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International Student Aspirations: Post-COVID

According to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, 753,000 Indian students had chosen to study abroad in 2019. Statistics from China show that over 600,000 students from the nation chose foreign lands for higher studies. The statistics are anything but surprising — the popularity of international education has only grown in the last few years. Yes, in part, the rise is the result of a search for better education, but the perks of student mobility go way beyond. However, this mobility has been suddenly disrupted due to the prevailing pandemic. With its travel restrictions and tighter visa regulations, will COVID-19 alter these international dreams?

Before we attempt an answer to that question, let us delve deep into the reasons why students choose foreign shores:

  • Quality of education:

Western universities are known all over the world for their high standards of education. Just take the Ivy League for example. These institutions are revered for their academic rigor and reputed alumni, and give students the opportunity to learn from the best minds in the world. Other universities too are popular among international students thanks to an approach that encourages in-class participation, dialogue exchange, and practical experience. This is known as ‘active learning’ and research shows that 73% of universities in the US are either implementing or planning active learning in their classrooms by 2020.

  • Easier admissions:

Thanks to larger populations, it is often extremely difficult for students to gain admission to top-ranked universities in countries such as India and China. Consider this — only 1% of all the students who apply to the elite Indian Institutes of Technology gain admission. Naturally, students who can afford to shift base prefer to continue their studies in countries where their chances of going to a good school are significantly higher.

  • Exposure to different environments:

A globalized world calls for cultural sensitivity and the ability to communicate with people from backgrounds very different from ours. Such skills are best gained when students are exposed to different languages, political views, and cultures. What better way to do this than to study in a country different from one’s own?

Have these aspirations taken a backseat due to COVID-19?

We are going through a once-in-a-lifetime situation that has altered the way we travel, study, and do business. Student mobility too has taken a hit due to various factors, two of which are listed below:

  • Travel restrictions

Pandemic-fueled travel restrictions have foiled the plans of thousands of students who were ready to pursue their higher education in the school of their choice. According to a survey by the Study Portals, a whopping 70% of students have canceled their plans to move abroad.

  • Higher costs

It is also expected that the cost of education might see a hike as institutions will have to realign fee structures to manage cash flows amid the pandemic. According to media reports, The University of New Brunswick is increasing tuition by 2%. In Quebec, University of Winnipeg students will pay on average 3.75% more for the 2020-2021 school year. New students at the University of Calgary will pay 7% more than their counterparts did in 2019 while returning students will see a 5% increase.

It would be fair to say that full-fledged student mobility may not be possible for some time. While advanced technology has allowed institutes and students to maintain some semblance of normalcy and continue learning online, physical classes will have to wait, perhaps even when travel restrictions lift fully. Students will take some time to feel safe and confident about stepping into crowded classrooms, as is only expected. The best we can do is wait, take precautions, and hope that student mobility once again reaches its pre-pandemic levels.



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