The COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions of students worldwide, including those aspiring to study abroad. While many are reconsidering their study abroad plans, a large number of international students claim that the outbreak has had no impact on their dreams to study abroad.
With classes shifting online for at least the remainder of the year, the crisis has reshaped the way foreign universities deliver higher education on multiple fronts. From the availability of job opportunities and getting visa applications processed to missing out on campus experience and deciding on whether to defer admissions or to stick to the plan, students are in a quandary as to how they should plan on studying abroad amid the pandemic.
This article shall give an in-depth understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on international students, how to plan for higher studies abroad amid the pandemic, the benefits of studying overseas, and more.
How has COVID-19 Affected International Students?
Given the current scenario, it is not surprising that international students are having a hard time wrapping their heads around the impact of higher education abroad. As of 2019, more than 8 lakh Indian students had enrolled in universities across the world. The global higher education is currently facing unprecedented challenges due to the crisis, which has led students to change their study plans, be it at undergraduate, postgraduate, or research level.
On average, the pandemic has impacted more than 50% of study abroad aspirants and there is no doubt that the movement of students has been tremendously affected. Many universities have decided to suspend all mass lectures for the upcoming academic year, limit the number of students for classroom learning, and introduce online classes. Universities including Oxford and Cambridge have informed students that they can start the academic year after going through quarantine and by following the public health norms.
Although exams such as the SATs and ACT were cancelled for the months of May and June, conducting authorities have now started administering exams this Fall as well as in the months of October, November and December.
How do Students Plan on Studying Overseas Amid/Post COVID-19?
The toughest part in the midst of all of this is to understand how a study abroad aspirant should address the challenges posed by COVID-19. The reactions of prospective international students to the current circumstances have been somewhat distinct. While around 50% study abroad aspirants intend to defer their entries until the next academic year, many are looking for study options in a different country and hoping to travel abroad to study on campus and continue their studies as usual.
During these uncertain times, the most commonly asked query is on the availability of funding and scholarships that may help ease out the financial pressures. Countries such as New Zealand, Australia, etc. have allocated funds to international education sectors and are also proposing to restructure their higher education funding.
Now, let us look at a few options as to how study abroad aspirants can address the COVID-19 challenges:
Stick to the plan: There is no way we can forecast when the pandemic is going to end or when international students will be able to do away with its effects. This certainly makes it wise for students to continue with the application process and stick to their current plan of action. Many foreign universities have extended their application window for international students, giving them enough time to decide on whether studying abroad now is the most viable option for them or not. This way, students would not lose a year and attend classes online in the beginning and later be allowed to take classes on campus.
Explore universities with great COVID-19 response: Almost every university across the globe has adopted measures to adapt to these unprecedented conditions. The measures may differ from country to country and every university is opting for a slightly different approach. Many universities in the US, UK, Australia, Switzerland, and more, have even reduced their tuition fees in response to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
Focus on Preparation: With students restricted to their homes, it is the best time to prepare for entrance tests accepted by the various foreign universities. All exam conducting bodies such as the College Board, Graduate Management Admission Council, etc. have introduced a remote proctoring solution to allow students take tests like GMAT, SAT, ACT from the comfort of their homes.
Defer admissions by a year: One of the study abroad options amid COVID-19 can be to defer admission to a foreign university by a year. Studying online might help deal with the financial stress but it might also take away the opportunity of experiencing a completely different way of life on an international campus. Hence, deferring admission could be a smart decision for some.
What prospective international students shall be looking for while applying to foreign universities are as follows:
Changes to the application process
Changes to application deadlines
Availability of seats in the course at a university
Changes to the dates of any entrance exams
Changes to the course structure
Restrictions on the ability of universities to make unconditional offers
Measures the university has implemented to slow the spread of the coronavirus on campus
Changes to English language test requirements
How to defer application (if required)
How are Foreign Universities Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic?
Apart from shifting to virtual/online classes and abiding by government guidelines on COVID-19, universities all around the world have adopted various measures to attract more international students and meet their evolving needs:
Under the new admission criteria, many universities and colleges are admitting study abroad students who do not have GRE or GMAT scores.
There is a reduced fee structure at various universities, allowing more international students to opt for higher education abroad despite COVID-19. Australia is one of the countries that is offering fee-waivers and financial support to aspirants seeking admission to institutions in the country.
Along with counselling, scholarships and special concessions for international students, several universities in the United Kingdom are accepting online copies of degree certificates as producing the original copies could be a difficult task now.
Universities such as the University of Essex, UK, is restructuring its course curricula and exploring ways to offer courses in a blended format and ensure smooth conduct of education.
Alternatives to traditional teaching such as pre-recorded lectures, video calls, online assignments, online and open book exams are being adopted.
Universities in the US are focusing more on providing an online learning environment that is on par with in-class learning. A number of US universities are pushing towards helping study abroad aspirants thorough employer workshops, career services, recruitment events, virtual networking events and so on.
Keeping in mind the travel restrictions due to the pandemic, universities have started offering virtual tours to students and their parents. They are also told about facilities, the admission requirements, the different academic programmes, how they would start the application process amid the COVID-19 crisis, and henceforth.
Is Studying Abroad Despite COVID-19 Worth It?
According to a recent survey, only 5.4% of aspirants wish to cancel their study abroad plans in view of COVID-19. While many may believe that the pandemic has put brakes on their study-abroad dream, foreign universities have, quite surprisingly, seen a rise in the number of international applications. Here are a few reasons why studying abroad is still one of the best options for higher education:
Career prospects: It is a known fact that graduates from foreign universities have a better scope of landing a job in any given field. In the worst-case scenario, the global crisis may affect job possibilities and emigration pathways right now but it will come back to normal in the future. Employers are always more likely to look very highly on study abroad experiences.
Value of education: Let us not forget the value that studying in a foreign country will add to your profile. Studying overseas involves a completely new way of learning. By enrolling in a study abroad program, students are exposed to a whole new curriculum that is entirely different from that in the home country.
Life Experience: Be it an online or an in-person programme, graduating from a foreign university tends to change a student’s life forever. It includes great academic learning and incomparable personal development and maybe travelling in the near future. One of the major benefits of studying abroad is to be able to discover oneself and gain an understanding of a totally different lifestyle.
Multiple Course Options: Not studying in your home country offers you myriad course options to choose from. The programs at foreign universities will expand your horizons and let you take up different courses at the same time and also provide you with skill-based training.
Global Perspective: Studying abroad helps you be more comfortable with different cultures and people from different backgrounds. Being able to think from a global perspective will help you deal with modern and more complex problems in the real world. Your experience with a totally new culture will enable you to take decisions more openly and inclusively.
With inputs from multiple sources.
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Stay tuned to keep track of the latest updates on global higher education amid and post the COVID-19 era.