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Students from India turning demographic tide at Calif. university

Number of those attending schools in the US doubles

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Larry Gordon
Los Angeles Times / May 25, 2008

LOS ANGELES - At the Manas grocery store and restaurant near the University of Southern California, graduate students from Mumbai and New Delhi stop by late at night to pick up a batch of malai kofta, vegetable dumplings, to fuel their engineering study sessions.

Or they may sit down for a dinner of tandoori chicken and discuss their latest cricket matches.

"If they miss home, they can always come here," said Manas coowner Kumar Venkata. Increasingly, more USC students do.

With its enormous freezers stocked with microwavable curries and garlic naan breads of India, Manas is a busy off-campus canteen of sorts for what is said to be the largest group of Indian students in the United States and a culinary symbol of an academic tidal wave from the Indian Ocean.

With a rising middle class better able to finance American university degrees and schools such as USC actively recruiting them, Indians have doubled their presence at US campuses in the past decade.

Numbering more than 83,000 last year, they are the largest group of international students in the country, overtaking the Chinese in 2002, surveys show.

USC has had the largest number of foreign students of any campus in the United States for six years; last year, it enrolled about 7,100 from across the globe, including those on extended internships, according to the nonprofit Institute of International Education.

More than 1,500 Indian citizens are full-time students at USC, only about 100 fewer than the number of black students at the school.

The large contingent of Indian students runs popular Friday-night cricket games under the lights at Cromwell Field, with squads named Trojan Tigers and Leavy Lions. (Some Pakistanis and Australians also play.) Forget about the formal white uniforms; cardinal-and-gold T-shirts are the norm and cricketers end their huddles by shouting the USC slogan, "Fight on!"

"It's a big, very big Indian community. It's pretty amazing," said Gaurav Kumar, a master's student from Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, who is president of USC's Association of Indian Students.

About 9 percent of all graduate and professional-school students at USC are Indian citizens, heavily concentrated in engineering and its computer-related classes. Kumar, who is studying signal processing and sound systems, said the engineering school's status and its proximity to so many West Coast high-tech companies make it a desirable brand name among ambitious Indian families.

For the past five years, the engineering school has sponsored recruiting trips to India and hosted crowds of potential applicants at hotel receptions in Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad, and Bangalore. The resulting tuition income, without much financial aid spending, helps USC pay for research and professors' salaries, officials said.

"It's very clear that Indian students and Indian parents are willing to invest a lot of money into their education since that's the path to success. And now more of them have that money," said Peggy Blumenthal, executive vice president of the Institute for International Education.

The increased enrollment from India at US universities also reflects a shortage of space in graduate programs in India, as well as the relaxation of some procedures to obtain a student visa imposed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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