Covid-19 turns Indian students’ overseas dreams into nightmare

Coronavirus infects global education system

Diaspora

Education

July 21, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

Around 1.9 million Indian students apply for overseas education yearly (MIG photos)

Coronavirus pandemic has taken a heavy toll on nearly two million Indian students who were planning to go overseas for further studies, but have been trapped in India. The global education system has also been hit hard by Covid-19.

Khushi Maurya, a 22-year-old student in Patna, capital of Bihar, was on cloud nine in January as she had just received an acceptance letter from Moscow State University for admission into the master’s programme in political science. With barely a few weeks to go, as she was packing her bags, she received an email from the university advising her of the pandemic’s spread in Russia and that the new term stood postponed for the moment. Over four months later, she is still uncertain about her future as the pandemic has hit both Russia and India very hard.

Mariam Asfar, another 22-year-old in New Delhi, was also thrilled when her application for admission to IESEG School of Management in Paris was accepted. She stayed glued to the news online and on television as she saw France being hit hard by the pandemic in April and May, but she was not too worried as her term was to start in September. Recently, she received an email from her school informing her that the classes would start in September. Asfar’s joy over the good news was short-lived as her parents shot down the idea of her going to France in view of the pandemic. Heartbroken, she says she is planning to look for educational options in India.

Maurya and Asfar are but of nearly two million Indian students who had planned to head abroad for higher studies this year to diverse countries like Russia, China, France and Australia, besides the US and the UK. However, due to the travel restrictions, visa delays, social distancing norms and shutting down of classes, these students’ dreams are unlikely to see the daylight in the near future.

“Students call us and ask for alternatives of their plans but the truth is, even we aren’t sure what to say to them. We can’t do anything except giving them a hope that situations will improve post-pandemic,” says Aanchal Sinha, who works with a higher education consultancy Abroadeduship, in Udaipur, Rajasthan.

In view of the pandemic and the difficulties in having the physical presence of students and teachers on the campus, many academic institutions around the world are now planning to conduct or have already begun holding their classes online. But this solution does not necessarily appeal to many Indian students, for whom studying overseas is an attraction not just because of a degree issued by a foreign university.

For many of them, if not most, it is the entire experience of being on a foreign campus, interacting with students from several countries and of course living in a foreign country with its own culture, cuisine and norms. It is the entire package that the students find attractive, rather than just the curriculum. “I don’t think I’ll be able to gather things online. It is also about learning cultures and about people which is impossible over Zoom. The whole semester is anything but a waste,” says Rituparna Sen, a second year student of Liberal Arts at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Sen is supposed to head back within a few weeks but is not sure if she wants to continue with just online education.

The pandemic and its accompanying problems are not a challenge just for the students, they also pose a big threat to academic institutions. Experts say universities are having a tough time as international students add billions to the American economy every year. In the UK, universities generate around 20 pc of their total revenues from overseas students. With the pandemic spreading uncontrollably in large source markets like India, the finances of these universities could go into a tailspin, besides impacting the diversity of these campuses, which one of the key goals of many of these institutions. According to government data cited by the business newspaper, The Economic Times, nearly 1.9 million Indian students were pursuing higher education abroad as of December 2019. India is the second largest source of international students after China, according to studyportals.com, an education portal.

Indian students have begun dropping from foreign universities. Many of them are planning to study in India at least till the pandemic nears an end. However, some others are waiting as they say that the courses they had opted for aren’t easily available in India. Courses like a combination of science and liberal arts or forensic science or degrees like ecotechnology are rarely taught at Indian universities. Hence, students who dreamt of pursuing these are in a difficult situation as they’ve to opt for other subjects in order to stay and study in India.

“We find many courses outside that aren’t available in India. Courses which are not yet a part of big private and government colleges in India should be included. I also wish the authorities take some major steps, in near future, in order to bring structural changes for improving the quality of the country’s higher education system so that students find it worth staying and studying here,” says Khushi Maurya, still sad about having to miss her time in Moscow.

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