The Success of British Indians

A 2014 Policy Exchange report A Portrait of Modern Britain written by Rishi Sunak, the new Conservative MP for Richmond and Sanatha Rajeswaran, compiles a whole array of stats and figures about Britain’s largest minority ethnic groups drawn from the 2011 Census, the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Department of Education and the Ethnic Minority British Election Study (EMBES) making it a useful resource for researchers.

What really strikes you when reading this document is the success which Britain’s Indian population has achieved. In recent years schools, universities and public institutions have observed ‘Black History Month’ to celebrate and to educate people about black history. Perhaps we should do more to celebrate and recognise the contribution which has been made by British Indians and other ethnic and religious minorities in recent decades.

In the 2011 Census, 1.4 million, or 2.2 percent of the population of England and Wales were of Indian ethnicity. Indian migration to Britain began in the 1950s and continued through the 1960s and ‘70s. Many of the early migrants were doctors from the western province of Gujarat who came to work in the NHS. A large proportion of Indian migrants has been highly skilled or at least hold secondary or higher qualifications. One would imagine that this gave Indian settlers and their British-born descendents an advantage considering that three-quarters of Indian migrants have these qualifications compared to 46 percent of first generation Pakistanis, 37 percent of first generation Bangladeshis and 16 percent of first generation Afro-Caribbeans.

In recent statistics 43 percent of ethnic Indians were employed in the highest-skilled professions and 17 percent have a PhD or other higher qualification. Indians have lower rates of unemployment than citizens of Pakistani, Bangladeshi, African or Afro-Caribbean origin. Materially, British Indians are also better off. Sixty-five percent own their own home while 82 percent of Indian households own at least one car. Success in adult life is perhaps reflective of Indians’ educational performance, from primary school level through to higher education. As Sunak and Rajeswaran write:

“Indian pupils outperform all other population groups at Key Stage 2 and continue to outperform at Key Stage 4 (GCSE), with a greater proportion of the Indian population gaining five A*- C grades, a greater proportion of those including Maths and English, and a greater proportion of those attaining A* – C in a Modern Language.”

At GCSE level the difference between Indians and other featured ethnic groups is pronounced. Three quarters of Indian pupils achieve at least C grades in Maths and English compared to 50 percent of black Caribbean pupils. Half of students of Indian origin gain a minimum of a C grade in a modern language compared to 19 percent of Afro-Caribbeans. Seventy percent of Indians enter higher education, 37 percent of whom are accepted into leading universities ranked in the top third in the British rankings whereas 14 percent are admitted into Russell Group universities.

What are the factors behind the Indian population’s success in education and in the job market? As mentioned earlier, this can in part be attributed to skill levels of first generation Indian migrants. Subsequent generations benefitted from growing up in homes with highly educated parents and other relatives where they received encouragement to work hard at school and university and to pursue good careers. Other factors, such as work ethic and an appreciation of education and learning should also be considered.

In a number of case studies in his 1983 book, The Economics and Politics of Race,Thomas Sowell examines a variety of successful immigrant groups from around the world including the Chinese in several south-east Asian countries, the Jews in eastern Europe and North America, the Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, Germans and Italians in Brazil and the Chinese and Japanese in the United States.

Sowell found that in many of these examples first generation immigrants toiled in low skilled, low paid menial jobs saving what disposable income they could to eventually start small businesses. Within a few generations their descendents became more prosperous and better educated than the indigenous population and other minority groups, often becoming ‘over-represented’ in various trades and professions. The success of European Jews, Armenians in Ottoman Turkey and the Chinese in Malaysian, Thai and Vietnamese societies prompted the indigenous ruling classes to introduce discriminatory measures to prevent their participation in certain jobs or restrict their access, as was the case in Malaysia, to university courses. Despite facing these barriers European Jews, Armenians and Chinese continued to prosper in these host societies.

There could be multiple reasons why certain immigrant communities succeed in education and in the job market compared to other settler groups. Britain’s Indian population has no doubt benefitted because of the skills and qualifications that their forebears possessed.

However other factors, such as strong families, work ethic, entrepreneurship and a desire to ‘aim high’ and to ‘get ahead.’ An updated British study, in a style similar to The Economics and Politics of Race would make interesting reading and would improve our understanding of the strengths which the country’s ethnic population has contributed to Britain’s economic development.


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