Can marginalised students in India dream of higher education in foreign universities?

Image used for representational purposes

Students from marginalized communities in India face multiple hurdles in accessing education abroad. 

Aatika S |

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NEW DELHI — Tejas Harad, founder-editor of The Satyashodhak, an online portal which offers a critique of the caste system, has applied for admission in a PhD program for the fall semester at several US universities. He has received positive responses from a few universities so far but it has not been easy.

The biggest hurdle that marginalised students face is the lack of information and the absence of role models, he said.

“They [students from marginalised groups] don’t have any family members who have studied abroad, so foreign education seems far-fetched to them. They don’t even think that they can dream about it,” he told

He said that ones who manage to pass this hurdle face issues like getting good recommendation letters, and shortlisting the right universities. “They have nobody who can guide them in preparing their application well, edit their research statement, share tips,” he added.

Structural issues of discrimination, impoverishment and non-access and other daily issues can act as major roadblocks for many like Tejas.

Neeraj, a PhD student at Nottingham Trent University, UK said that a working-class person getting higher education in a foreign institution is a nightmare, with issues ranging from language difficulties to financial hardship, lack of moral support, and feeling inferior.

“All such factors make our college experience very different from the others. Many invisible caste barriers crush our dreams, and people like me keep fighting them even after graduating. In fact, my professor, Bodhi SR, used to tell us that these institutions have more of a ‘caste room’ than a classroom.”

As persistent deprivation continues to operate outside India, they aggravate social, economic, and cultural marginalisation.

“Students like me, whose primary education was in Hindi, find it difficult to compete with others. Also, the moral support that one is supposed to receive from one’s community is lacking in my case, in contrast to upper-caste students who have easy access to support from their caste-based networks in foreign universities,” Neeraj said.

As a Dalit, the financial constraints students face abroad are continuous.

“As the son of a labourer, I am always concerned about the financial well-being of my family, even when I am not working/earning. Most Dalit students are subjected to traumas, and absolute alienation that only we are aware of,” he said.

Many face harassment, acute poverty and helplessness.

A former JNU student, who requested to remain anonymous, has been trying to secure admission to a foreign university for three years. He said the process of applying to a foreign university is difficult and humiliating as it rests on one’s privilege. No professor was open to reviewing his statement of purpose, he claimed.

Getting a recommendation letter is another challenge. Despite good grades, he was refused a recommendation letter.

“I do not understand the criteria for accessing academic resources apart from the exclusive networking that happens between certain students and professors. These things are shrouded in caste privilege as identity is a big factor in how professors relate to students,” he added.

Aishwarya Walwekar, a research scholar in the School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU concurs, “While my professors at JNU were extremely helpful in pointing me towards the right directions, I must admit that networking with professors abroad, speaking articulate English and the domino’s that fall backwards onto the hierarchical caste system is part of the challenge.”

Aatika S is a fellow at the SEEDS-TCN mentorship program.