Masks gone, mental health in: International universities eager to welcome back Indian students

As the world is trying to return back to normalcy after almost two years of fighting the coronavirus pandemic, the education sector, too, is hoping to not only make up for the lost time but also make the experience safer and friendlier.

When the pandemic hit the world, educational institutions around the world were shut down for physical classes and students were stuck with online learning. While some enjoyed getting extra hours of sleep instead of travelling to and fro from the campus, others missed out on that essential and once-in-a-lifetime campus experience.

The students who missed out on their campus experience the most were the ones hoping to be able to travel abroad for a semester or course abroad. However, now as several countries are relaxing the travel restrictions imposed due to Covid-19, universities are gearing up to welcome back their international students.

Indianexpress.com talked to some universities abroad to learn about the plans of educational institutions in different countries for welcoming back Indian students.

No quarantine

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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 are now welcoming Indian students without the condition of them having to quarantine on arrival.

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

Countries such as the UK, Israel, and a few other European nations have also allowed their citizens in less crowded public spaces without a face mask. Although it is recommended to wear a face mask in crowded places, there is no rule or penalty against this. This helps students gain a pre-Covid experience in a lot of countries that welcome Indian students.

Some institutions such as IE University in Spain have also come up with an innovative idea, where students get to 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 shifting to an alien country in the midst of a world pandemic. The University of Manchester has arranged peer to peer buddying and support programmes, including ‘Check-In and Chat’ group support video calls, led by UoM staff, for students to chat about how they were feeling, answer any queries and share experiences with peers.

Educational institutions in Israel, which is an upcoming destination for Indian students interested in medicine and science-related studies, are also focusing on offering more support to Indian students, in terms of mental wellbeing. Most higher education institutions have support systems in place that can guide students through this matter.

Change in demand

Many universities and education counsellors have observed that Indian students are more interested in opting for in-campus teaching rather than online classes. “Indian students prefer a full 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. “Moreover, the Graduate Route now offered by the UK Government is a key motivation for Indian students to apply for our courses who are keen to stay on to work in the UK after their course. This is not available for remote/online distance learning programmes.”

The same claim was confirmed by an overseas education counselling firm, Yocket. “There has not been a decrease in demand. In the Fall of 2020, we saw very little mobility that was because of the travel being shut but as soon as those opened, students were ready to start their course. The demand in 2021 was exceptionally high due to pent up demand as well as increased interest. We have seen a manifold increase in queries on our platform,” said Sumeet Jain, Founder of Yocket.

One reason behind this has also been the flexible approach adopted by many of the 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 of the US universities have waived off the requirement of SAT score for applying for admission for the coming intakes. Many universities across the globe have also started accepting the online English test score (Duolingo or TOEFL home edition) in place of a standardised English test,” claims Parul Mittal, Director, International Placewell Consultants Pvt Ltd.

Who rose, who sank

As per consultants, countries such as the UK, the US, Switzerland, Israel, Canada and a few more saw increased demand in 2021 as these countries were easily accessible and tried to relax the Covid-19 related guidelines as much as they possibly could. Even though students hoping to travel to Canada had to face difficulties in getting direct flights, the rest of the admission and quarantine process made it a popular choice for Indian students.

However, countries such as New Zealand and Australia saw a decline in demand due to the border closure amid the pandemic. New Zealand and Australia used to be popular choices for Indian students, especially those planning to pursue management courses. However, the demand fell massively during the pandemic.

“Countries such as Australia, Singapore and New Zealand have witnessed a massive decline in their student numbers. This is primarily because of the fact that all these countries had sealed off their borders for international students,” claims Parul Mittal.

“The students had been given the option of online studies, but most students are not interested in this, as other countries like the UK were open and welcoming to international students. As of March 2021, Australia recorded a 99 per cent decline in international students’ numbers. Before the Covid pandemic, Australia had a 20 per cent share of demand from Indian students. However, as of October 2021, it plunged to 9 per cent,” she added.

However, now with Australia reopening its borders, students and counsellors are hoping to be able to get back to Australian universities. “I had planned to join the University of Sydney in 2020. I applied but by the time I got my confirmation, the pandemic had hit us, so I had to drop my plans. While the university has been kind enough to allow me to reapply, I was unsure because I only want to attend on-campus classes. Now with the borders reopening, I can finally live my dream,” says Pooja Gupta*, a resident of Gurugram.

*Name changed on request

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