Maitri Ramaiya (28), an applicant for an MBA programme at the University of North Carolina, United States, has barely two weeks left to reach the college campus before the course orientation begins. However, she doesn’t yet know whether she should start packing her bags or not.
Due to the coronavirus-induced travel restrictions in several countries and uncertainty over the virus, the process of completing formalities for travelling abroad for higher education has been severely impacted.
Recently, the Director-General of Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) India said Indian flyers holding any kind of valid visa under the ‘Air Bubbles’ agreement can travel to the UK, the US, Canada and UAE. On Friday, the US embassy in India also announced the re-opening of consular sections, calling student visas a “high priority”.
Having secured ‘Forte fellowship’ for studies, which cannot be deferred to next year, Ramaiya has decided to take the plunge and go.
“It’s not as if Mumbai is Covid-19 free. We have some portions [of the course] that will be delivered online, but studying online from India can become a health hazard due to the time difference. For some of the workshops, we have had to stay awake all night. Moreover, to be eligible for an internship after the first year, spending at least one academic year in the US is a prerequisite,” she says. It is much harder to compete for placements without internship experience, she adds.
Most of her fellow mates are still waiting to hear from the embassy and are worried whether they will reach their destination country at all.
“No one is preparing to move yet since there is no guarantee. If my application is accepted, I will have barely five to six days to pack. Yet, if the applications get approved, it’s best to go. Internships, jobs and return on investment is a concern for many students,” she says.
Even as most universities abroad have either declared a fully online or hybrid learning — virtual learning with a few one-to-one sessions — overseas education counsellors have said that the uncertainty due to the pandemic has caused many students to defer their admissions.
There is a consensus that in 2021, the number of students going abroad will be higher than this year due to a backlog of students who will leave with the new students. The universities on their part are offering flexibility in payment and attendance.
At Mumbai’s Imperial Overseas Education Consultants, of the nearly 1,500 enrolled students at least 1,289 students have deferred studies, whereas the 186 students have begun online education, says director Kiran Sawhney.
“A lot of undergraduate students are opting to begin their online semester from India. Given the longer duration of their courses, it won’t do them harm to go abroad from the second semester. For Masters students, the courses are for one or two years. For them, it doesn’t make sense to study from here,” Sawhney adds.
With three-year experience in the PR industry, Khushboo Desai (26), had recently left her job to pursue a course in integrated marketing communication at Queensland University of Technology, Australia. After the lockdown was imposed, Desai decided to go ahead with the course for not wanting to sit at home. “Time was a concern. And I did not want to wait until the February intake. My first semester will be over by November, and I will then make a decision. I was looking to work for agencies there, but many advertising agencies have shut and that will definitely hamper our prospects. While there are other issues, like lack of access to libraries, the in-person lectures are beneficial,” she says.
The uncertainty over studying abroad should ease by end of this year or early next year, says Mumbai-based career counsellor Karan Gupta. A bulk of students are looking forward to travelling to the US and Canada, which provide maximum chances of securing a job. “The moment things are in control, students will go,” Gupta says.