The impact of COVID-19 on higher education and opportunities in western countries

Ms Kavita Parikh, Founder-Director, Disha Consultants

The impact of COVID- 19 has sent socioeconomic ripples across all sectors, including business, politics, and most importantly education. Specifically, the higher education sector has taken a significant hit. There is a herculean transformation in the way we study. Students and institutions are attempting to adapt to this new normal where online education has now become the rule. Universities and college campuses are at a standstill as they grapple with the consequences of the pandemic. However, despite all these challenges, 91% of Indian students have expressed a strong interest in studying abroad. This is an interesting find considering the current situation.

Shift in destination preference

Primarily, the main concern for international students was that foreign governments and policymakers do not really care for them. Mainly, worries over visa status, health care, and immigration are primary drivers of concerns when it comes to enrollment in U.S. institutions.  This has changed. While the US government has banned travel for Indians to the US, they have made a specific exception for students. This is a very welcome development. According to UNESCO, in 2018 there were 5 million international students out of which, 750,000 were Indian. COVID-19 has significantly impacted those numbers as students are re-evaluating their decision to study abroad. Specifically, the concern is about when to begin their education.  Students do not want to study online and they cherish the campus experience, especially in the multicultural and friendly campuses in the US. Now with almost all universities starting in-person classes and most students fully vaccinated, there is renewed interest in US education.

Before the pandemic, the primary concerns for Indian students revolved around ease of admission, education quality, costs, and immigration policies. Now, students are also concerned about health safety and the risk of infection. These are also the two factors that international students consider while choosing study abroad destinations.

This year, there was a narrow window for international admissions owing to the delay of Class 12 examinations. This means that students have to wait till August to submit their admissions for Fall 2021. On a brighter note, foreign universities and institutions have adapted to the grim reality that the pandemic has brought about. Considering the travel restrictions due to the pandemic, many educational institutions have started offering alternatives to traditional teaching methods. These institutions have switched over to alternatives such as live online sessions or pre-recorded lectures, video calls, online assignments, and online open-book exams.

While US and Canada have made appreciable strides in welcoming Indian students, other countries have yet to open their borders. The second wave of COVID-19 India has been devastating but not as bad as the first wave since the latter brought out some learning. During the first wave, students were encouraged to defer their university entries and wait till universities fully opened up. However, this time around institutions and applicants are both willing to make accommodations. Post the second wave, students have better managed their expectations about what the study abroad experience will consist of. Some institutions have taken steps to relax admission deadlines and requirements. Some universities have altogether suspended the submission of standardized test scores as well. Here again, US universities have taken the lead.

 

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