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A Study on the capability of Muslim Women of Kerala to Pursue Higher Education Abroad


The study attempts to analyze two factors: the know-how and financial capability of Muslim women in Kerala to apply for admission to foreign universities. The 'know-how' pertains to the knowledge of the procedure to apply to foreign universities. 'Financial capability' assesses 'how financially equipped the participants believe they are' to give standardized tests like SAT, ACT, GRE, TOEFL, and IELTS for applying for admission in top universities/colleges outside India. The financial capability factor also analyses the capability of the participants to fund their education abroad. The study also tried to assess the participants' interest in studying abroad for continuing education.


According to the 2011 Census of India, 42.7% of Muslims in India are illiterate, making Indian Muslims the religious community with the country’s highest illiteracy level. Unsurprisingly, the percentage of female illiterates (48.1) is higher than that of male illiterates (37.59%). Historically, the Muslim community in India has been one of the most under-represented communities in higher-educational institutions. The marginal social, economic, and educational backwardness of the Muslim community compelled India’s government to formulate a seven-member High-Level Committee, the Sachar Committee, to look into the reasons for the community’s backwardness. The committee submitted its report in 2006. However, even after several years, the socio-economic condition of Muslims in India continues to be dismal.

The Sachar Committee report sparked a nationwide discussion on the marginality of Muslims in India. Many recommendations put by the report stressed the importance of educating the community to empower them. Out of the 43 decisions taken by the government on the advice of the Sachar Committee, fifteen pertained to education and are the most number of decisions accepted by the government for a single focus area. The multipronged strategy adopted by the government specifically focused on improving access to education for Muslim girls.

However, the representation of Muslims in higher education spaces and elementary schools continues to be poor. Some studies point out that Muslim children face systematic exclusion at a pre-primary level in the national capital’s private schools. Compared to their population, the enrolment rates of Muslims in elementary, high school, higher secondary school education, and higher education are the lowest.

There were almost no sources that statistically informed the representation of Indian Muslim women in foreign universities. Two reasons could be the cause for this 'dearth in data.’

  1. Lack of Muslim community members' consolidation to encourage higher education in foreign universities.

  2. The socio-economic marginalization faced by the community has resulted in the community's under-representation in higher educational institutions in India. Extrapolating this distinction, the socio-economic inadequacy of the community members could be a reason for the statistical under-representation of Indian Muslims in foreign universities.

According to the World Education News & Reviews (WENR), an authoritative news and information source for professionals in international education, India is currently the second-largest country sending its students internationally. The number of Indian international students enrolled in degree programs abroad doubled from 134,880 students in 2004 to 278,383 in 2017, as per UNESCO. Assuming, with a strong base of evidence, that the representation of Indian Muslims in foreign universities is marginal, this study attempts to determine if a lack of encouragement, lack of knowledge of procedures, and lack of resources are the reasons for this under-representation.

Education as a reformation for the Muslim community cannot happen in the face of a lack of data to articulate the limitations faced by its community members. While data may not always reflect the ground reality, statistics are a practical way of bringing the attention of various stakeholders to the under-representation of a community and its reasons. Statistics can also be the pedestal to bring affirmative actions to increase the representation of Indian Muslim women in foreign universities.

Compared to the rest of the country, Muslims of Kerala fare much better than the Muslims residing elsewhere in India, both economically and educationally. This study thus expects that the results of this survey can draw valuable and pointed assumptions on the adequacy capability of Muslim women of other states to pursue higher education abroad.

Methodology: The Survey

The study was conducted by circulating a survey on social networking handles like WhatsApp, Instagram, and Slack. One hundred and three college-going Muslim women of Kerala participated. The study intended to analyze Kerala Muslim women's

  1. interest in pursuing higher education abroad

  2. accessibility to financial resources for funding their education abroad

  3. accessibility to the know-how of procedure to apply for admission to foreign universities

  4. concerns a Kerala Muslim women have in pursuing education abroad.

Based on percentage data obtained from the survey results, conclusions were reached and are stated below. A few recommendations are also provided to encourage measures to increase the representation of Indian Muslim women of Kerala in top-notch universities/colleges across the world.


In the sample of the survey participants, only 3.92% had applied for admission to foreign universities at the time of conducting the survey. Most of the participants had completed their bachelor's (48.54%). The rest had completed their high school (16.50%) and masters (33.98%), with one participant completing her doctorate.

The other results are graphically represented below:


Of the 103 participants surveyed, 61.2% registered interest in pursuing higher education abroad. However, 47.57% of the participants were not at all aware of the admission procedures. Only 18.45% of the participants found the cost of standardized admission tests a ‘minor investment.’ The rest found the amount either a ‘major investment’ or cannot invest the amount at all. 51.46% of the participants require a full scholarship to pursue education abroad.

56.31% of the participants recognized budget/finance as their most significant concern in considering higher education abroad. A considerable number of participants were also concerned about security (17.48%).

Other concerns raised include:

  • Challenges to maintaining healthy mental health.

  • Homesickness.

  • Discouragement from society and family to pursue higher education abroad.


Based on the findings from the survey, this study puts forward a few recommendations to encourage increased representation of Kerala Muslim women in universities and colleges abroad.

  1. Convene workshops to teach prospective Kerala Muslim women in foreign universities the - When, What, Where, Why, and How - of studying in foreign universities.

  2. Improve access to resources for Kerala Muslim women to prepare for interviews and ace standardized admission tests like GRE, GMAT, and language proficiency tests like IELTS, TOEFL, etc.

  3. Instate a proper information dispersal mechanism to address the queries and concerns related to pursuing education abroad for Kerala Muslim women.

  4. Educate Muslim community members about funding options and scholarships to finance an education outside India. This is to dispel the notion that pursuing education abroad is too expensive and is beyond the scope of middle-class ambition.


Muslim women in Kerala do not lack the ambition and passion required to pursue graduate and doctoral studies from universities and colleges abroad. The study points out that Kerala Muslim women are not well-informed about the procedure to apply for admission to foreign universities and lack access to helpdesks that address their queries and concerns. The study also raises the need to mobilize resources to financially support the aspirations and ambitions of Muslim female students of Kerala to pursue education abroad.

The data received from the participants might not be entirely representative of the ground realities of the field of study. However, data-based research, even in a random sample, becomes crucial in bringing attention. This study can thus be perceived as a first step to encourage actions to increase the representation of Indian Muslim women in top-class foreign universities.

Appendix 1: The Survey

Thank You For Your Willingness To Take Part In The Survey!


Your name and email address are collected through this form to ensure that not more than one entry per person is collected

1. Your name

2. Your email address

3. Your home state

4. I identify myself as a Muslim woman residing in India




5. Your highest educational qualification

Select: High school/Bachelors/Masters/Doctorate/Post-doctoral


6. If you were given a choice, in which field of study would you pursue education in elite universities in foreign countries?

Select: Arts/Science/Humanities/Interdisciplinary/Other


7. If other, please specify other

8. Have you applied for admission to foreign universities before?



9. Which would have been the most pressing concern you would face in considering higher education abroad?


Cultural compatibility

Language issues




10. If other, please specify other

11. Are you familiar with the application processes to apply for admission to colleges/universities abroad?

Yes, I'm familiar

Yes, but I might need assistance

No, I am not aware at all


12. A standard English language test, whose score is mandatory to apply for admission in several reputed foreign colleges/universities, costs between 11,000 INR (approx.) and 13,000 INR (approx.) Would you find the amount a major/negligible investment?

A major investment

A negligible investment

This amount is beyond me


13. Do you have the financial capability to fund your education abroad without a sponsor?


No, partial scholarship required

No, a full scholarship required


14. Lastly, are you interested in pursuing education in top universities/colleges abroad?

Yes, I'm interested

Yes, I am seriously considering


I am not sure


15. Considering the above factors (access to information and availability of financial resources), how likely are you going to apply for admission to a foreign university?

Five-star scale

16. Do you wish to receive the final report of this survey at the email address provided?




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