In this Inbound Insight series article, we look at the shifting patterns in Indian outbound student mobility and explore the priorities of this student cohort when searching for student accommodation based on data gathered through the Global Student Living Index.

UNESCO figures show that India is the second largest sending market in the world when it comes to outbound student mobility. In 2020, India had 508,174  students studying abroad.

Outbound destinations

The UNESCO 2020 data shows that the United States was the most popular hosting destination, with 93,834 (18.46%) Indian students, followed by the United Kingdom with 83,923 students (16.51%), and Australia, which hosted 68,725 students (13.52%).  

More recent data from each destination country shows that the number of outbound students from India has grown significantly since 2020. For example, 2021/22 United States International Student data shows that there were 199,182 Indian students studying in the United States. Similarly, 2021/22 HESA data shows 126,535 students from India were enrolled in UK universities.

UNESCO data does not capture inbound student data for the United Arab Emirates, however, a Times of India article quoting Indian Ministry of Education data suggests that the United Arab Emirates is an increasingly popular destination for Indian students due to its proximity to home, lower cost of living and growing economy with a demand for skilled workers. Unofficial reports suggest that the UAE hosts even more Indian students than the USA and UK.

Changing patterns in Indian outbound mobility

Since 2019, there have been some shifts in mobility patterns of Indian students studying abroad and further shifts can be expected.

Following the announcement by the UK government of the graduate route visa in 2019, the UK has seen a surge in the number of Indian students studying in the UK. In 2018/19 there were 27,495 Indian students studying in UK higher education institutions. This figure increased by 360% to 126,535 Indian students studying in the UK in 2021/22.

France plans to attract 20,000 Indian students by 2025 as part of the India-France Strategic Partnership. This number is set to increase to 30,000 students by 2030. According to UNESCO data, there were just 4,807 Indian students studying in higher education institutions in France in 2020.

India and Greece have also signed a Cultural and Educational Exchange Programme for 2022-2026 which aims to increase the focus on the exchange of University students and staff. Greece plans on increasing its outreach to Indian academic institutions through the official “Study in Greece” platform.

Search priorities

Data from the latest Global Student Living Index (2023 Q2) shows that students from India have similar priorities to other students. However, safety and security matters more to Indian students than international students in general (77% vs. 72%), as does condition and quality of the accommodation (75% vs 72%), budget (73% vs. 67%) and availability of an ensuite (70% vs 63%).  Indian students also place a higher priority on the staff/team (52% vs. 43%), kitchen size and facilities (70% vs 61%) and the availability of a flexible contract (48% vs. 41%).

Room type and rent

Students from India are most likely (76%) to be living in a private bedroom than international students in general (62%). They are also more likely to need to work part-time (20%) to pay their rent than some other international cohorts.  There are indications that part-time work is becoming more important as cost of living pressures increase. 

Search resources

When it comes to resources used in the accommodation search, students from India are more likely to use university websites and general web information than other large international cohorts such as students from China and Nigeria. Indian students are also slightly more likely (15%) to seek support from educational consultants/agents during the search process than international students in general (13%).


Indian students are most likely to have booked with a letting agency or directly with the university housing or accommodation office, followed by direct with a private halls provider. Students from India are slightly less likely (12%) to have booked via an educational consultant/agent than other international students in general (14%).

Global Student Living Index data also shows that Indian students differ from the broader international cohort when it comes to the type of wellbeing struggles experienced – in particular, Indian students struggle with work-related issues and feelings of homesickness more than the broader international cohort. These issues are discussed in more detail in the GSL/CUBO report Future Proof: meeting the diverse needs of international students, available to download via the CUBO website.