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Covid hasn’t crushed study abroad plans but students could face ‘more competition’ in 2021

Experts in the field of foreign education say 2021 is going to be an interesting year as more students are applying, including those who dropped their plans in 2020 due to Covid.

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New Delhi: The process to apply to foreign universities for the 2021 academic session has already started, and Indian students, who make up a large chunk of the international students in countries like the United States, Canada, UK and Australia, are as keen to apply as every other year, despite the fear of Covid-19 still looming large.

Most universities across the world have opened up applications for their Fall semester (starting September 2021). They are, however, still undecided on whether or not to allow international students to come to campus. The decision completely depends on the respective countries’ travel regulations and Covid-related restrictions.

Despite all the uncertainties, students seem to be undeterred in pursuing higher education abroad.

Experts in the field of international education, however, feel students are likely to face more competition in 2021 because those who gave up on their foreign dream in 2020 are applying again for the 2021 session, thereby increasing the number of applicants.

‘More students are applying this year’

Pavithra Srinivasan, founder, Galvanize Test Prep, an ed-tech platform that helps students realise their dream to study abroad, said, “After people realised that this thing (Covid-19) is here to stay and they cannot drop their goals completely, from August we have seen an uptick in students who are registering with us. This means they have the same kind of interest as last year to study abroad.

“In fact, it looks like 2021 is going to be an interesting year because more students are applying this year, including those who dropped their plan for 2020 because of the pandemic. Students are thinking of having an admission offer in their hands, whether they will defer it if need be is something that they want to decide upon later,” she added.

Galvanize had in November conducted a survey on 2,400 students registered with the platform to understand their preferences, and 89 per cent of the respondents said they wanted to continue with their plans of studying abroad. Only around 11 per cent of the total respondents said they have completely dropped their plans.

Talking about the increased competition for 2021 academic session, Rachna Dua, a Delhi-based freelance education consultant, said, “Students do fear that competition will be more in 2021 as those who had dropped their plans in 2020 are also applying for next year.

“I have noticed that students are applying to a lot more universities because of this fear, they are even applying to state universities and colleges that are not very well-known, just to be on the safe side,” she added.

Also read: Coronavirus has forced 51% non-STEM Indian students to drop plan to study abroad: QS report

‘Students taking active steps towards study-abroad journeys’

Stephanie Winters, public relations manager, Educational Testing Service, an agency that conducts TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and GRE (Graduate Record Examination), which are accepted for admission by universities in the US and other countries, also agreed there is a positive trend in terms of student applications. 

She said the intent to study abroad is reflected in the number of students taking the GRE test and TOEFL. 

“To date, more than 4,00,000 test-takers globally have registered for the ‘TOEFL iBT Home Edition’ (TOEFL taken at home) and GRE General Test at home since their launch eight months ago, tens of thousands of which are from India alone,” Winters said.

“This is a positive signal that students are taking active steps towards their study-abroad journeys…,” she added.

She further said that though the pandemic has raised questions on students’ plans to study abroad, “the question is not always about should they go, but rather where and when they should go”.

She said while the pandemic has had a significant impact everywhere, each study destination as well as the institutes within it are handling it uniquely.

“With that said, Indian students are and will continue to be a steadfast part of the study abroad market — it is one of the largest source countries for international students globally, second only to China,” she added.

Another industry expert agreed the number of aspirants for foreign universities has not gone down because of the pandemic. 

“We have not seen students’ interest dipping because of the pandemic. What has happened is students have started preparing for their applications a little late… usually for 2021 application, they would start preparing months in advance, but this year because of the uncertainty, many students got onto preparation in September,” said Sumeet Jain, co-founder and Higher Education Expert at Yocket, an ed-tech platform that helps students with their foreign university applications. 

Also read: Indian colleges see spurt in applications as Covid forces students to ditch foreign plans

‘Countries are slowly opening up’

Some students ThePrint spoke to also said they were initially adopting a wait-and-watch policy, but ultimately decided to go ahead with their applications.

“I am aiming to join the university in 2021… so far I was skeptical about starting the application process, but I finally did it. Countries are slowly opening up and by the time I go to school in September, things should get better… or so I hope,” said Sana Zehra, a Delhi University student, who is applying for a public policy programme in the US.

Akash Dwivedi, who has three years of work experience, has applied for an MBA in Canadian universities, and is sticking to his goal of joining school in 2021. 

“I have set a goal for myself and if I do get accepted by a university of my choice, I will go ahead with it, whether I study through a hybrid model or virtually,” he said.

Also read: Chinese students going abroad to get Covid vaccines that are still under trial


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  1. At Melbourne, Sydney and Queensland universities a basic science degree costs an Australian student about $8,500 per annum. This same degree costs overseas students about $35,500 per annum, or about 400 per cent of the price an Australian student pays.

    Study in home country

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