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Crowdfunding helps Indian students realise study dreams

For Indian students exploring study abroad opportunities, managing tuition fees, travel and other expenses is often a tricky task.

With nearly three-quarters of a million Indian students studying overseas and many more planning to follow suit every year, fully financing one’s higher studies through an education loan is no longer a feasible option for many students. Students have now found a way out through crowdfunding – wherein several individuals or organisations contribute small amounts of money through an online platform to fund a cause. Crowdfunding websites such as Ketto, Milaap and Bitgiving are helping students and young professionals fund academic degrees, short research-based programmes, field trips, seminars abroad, start-up innovation and leadership courses and even adventure expeditions to Antarctica.

Students post an impactful campaign on any of the crowdfunding websites explaining why they need financial help, how much funding they require, why people should donate and how students plan to use the funds. They also respond to comments and questions from potential donors and why they choose to crowdfund for higher studies. Most websites display names of top donors in a fundraiser, allow readers to share the stories on social media to spread the word and, at times, post updates on the campaign.

Success stories

Aparna Surampudi, a research scholar and conservation biologist based in south India’s Visakhapatnam city, thought about taking the crowdfunding route to finance her education in the UK three years ago. Surampudi is involved with biodiversity monitoring programmes and works towards preserving the life and habitat of the Eastern Ghats – a discontinuous range of mountains along India’s east coast. She loves learning and researching more about coastal birds and animals and the mangrove forests in and around the city, and wanted to add more to her skills as a wildlife ecologist. This is when she learnt about the prestigious Darwin Scholars Programme. In 2016, she was among the 25 scholars and students selected worldwide for the programme. With a passion for her subject and zeal to learn new aspects of wildlife ecology and conservation, all that Surampudi needed was funds.

“Getting an education loan was tough as it was just a month-long course and banks in India don’t give loans easily for short courses,” Surampudi said.

While she was struggling to get a loan, she got a fillip in the form of the Biodiversity Conserver’s Award from the state government of Andhra Pradesh for her work towards wildlife and mangrove forests conservation. She posted her campaign on Bitgiving, an online crowdfunding platform and mentioned her other achievements, such as sighting unique species of flora and fauna including the thick-billed green pigeon in the Eastern Ghats.

“I also mentioned in my campaign that all those who contribute more than $50 will get a special mention in my thesis. My friends and people who knew about my hard work supported me and shared my profile through social media. I managed to collect about $4,570 within two months through crowdfunding. I got the rest of the funds from the Wildlife Trust of India.”

For Sabareeswaran Krishnan, who is currently serving as a junior research fellow at Yenepoya Medical College Hospital and Research Centre in Mangalore, Karnataka, the impact of science on everyday life was always intriguing. He learnt about the diverse fields of biological sciences during his five-year integrated master’s degree in life sciences in 2013 at Bharathidasan University, Tamil Nadu.

“While exploring national-level summer training programmes between 2015 and 2017, I learnt that some of the drugs available in the market for cancer treatment do not provide a complete cure and can have major side effects. This motivated me to get in-depth knowledge about the disease and get international research experience,” Krishnan said.

In January 2018, he got a chance to pursue his final-year master’s degree dissertation project at Max Delbruck Centre for Molecular Medicine, Berlin, Germany for six months. For the German visa, one must show the financial support for the entire time spent in the country, which Krishnan was lacking.

“I needed money for accommodation and travel. I had already taken an education loan for my master’s degree course. I posted a campaign on a crowdfunding website called Ketto stating all my academic details and the need for support,” he said.

Soon he got about $2,000 for his visa and other related expenses. He even got a travel grant by Tata Education and Trust Development, Mumbai. Having learnt a lot during his stay at the Berlin institute, Krishnan aims to pursue doctoral studies abroad to build his career in research as a scientist.

Abhishek Aggarwal, a chemical engineer from Delhi’s Indian Institute of Technology crowdfunded part of the expense of an expedition to Antarctica last year. He was selected for a 14-day international annual expedition hosted by the 2041 Foundation that focuses on climate change. The expedition allowed participants to learn more about recycling, renewable energy and sustainability to combat the effects of climate change. Aggarwal had to deposit $5,000 as the initial fee in the first 15 days and raised the amount through the crowdfunding platform Ketto. He promised to send five high-definition photo shots from Antartica to anyone who contributed more than $20 to his cause and 20 shots and a handwritten postcard for anyone who contributed more than $100.

Two years ago, Mumbai’s Aishwarya Kumar wanted to pursue master’s in marketing, management and communications from Toulouse Business School in France and took the crowdfunding route. She raised $1,000.

“I raised enough for my tickets, visa cost, and other initial logistics expenses. It was a great learning experience,” she said.

Why it is popular?

According to the Reserve Bank of India, spending on tuition and hostel fees by Indian students studying abroad has increased from $1.9 billion in 2013–14 to $2.8 billion in 2017–18. To pay for these costs, many students rely on loans, scholarships or funding to study abroad. But not all of them manage to collect the required finances. Crowdfunding in India is in its infancy, having a market size of $50 million. Since 2010, 15 digital crowdfunding platforms have popped up in India, and the past year alone has seen 12,000 successful campaigns.

Elaborating on why crowdfunding is becoming a popular means of funding one’s education, Varun Sheth, co-founder of Ketto, said: “As India is going digital in many sectors and initiatives, Indian students are taking full advantage of it to fulfil their dreams. Also, the process… from creating a campaign to raising funds is easy. Besides college studies, students are also posting impactful appeals to raise money for creative projects and extra-curricular activities abroad. Moreover, you don’t have to pay the money back. You don’t have a deadline or a rate of interest. The people who donate are often your close ones, well-wishers and those who help such causes.”

Dr Karan Gupta, a Mumbai-based educationist and study abroad consultant, said: “Though it is not the largest form of funding in India for students who wish to go abroad, most students who take to crowdfunding do end up raising the money they require. The funds can range from $150 to $32,000.”

These trends reflect that crowdfunding in India is finding new takers and has made foreign education a reality for many.

Gauri Kohli is a Delhi-based senior journalist, editor and freelance writer who has covered higher education, workplace and HR trends, social issues, health, lifestyle and real estate for 14 years. She has written for national daily newspapers and magazines in India and abroad including Hindustan Times, Education World, The Pioneer and Professionals in International Education, UK.  

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