Take a look at the numbers below first. What do these numbers tell you?
2016 – 3,71,506
2017 – 4,56,823
2018 – 5,20,342
2019 – 5,88,931
2020 – 2,61,406
2021 – 71,769 (till Feb 28, 2021)
Source: Ministry of External Affairs, India
Nope! These are not Indians traveling abroad for work, but numbers of Indian Students who went abroad for studying in the last five years. The numbers were increasing at an average rate of 15% Y-O-Y (except for the years 2020 and 2021 due to COVID 19 implications and travel restrictions).
Until a decade ago, not more than 60,000 odd Indian students were pursuing their international education. Yet, in 2020, India is the second largest exporter of students with numbers estimated to stand at 10.9 lakhs, only after China. That said, you can also see a drastic drop in numbers in 2020 and 2021 and you know the reason, don’t you?
Implications of COVID-19 on international education
Due to COVID-19, universities worldwide had to close campuses, cancel in-person classes and rapidly shift to virtual education to ensure staff as well as student safety. The situation worsened when many countries including India issued travel bans for the most part of 2020. Many students were not able to return to their home country and left to stay abroad and attend virtual classes.
In addition, new Visa applications were mostly rejected and put on hold because embassies and consulate services were limited only to critical services. This, to a greater extent, affected students and made many reconsider studying abroad. The repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to produce pronounced changes in Indian students studying abroad.
- Indian students planning to start their studies abroad for a short-term are more concerned about repercussions of COVID-19
- travel restrictions, financial issues, and economic instability due to lockdowns are the major deciding factors
- Also, Students are skeptical about hygiene measures on campus and medical expenses in abroad
The shift in choices and preferences
In the past, the preferred countries of choice for the majority of the Indian students were the USA, UK, Canada, and Australia. Being the world’s second largest sender of qualified students, till 2018, India has sent more than 7.5 lakhs students to pursue international education.
In the early 2000s, a whole slew of Indian students chose The USA as their destination, however, as years passed by the choice of countries has changed. By 2018, there were some contenders along with the United States (211,703 as of July 2018) – Canada (124,000), Australia (87,115), Saudi Arabia (70,800), and the United Arab Emirates (50,000).
Adding to the already happening change in country preferences, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought in a paradigm shift to the choices Indian students have. Conservative Indian students who intend to study abroad are preferring countries that have performed better in controlling the pandemic such as Germany, Australia, and New Zealand. On the flipside, the manner in which a particular country has managed the pandemic will not be the only factor that affects one’s decision of choosing the country, but the career prospects, employability and exposure will influence the choice.
That being said, factors affecting the choice of the country are:
- University life
- Good weather
- Social life
- Night life
With all these factors in consideration, a few countries that stand out as go-to countries in 2021 are the US, Canada and the UK.
Unveiling new opportunities
1. The United States of America
With regards to the USA, a few actions from the current government in the office is opening up a whole lot of new opportunities than before. Especially, the Option for STEM graduates to stay and apply for residency and the proposed new immigration bill have reinstated that the US will once again become the top choice for students from around the world as the go-to country for higher education
Canada currently has active international travel bans to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, which suggests no prospective or current international student with a study permit granted after 18 March 2020 can enter the country.
However, situations are rapidly evolving and an international student can still apply to Universities in Canada. The government has allowed international students to continue studying online while their study permit applications are assessed, and travel restrictions lifted.
3. The United Kingdom
The UK has reintroduced its two-year post-study work visa from the 2020-21 intake of students, this allows Indian students to switch to a work visa after graduation provided they secure a job, according to the visa’s requirements. It’s worth noting that the UK closed its previous post-study work scheme in 2012, which led to a big decline in student numbers from India.
Mindful of the Covid 19 pandemic and the economic slowdown that’s ubiquitous all over the world, Policy changes like these are expected in the near future from the governments and there are a lot of opportunities and choices for Indian students who intend to pursue higher education abroad.
The way forward
Given the implications of COVID-19 over the students’ decisions, let’s take a look at a few of the surveys conducted by various organizations on the mindset of the indian students.
- Are they still willing to study abroad, given the complications involved?
- Are they willing to enroll into an educational university that has only e-learning/online learning options?
- What’s their opinion on blended learning?
1. Willingness to study abroad
Despite the uncertainty and complications involved, 91% of Indians, who had already had the idea of pursuing studies abroad, are interested in applying for higher education abroad, provided they are allowed to do so soon.
Before COVID-19, the factors affecting indian students to choose between studying in India vs abroad are: Safety, employability, reputation, university life & infrastructure, social & nightlife, and good weather. Now that the majority of the factors have taken a toss (e.g., university life & infrastructure, nightlife, etc,), a few factors like safety and employability are still perceived as deciding factors. The way international countries handled the pandemic and the manner in which international universities are rapidly shifting towards e-learning/virtual learning models will have a great impact in the decisions of Indian students.
2. Virtual/e-learning opportunities
A healthy number of prospective Indian students said they would not be willing to attend online/virtual-only courses. In September 2020, almost half of the students surveyed mentioned they are considering to join an international university just for the sake of reputation and employability, rather they find learning platforms like Coursera and Udemy more useful and economically cost effective when compared to enrolling themselves into a reputable international university for online-only classes.
Students staying in rural or suburban cities of India are facing a number of challenges already to attend these online courses that will definitely discourage enrollment to virtual-only classes. The challenges include:
- Poor/unreliable internet connectivity
- Time zone differences (midnight classes)
- Missing the social interactions
- Lack of experience (lifestyle and exposure), given the upfront cost
3. Blended learning
If Indian students are not willing to enroll for online-only courses, what is the solution for this crisis and how will education be delivered in the future?
The potential answer could be Blended learning – a combination of online learning and in-person teaching. This model can help universities achieve decent enrollment numbers without compromising on the experience and exposure for the students. Some institutions have temporarily opened their campus by adapting blended learning with staggered class timings, social distancing, safety precautions, and other measures in accordance with the respective government’s pandemic guidelines.
In a recent report, international students mentioned a significant interest towards in-person teaching with 58%, compared to 19% who preferred online teaching, while 23% had no preference whatsoever.
4. The opportunity ahead
The only question that is left to ask is, how is the world going to cope up with the Pandemic as there are no signs of stopping, despite prevailing Vaccination efforts by governments. The global landscape of economy, education and travel remains very uncertain at this time of writing, given the second wave of the pandemic hitting the livelihood of many developing countries. However, we believe this is the right time for students to assess the implications, be optimistic about the intention towards higher education and work towards securing admissions in the countries that they dream of.
At University HUB, we dedicate our time in monitoring and sharing with you all the trends and insights related to International education. We’re constantly in touch with universities and government agencies abroad to understand each other’s stand on admissions intake, Covid readiness and other important aspects that are of significant importance to higher education.
That said, keep looking at this space for more updates on higher education during 2021 and beyond.