UC Merced arranging to let students pay in rupees

Merced Sun-StarAugust 7, 2012 

MERCED -- UC Merced soon will make it easier for some international students to pay for their tuition.

Officials hope to implement a program in the spring semester that will allow students from India to pay for their college costs with rupees through Western Union Business Solutions.

Oli Nandkishore, director of student business services and cashiering at UC Merced, said the transactions would be made between the students and Western Union, not the university.

UC Merced will provide a website for students to use to make the transaction. By the time the currency arrives in a UC Merced account, it would be converted into dollars, Nandkishore said.

The UC Office of the President has encouraged all UC campuses to increase their nonresident student enrollments, Nandkishore said.

But officials are aware that students who come to California from China, India and South Korea have a difficult time making tuition payments using currency from their countries.

Officials also are aware that the transactions can be expensive, he said, which is what got UC Merced interested in the program.

It has been around for a few years, but it was not until this month that rupees were added to the list of currencies being converted to dollars. Now that UC Merced is involved, students from India and other countries can use the service.

Ben Kavalec, vice president of commercial sales for Western Union, said because India's currency is carefully regulated, it has been difficult for students and their families to get rupees out of the country.

But Western Union has partnered with India's ICICI Bank to allow students to use rupees to pay their tuition.

"I think it's a big piece -- they're used to dealing with their own currency," he said. And "they're getting much better rates of exchange."

Western Union has more than 150 universities and colleges in the United States participating in the program and about 500 globally, Kavalec said. There's no charge to the schools or the students, and the institutions get 100 percent of the students' tuition payments.

Western Union will take care of the accounting process at UC Merced, which will make it easier for the university and the students, Nandkishore said. "It should make it convenient for them (the students)," he said.

He said it was hard to tell exactly how many students at UC Merced would benefit from this program, but said China and India send hundreds of thousands of students to the country every year, with a substantial number of them coming to California.

A 2011 study by the Institute of International Education ranked California as No. 1 in the country for being the host to international students, with 96,535 in all.

UC Berkeley has been in the program for a while, Nandkishore said.

The University of Southern California and UCLA are two of the biggest participants, Kavalec said. "I believe that USC has one of the largest, if not the largest, student population from India," he said.

UC Merced has its agreement in place, but officials are working out a few details, Nandkishore said.

Universities had been trying to ease the transaction-payment process for foreign students, Kavalec said.

"The nice thing is that the universities for a long time had been looking for this solution, and it's nice that we can go out and provide it for them," he said.

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