society.
Speech in Assembly
A recent speech by Mathew Kuzhalnadan at the Kerala Legislative Assembly brought this issue to the attention of the public. “The salary offered to new candidates with MBA or civil/mechanical engineering degree in Kerala is only Rs 10,000-14,000. As a result, the thought of a child passing the Class 12 exam in the state is, ‘I have to get out of this state and this country,'” he said.
In fact, reasonable salaries are only paid to IT professionals in the state’s private sector. The Kerala government claims that they have given jobs to one lakh people over the past five years. This means 20,000 jobs every year. However, in 2020-21, a total of 1,01,686 students joined state colleges of arts and sciences and 27,916 candidates obtained admission to technical colleges, according to a State Planning Agency report for 2021.
Why study abroad?
The survey conducted by ‘Manorama’ shows why students from the state prefer education abroad. Most of the respondents (33.51%) felt that suitable jobs were not available in Kerala. Meanwhile, the second most common reason for student flight away is the high standard of education abroad (29.56%).
Other reasons include poor salaries in Kerala (12.61%); adverse social and economic situation of the country (6.55%); better social status in Kerala for people studying abroad (4.56%); overseas stay back option (4.34%); poor living conditions in Kerala (3.59%); gender bias and male dominance in the state (3.38%); moral policing in Kerala (1.07%) and less parental intervention abroad (0.83%).
The majority of students study abroad without scholarships. They earn money for expenses from their families or by using loans. Work permits that can be obtained by studying abroad and permanent residency in another country are the main goals of these students.
The role of education history
Malayalis have been traveling abroad for better prospects for the last hundred years. However, when examining Kerala’s history during the 1700s, it will be revealed that the situation was much different back then. By the 1700s, Malayalis had been in contact with Europeans for two centuries. However, most Keralites live in misery, strictly following caste and religious traditions. This fact is explained in the book ‘Voyage to the East Indies’ by the Carmelite missionary Bartholomew who visited Kerala in 1778.
However, everything changed during the 1800s, when missionaries, followed by local government, launched a revolution in education. When Malayalis gained knowledge thanks to these efforts, they overcame their reluctance to travel and began to move to all parts of the world.
With this historical background, current student migration abroad needs to be seen as a great opportunity.
Change is needed in the economy, society
Improving educational standards in Kerala will not prevent students from traveling abroad to study. Instead, the country’s economy must be improved to ensure a better salary and standard of living. For this, Kerala must digitize its economy and local jobs must be productive.
Student Identity Card
Government authorities in Kerala realized that a large number of young people from the state were studying in China only after the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. “That’s how NORKA introduced the ‘Kartu Pelajar’ to update the database of Malayali students abroad,” said agency CEO K Harikrishnan Namboodiri.
When the war started in Ukraine, NORKA noticed that only 163 identity cards were issued to the country. However, as soon as the agency started registration to evacuate students, 3,428 people contacted NORKA.
“NORKA ID cards will help communicate with students and offer support when needed,” said the CEO. Students currently based abroad can obtain the card by paying a fee of Rs 315, he added. This card has a validity period of three years, which can be extended.
(With input from Manorama)