The sustained preference for study abroad is due to the variety of electives, degree options, specialisations, better research platforms and diverse pedagogies that universities abroad offer, says Ramananda S.G.
As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc leaving uncertainty in its wake with travel restrictions by most countries firmly in place, Indian students are turning to twinning programmes or looking at newer study abroad destinations. In March 2020 with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, most students from India with study abroad plans decided to postpone them to the next academic year. This decision made sense because of pandemic-associated health risks, mobility and visa restrictions, and financial pressures caused by the global economic slowdown.
However, towards the latter part of last year, as pandemic fears began to abate given the positive vaccine results, and destination countries gradually re-opening their borders and easing travel restrictions, some students resurrected study abroad plans. Now, months later, following the second wave of the pandemic and an imminent third, determined students have had to revise their foreign higher education plans again. Among the options currently available are twinning, synchronous blended learning programmes and shift to countries with lower Covid risks which are still allowing Indian students. Some foreign universities have also reduced tuition fees to woo international students.
One of the most conspicuous study abroad trends this year is an unprecedented large number of applications to foreign universities as students who had cancelled plans for admission this autumn (2021) are applying for admission in January 2022, together with the fresh batches of students. This has not only led to intensified competition for admission into popular universities, but also created a shortage of seats in sought-after courses such as MBA, data science and digital marketing. Consequently, some students have begun applying to less popular streams like humanities, music, food technology and luxury brands management, among others. Moreover, students are also applying to several universities in multiple countries simultaneously. This has turned the spotlight on a set of lesser-known varsities because it makes sense for students to cast their nets wider when choosing offshore universities.
A second factor pushing students to study abroad is that professional skills development study programmes tend to be qualitatively superior in foreign higher education institutions. Acquisition of good skill sets will help to land better jobs in the post-pandemic era. Research studies of the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) indicate that MBA, Ph D and STEM courses have been gaining popularity after breakout of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Thirdly, to attract high-fees paying foreign students tests like GRE/GMAT/TOEFL/LSAT which are a precondition of admission to respectable universities abroad, can now also be taken online. Moreover by signing up for wholly online study programmes, Indian students can learn at globally acclaimed institutions, with quality teaching and access to leading academic experts, and an international community.
The fourth trend is the rising preference for newer study abroad destinations. The US and UK temporarily fell off the list of most sought-after higher education destinations because of Covid border closures and student visa restrictions at the height of the pandemic, resulting in new higher education study destinations becoming popular.
But factors such as friendlier visa policies for international students, liberal postgrad employment rules, waiver of visa quotas for Ph D graduates in STEM fields, OPT extension, and an easier path to Green Cards for Ph Ds, have contributed to the US regaining its #1 study abroad destination status. In the UK, a new Student Immigration Route makes it easier for foreign students to apply to education institutions and emigrate to the UK.
Even so Canada, Australia, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, Switzerland, and New Zealand are also becoming popular as new study abroad destinations, despite current travel restrictions. More flexible visa and higher education policies that allow students to transfer admission applications to the following year, permitting students to study for half the programme in India with collaborating universities (aka twinning), liberal post-study work visas and waiving exams like SAT and admissions based on provisional scores are other incentives being offered by well-reputed universities in these countries.
Despite the pandemic road bump, the demand for foreign degrees is strong. A recent report by the UK-based Study International forecasts the number of students aspiring to study abroad will continue to rise in India and international student enrolments are expected to grow to 6.9 million globally at an annual CAGR of 2.97 percent by 2030.
This preference for study abroad is due to the variety of electives, degree options, specialisations, better research platforms and diverse teaching pedagogies that universities abroad offer. Besides, international education provides rich life skills development experiences and better job prospects because of strong brand value of degrees from globally respected universities. Moreover, foreign universities offer better opportunities to students looking to settle abroad after their studies.
(Ramananda S.G. is the Bengaluru-based vice president, sales & marketing, Pearson India)