For almost everyone around the world, last year was a year of disruptions. The impact of the ‘year of the virus – 2020’ was indeed unprecedented and substantial. More so for students with dreams in their pockets of studying across borders and/or in globally acclaimed universities. The restrictions in mobility caused by Covid-19 continues to disrupt travel plans even in the first quarter of 2021, with many students unable to arrive at their destination university in time before the start of the spring semester.
However, reports suggest that amidst the world continuing to grapple with the pandemic and students having to delay their study abroad plans, significant number of aspiring students still plan to go abroad to fulfil their study plans. A QS Survey taken within six months into the pandemic revealed that out of 14,000+ prospective international students, over 90% of students still intended to study abroad at an international university. The temporary drop in potential students enrolling at international universities amounted to a mere 1 in 10 among the survey respondents. In a similar survey conducted by the education think tank IC3 Institute, 83% of Indian and Nepalese students remained optimistic about their future study plans despite the pandemic while a third planned to study abroad in the immediate or near future.
Currently, the situation is continuously evolving across the borders in multiple study abroad destinations and universities are responding appropriately with implementation of protocols in collaboration with government authorities. Many universities have in fact switched over to online mode of delivery of their programs so that students can study from their home country until travel restrictions are lifted. A QS white paper released last year indicated that students were willing to start online classes if they knew it would only be for a set period or up to six months. The universities, colleges, higher education and training providers assure that students enrolled in their online classes can transfer to on-campus F2F options when travel restrictions are eased and international students are allowed to travel again. It is to be noted that most of these universities have committed themselves to providing world class standards in online/remote, blended, hybrid or asynchronous learning while ensuring the health and safety of all including international students.
Additionally, in order to encourage international student enrolment, many universities and colleges in the US, UK and Canada have decided to waive application fees, acceptance fees and deferment fees. Australian universities are supporting their international student community with fee refunds, deferrals and grants. Even Ivy League universities in the US have made SAT and ACT test scores optional during this time. In general, all institutions in the popular study abroad destinations are continuing to provide regular detailed information about their course/programs, evaluations and plans for the academic year in accordance with the local, national and global health advisory to current and prospective students.
It is clear that in the current climate, selection of universities and choice of destination countries will largely depend on how well the pandemic has been managed by the host countries, the flexible delivery options of programs, the cost and quality of education. Countries like New Zealand and Germany have climbed to the top of the ladder as a potential study abroad destination because of their superior pandemic management. In the UK, besides the recently introduced extended PWS Visa of 2 years, the NHS has continued to provide free Covid19 tests to the international students including an online Covid19 support service being offered to all students. Ireland currently remains on Level 5 restrictions, which means that higher education providers are required to deliver classes online. The government has remained committed to protecting the health and safety of all current and prospective international students with universities providing flexible options in fees payment or deposit.
Across the Atlantic, the Canadian government and the universities in the country are being lauded for its handling of the global pandemic. The recent policy updates indicate that distance online learning will count towards PGWP (Post Graduate Work Permit) with the caveat that students must at least complete 50% of their program in Canada. The boost in Canada’s reputation is only expected to surge with the recent offer of substantial scholarships by Canadian higher education providers, colleges and technical institutions. In the US, about 92% of enrolled international students remained on campus or in another location when the pandemic hit the country. During this time, as stay-at-home orders and remote learning became the norm, many universities and colleges provided support to their international students with Covid19 testing and free masks, remote tutoring and pandemic related counselling. Also the mandatory Health Insurance plan for all international students covers Covid19 testing and treatment should the student test positive. Most of the universities across the country have handed out free masks and personal protective equipment to all students including new students through a welcome-back kit.
Despite the challenges in current times, students understand that studying abroad offers students a myriad of opportunities including a plethora of courses to select from, impressing future employers and being more competitive in the workforce. It is no wonder then that a majority of surveyed students no longer want to put their study abroad plans on pause. As more and more Visa application centers are opening up, students are assessing the universities in countries with the best pandemic management and Covid19 contingency plans and deciding to put in their applications to start a new chapter in their academic and personal life.