COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t deterred Indian students to pursue their study-abroad dreams, however, the focus has moved towards smaller countries that are less impacted by the virus. Emerging destinations such as Sweden and Israel have seen a rise in the number of applications from India — a stark contrast with the traditional favourite destinations including US, UK, Canada, and Australia that are expecting a decline in the number of international applications.
Sweden embassy claims that the interest for international degree students to study in their country has increased by 13 per cent. The number of Indians applying for undergraduate courses in that country has increased from 3,526 in 2019 to 6,811 this year. Among postgraduate Indian applications too, there has been a minor increase to 2,111 applicants from 2044 in the year 2019, according to the data shared by the embassy.
Israeli universities, too, have witnessed growth in interest from the international student. The University of Haifa, Israel alone has seen a 25 per cent increase in applications from Indian students this year.
Prof Yaffa Zilbershats, the Chair of Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education, attributed this to the “country’s digital learning, innovation, and entrepreneurship” efforts amid the pandemic.
“To ensure that students did not feel isolated and continued to have an active social life, online movie and discussion nights, Kahoot games, cooking demos, and virtual tours of Israeli sites were organised by universities. The varsities also had emergency funds, student hotlines, and Covid-19 research teams swiftly in place at the onset of the pandemic,” Zilbershats informed.
While Indian universities are still closed, Israel has permitted international students to enter the country and start their studies for 2020-2021 academic year. A special chartered flight from Mumbai to Tel Aviv brought 100 returning and new PhD and postdoctoral researchers at all the eight research universities in Israel, she informed indianexpress.com.
New Zealand which has been rebranding itself among Indian students and offering several scholarships to boost international admissions lately has also allowed students to join the physical campuses. They have accepted 250 international PhD and postgraduate students to enter their country and continue their studies. These are students who have a visa for 2020 but could not join earlier. Other students too will be called to the campuses in a phased manner, priority is being given to those who need to be in New Zealand for the practical components of their research and study.
The New Zealand government has also introduced a new COVID-19 short-term visitor visa to help temporary migrants including students whose visas are expiring soon but who are unable to leave due to international travel restrictions.
Israel is offering ‘high-tech visas’ to international students who complete a full academic degree in an institution of higher education in Israel in electrical engineering, electronics, computers, information systems, or computer science. Under the initiative, students are entitled to a post-study work permit for up to 12 months to be employed by a ‘high-tech’ company.
“We are working with the relevant government ministries to make available the post-study visa option for students who wish to study other courses too,” Zilbershats said.
The Swedish government too has withdrawn its recommendations for remote studies but the return to campus is still limited. “Individual Swedish universities have actually taken a few different approaches during the pandemic, but most university campuses have been open, albeit with some restrictions, for both domestic and international students,” Douglas Washburn, marketing manager, Swedish Institute told indianexpress.com.
Swedish Institute believes that the country’s “lifestyle and the open, progressive values” are attracting more younger people. “The focus on equal rights, LGBTQ-rights, and sustainability is as important as excellent education at an affordable cost. Sweden as a study destination has become more appealing to young people. A safe and modern country with a unique work-life balance, as unique as the lack of hierarchy and sense of equality, which is often reflected in classrooms,” an official statement read.
Setting up campuses in India
New Zealand — which has in February this year set up a centre at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) — believes that it would further give “a major boost to the education ties between New Zealand and India” for the coming years. This is part of the government of India’s National Education Policy (NEP) which allows foreign institutes to set-up campuses in India. “This initiative has connected academics from both countries to discuss and develop projects for long-term research collaboration. And, we welcome India’s new National Education Policy that further paves way for more such academic and research endeavours, to which we look forward,” said the spokesperson from Education in New Zealand.
Israel’s Zilbershats too called it an “interesting development for education in India and worldwide”. She said the possibility has been shared with the Israeli universities who would have to make the “strategic decision regarding setting up a campus outside Israel”.