By Anurag Kotoky
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Student Mikael Haris is wrestling with the sort of question confronting others across India, including companies, investors and banks, following the 18 percent slump in the rupee this year.
With plans to study for a masters degree in marketing in London from this month, he is trying to decide whether to pay his course fees up front and secure a discount, or to spread them out in the hope that a rebound in the rupee will ultimately reduce his costs.
"We are kind of speculating how to pay the fee, to see whether the rupee will regain its strength. It is a strategy that makes you think, how to lower your expenses," Haris said.
The slump in the rupee as the country struggles with decade-low economic growth and a record current account deficit has hit confidence across the country and among international investors.
For the 800,000 or so students who go overseas to study each year, the main question is whether they can still afford to do so as their costs in rupees have risen by as much as 20 percent. The top three destinations to study are the United States, Britain and Australia.
The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) estimated overseas Indian students spend the equivalent of about $15 billion a year to pursue their studies.
"If the currency continues to depreciate, it will certainly put a doubt in the mind of students on whether to look at going abroad next year or not," said New Delhi-based Ajay Mittal, a director at International Placewell Consultants Pvt Ltd, a student placement company.
"If the slide does not stop it may affect the January or next September admissions," Mittal said.
"ONE EXTRA BEER"
Students already studying overseas are looking to cut costs, rely on savings or find work to cover their shortfalls.
Pooja Raman, who is studying International Business Law at the National University of Singapore, is worried about paying off her education loan after her expenses rose by 15 percent in recent months. Most Indian students take loans for their studies overseas.
"If the rupee continues on this devaluation path, it would get difficult to repay it within the given time and I might have to take another one," Raman said.
Adding to the pressure, state-run banks have not raised the maximum limit on education loans to account for the fall in the rupee, meaning what used to be full-course funding now covers just a proportion.
Foreign students are prized by U.S. academic institutions, particularly at the undergraduate level, because they often pay full tuition and board rather than counting on financial aid from universities, giving them an economic impact that outweighs their numbers - less than 4 percent of U.S. university enrolment.
So far, U.S schools say there has been no significant drop off in the number of Indian students, the second-largest population of foreign students after the Chinese. That does not mean there will not be a fall though, said Gary Hamme, associate vice president for enrolment management at the Florida Institute of Technology.
"If this continues, it's going to get tough and obviously we would be concerned about the number of new students," he said. Foreign students make up about a third of the total enrolment at the institute and Indian students are among the top three most represented foreign nationalities.
Shiva Balasubramanian from Mumbai, who is studying computer engineering at Arizona State University, says he is cutting his daily expenses to cope.
"You avoid buying exotic vegetables, and that one extra beer, for example," he said. "It's a test of management in daily life."
"BITE THE BULLET"
In Australia, many look for part time work in restaurants, retail stores, gas stations and administration.
"Indian students would come to class often very tired, and fall asleep in class, because when you look at it they're often working two or three part time jobs, (sometimes) illegally," said Phil Honeywood, executive director of the International Education Association of Australia.
The rupee slump has also caught out those who had been cautious with budgeting. Ridhima Tomar, who will pursue a degree in Social Policy and Development at the London School of Economics this month, thought she had made a conservative calculation on the exchange rate at 95 per pound. The rupee now trades at 103 and she estimated her costs have risen 20 percent compared with last year.
"I am done with all my formalities and booked my tickets and got my visa. I guess I will have to bite the bullet," Tomar said.
(Additional reporting by Aditi Shah in MUMBAI, Lincoln Feast in SYDNEY, Scott Malone in BOSTON and Nivedita Bhattacharjee in CHICAGO; Editing by Neil Fullick)