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When Urvi Bhandare decided to leave her native Mumbai to study for an MBA overseas, the 23-year-old management consultant’s first instinct was to apply for one of the top US schools.
But Ms Bhandare was dissuaded from chasing her American dream by friends, who had done just that, only to return home after struggling to secure visa extensions or land a job. She turned instead to Canada, gaining a place on the MBA programme at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
“Canada, being as multicultural as it is, seemed welcoming and I could really picture myself enjoying working in this country,” Ms Bhandare says.
Top business schools worldwide say they prize Indian applicants because they tend to be of good quality. Governments value Indian students from an economic point of view because they are a valuable source of skilled labour. University data show that Indians, more than any other nationalities, remain to work after graduation in the countries where they study.
Now, however, schools in the US and the UK, formerly two of the biggest beneficiaries of the Indian diaspora, are finding themselves overlooked because hundreds of Indian students are choosing to study in Canada instead.
Ms Bhandare chose her business school after President Donald Trump announced in 2015 his intention to run for US president, before he was nominated by the Republican party as its candidate. She feared his pledge to tighten immigration controls, including reforming the H-1B work visa for highly skilled foreign workers, would limit her options after graduation.
Canada’s visa system allows MBA students to remain and work for up to three years after graduation whether or not they have a job at that time. The H-1B work visa in the US lasts for three years, but must be sponsored by an employer. President Trump has proposed raising the minimum wage companies must pay people with H-1B visas to encourage them to hire US citizens instead. The UK’s post-study work visa, which allowed students from outside the EU to stay to work for up to two years after graduation, was scrapped in 2012.
Canadian institutions still struggle with a lack of brand recognition. There are no Canadian business schools in the FT’s top 50 MBA ranking. Rotman is the highest listed at 65. Western University’s Ivey and Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business are at 94 and 100 respectively. Nine of the top 15 schools are in the US. But the US government’s toughened stance on immigration has changed the way Indian students feel about American schools, according to Matt Symonds, director of Fortuna Admissions, an MBA applicant adviser. Many of his Indian clients switched choices the day after the US presidential election.
Between January 2016 and the US election in November, 4 per cent of Indian students Mr Symonds advised were interested in Canadian business schools, chiefly Rotman, McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management in Montreal and University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business. That proportion has since risen to 16 per cent.
Kunal Khosla has a bachelors degree in finance from Kelley Business School at Indiana University in the US, but has secured a place at Rotman for his MBA.
“The constant negative news with Donald Trump made me refrain from focusing on the US,” he says.
The Brexit vote in the UK has helped Canada’s business schools at their UK peers’ expense. The Graduate Management Admission Council, which runs the GMAT business school entrance exam, found Indians taking its test had been the most negatively influenced among overseas students by the UK’s vote to leave the EU.
When asked about Brexit, 58 per cent of Indian test takers said it made them less likely to want to study in the UK compared with 49 per cent of those from Germany.
Higher education figures from the Canadian Bureau for International Education indicate that the country’s attraction among Indian students had been building long before either Brexit or President Trump’s election.
Indians overtook Nigerians as the fastest-growing overseas student group at Canadian universities in 2014, according to the CBIE.Last year saw a 28 per cent jump in the number of Indians arriving on Canadian campuses.
At Toronto-based York University’s Schulich School of Business, about half the Indian-born members of the 2010 MBA cohort returned home after completing their degrees, but last year’s class all stayed to find work locally, according to Dezsö Horváth, the dean.
“Everybody with an MBA can get a good salary when they graduate but they want interesting jobs in an attractive city,” Mr Horváth adds.