Gone masks, sanity in: international universities eager to welcome Indian students back

As the world tries to get back to normal after nearly two years of battling the coronavirus pandemic, the education sector is also hoping to not only make up for lost time, but also make the experience safer and friendlier.

When the pandemic hit the world, educational institutions around the world were closed for physical classes and students were stuck with online learning. While some enjoyed sleeping overtime instead of commuting from campus, others missed out on this essential and unique on-campus experience.

The students who missed their on-campus experience the most were those hoping to travel abroad for a semester or course abroad. However, now that several countries are easing travel restrictions imposed due to Covid-19, universities are preparing to welcome back their international students.

Indianexpress.com spoke with some overseas universities to find out more about the plans of educational institutions in different countries to welcome Indian students back.

No quarantine

The majority of universities based in the United Kingdom (UK) and Northern Ireland such as the University of Manchester (UoM) or the University of Sussex now welcome Indian students without quarantine conditions upon their arrival.

In terms of vaccination, while the majority of universities around the world are currently following their government’s guidelines, the authorities are putting in place all possible measures to help students through the process. For example, at the University of Sussex, to help students check their vaccination status and get their NHS COVID Pass, officials have run vaccine check clinics during term time.

Countries like the UK, Israel and a few other European countries have also allowed their citizens into less crowded public spaces without face masks. Although it is recommended to wear a face mask in crowded places, there are no rules or penalties against it. This helps students gain pre-Covid experience in many countries that host Indian students.

Some institutions such as IE University in Spain have also come up with an innovative idea, where students can attend physical classes but can ask their remaining/unanswered doubts through online and video tools.

Focus on mental health

Some universities are now taking an extra step to ensure students feel welcomed, safe and emotionally strong while moving to a foreign country in the midst of a global pandemic. The University of Manchester has run buddy and peer support programs, including ‘Check-In and Chat’ group support video calls, led by UoM staff, for students to discuss how they feel, answer any questions and share their experiences with their peers. .

Educational institutions in Israel, which is an upcoming destination for Indian students interested in medicine and science studies, are also working to offer more support to Indian students in terms of mental well-being. Most higher education institutions have support systems in place that can guide students through this issue.

Change in demand

Many universities and educational advisors have observed that Indian students are more interested in opting for on-campus education rather than online courses. “Indian students prefer a full on-campus experience, they like the face-to-face aspect of our teaching and want to spend physical time in our labs and libraries,” said Sandeep Sharma, RIO – South Asia, University of Essex. “Additionally, the Graduate Route now offered by the UK Government is a key motivation for Indian students to apply for our courses who want to stay working in the UK after their courses. This is not available for distance/online learning programs.

The same claim was confirmed by an overseas education consultancy, Yocket. “There has been no drop in demand. In the fall of 2020, we saw very little mobility due to travel closures, but as soon as these opened, students were ready to start their course. Demand in 2021 was exceptionally high due to pent-up demand as well as increased interest. We have seen a tremendous increase in queries on our platform,” said Sumeet Jain, Founder of Yocket.

One of the reasons behind this has also been the flexible approach taken by many international universities. “Since the pandemic, many foreign universities have become flexible regarding the exams to be taken by international students for admissions. For example, most US universities have waived the SAT score requirement to apply for admission to the next admissions. Many universities around the world have also started accepting the online English test score (Duolingo or TOEFL home edition) instead of a standardized English test,” says Parul Mittal, Director, International Placewell Consultants Pvt Ltd.

Who rose, who sank

According to the consultants, countries such as UK, USA, Switzerland, Israel, Canada and a few others saw increased demand in 2021 as these countries were easily accessible and tried to ease as much as possible guidelines related to Covid-19. Even though students hoping to travel to Canada faced difficulties getting direct flights, the rest of the admissions and quarantine process made it a popular choice for Indian students.

However, countries like New Zealand and Australia have seen a drop in demand due to border closures amid the pandemic. New Zealand and Australia were once popular choices for Indian students, especially those planning to take management courses. However, demand dropped massively during the pandemic.

“Countries like Australia, Singapore and New Zealand have seen massive declines in student numbers. This is mainly due to the fact that all these countries had closed their borders to international students,” says Parul Mittal.

“Students had been given the option of studying online but most students are not interested in this as other countries like the UK were open and welcoming to international students. In March 2021, Australia saw a 99% drop in the number of international students. Before the Covid pandemic, Australia had a 20% share of Indian student demand. However, in October 2021 it plunged to 9%,” she added.

However, now that Australia is reopening its borders, students and advisers are hoping to be able to return to Australian universities. “I had planned to join the University of Sydney in 2020. I applied but by the time I received my confirmation the pandemic had hit us so I had to abandon my plans. Although the university was kind enough to allow me to reapply, I was unsure as I only wanted to take classes on campus. Now that the borders have reopened, I can finally live my dream,” says Pooja Gupta*, a resident of Gurugram.

*Name changed on request

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