How studying abroad may have changed over the past year



Published 2020-10-28 09:43:53
Photo by Changbok Ko on Unsplash

As governments worldwide scramble to contain the covid-19 virus by placing travel restrictions, lockdowns and curfews, international students studying abroad are hit hard. Many students are stranded far from home, and with many in-person classes cancelled, wondering what the future holds for them.

The coronavirus pandemic has swept over all of our lives mercilessly and has not even spared the young adults of the world. It has shattered dreams for some and placed unsurmountable obstacles in the path of others. Many were either completing their final year of school or they were already well nestled into university life when the pandemic put an instant halt to all their plans and activities.

Chinese students may consider local universities

Some students, especially from Chinese families, in addition to facing the dangers of the global pandemic, are facing anti-Chinese sentiment most notably in Western countries. This may have abated by now or perhaps is being under-reported, but it remains an important factor.

Certain education researchers from China believe that many Chinese families will still opt for an international university but perhaps rethink the destination or may delay studying by a year or two with a wait-and-see attitude.

Other families may well opt for a local Chinese university rather than an international one. This trend may  be further reinforced by latest reports that China's economy is bouncing back strongly despite the setback caused by coronavirus.

This is important to the future of studying abroad because China is the largest source of international students worldwide. Covid-19 is putting a halt to many students' plans and affecting the financially lucrative education sector. There are countless agencies that provide consultation services to students who have had to switch to online services which has affected their business. However, some of these agencies are optimistic that business will skyrocket next year (once the disease is defeated) when those students have taken a gap year resume their studies.

Students with solid offers from Western universities like in the US and Europe are deferring their studies because of the high infection rates recorded. There seems to be another wave of new infections and this is predicted to worsen as the winter approaches. 

In an article published by education researcher Dr Hantian Wu from Zhejiang University, he believes that historically international student mobility into Western universities is not impacted too much by factors like pandemics or terrorist attacks (like the 9/11 terror attacks). He believes the education sector is very robust and will withstand this current pandemic.

Another opinion among Chinese education researchers is that the globalisation trend has been the impetus for many international students attending universities abroad. However, this continued trend may be affected as more institutions are gearing up for improved online education in an effort to improve accessibility and be more environmentally sustainable. The final result could be a new generation of people that can navigate seamlessly between their local and global identities, and who can partake in cross cultural communication and respect cultural differences.

A survey conducted by the British Council in Beijing found that a whopping 39% of Chinese students who have already applied to overseas universities are undecided about attending university. Most of these students were concerned about their personal safety, health and well-being. In America, the Council on International Educational Exchange which is a government sponsored entity that provides financial aid to foreign students, saw a marked reduction in foreign students. Many of their students delayed their studies but there was also a clear increase in interest in online learning. The general consensus is that the pandemic hastened the development of online learning. However, not all institutions are able to meet this online interest.

Countless students already at university had to return home quickly after the pandemic hit. It was challenging and stressful to leave their adopted country and to try to find flight to take them home as airports were shutting down at a fast pace.

Indian students are weighing their options

In an article appearing in the Times of India, a PhD student Vatsal Shah at Imperial College in London, described how his plans and ambitions were dashed by Covid-19. It was March 2020 and the UK was taking the stance of developing herd immunity towards the newly discovered coronavirus. This raised red flags for him and his family who urged him to return to Mumbai. He's now worried about losing the funding for his studies. He was also teaching part time to pay the rent, all of which dwindled to zero when the university shut down.

Another aspiring Indian student from the London School of Economics reminisces that she would have been working as a data analyst in the UK if the pandemic had not occurred. Now getting a job overseas is highly unlikely because of the interruption to her studies. She also had to make travel plans very quickly under very difficult circumstances and literally had only three hours to head back to India. There was no time to bid farewell to friends or to the city she fell in love with. Life as she knew it came to an abrupt halt.

European students are embracing a new way of learning

European students were also left floundering when various governments imposed new rules and regulations that came into effect hard and fast.

  • Many institutions postponed exams and face-to-face teaching to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Where possible, online classes replaced normal classes. Since exams were deferred graduations were also deferred.
  • Immigration was severely restricted affecting the movement of foreign students.
  • Admission eligibility in the UK stalled many students in August when delays in A-level results (notably caused by government U-turn) caused them to lose their spots at their first-choice universities.
  • Delays in application deadlines and admission procedures were directly affected as well. This caused many universities to delay their admissions procedures and semester start dates.
  • In addition to the complications caused by the pandemic, Brexit is also adding fuel to the fire. British students wishing to study in EU countries and vice versa have no idea how their residence status will be affected, and this will directly impact their studies abroad and future.
  •  Some British universities are at present becoming a hub for the transmission of Covid-19. Would these students have been better off staying at home and doing online studies rather than staying in crammed communal halls?

American students in a frantic recall

Countless American students were urged back home in early March when the scale of the pandemic began to emerge. Initially the dangers of the virus were shrugged off as something that will peter out but as countries started to react young Americans scrambled to find their way home before the US implemented the travel ban and cancelled flights. In some cases, students were forced to pay exorbitant prices and take indirect routes back home.

Students left exciting lives behind in Italy, France, UK as they rushed back to the US. Once again, institutions that could very quickly implement online classes were able to give their students an almost uninterrupted education. Others lost valuable teaching time causing big delays in delivering quality education.

It seems that we are forced to accept a wait-and-see attitude as the norm when it comes to how Covid-19 is going impact the education sector on the whole. The knock-on effect is going to have far-reaching consequences for many industries and economies for some considerable time into the future. The general consensus is that the full impact of the pandemic on tertiary education will only become apparent in the coming months and years.

The happy medium for now seems to be hybrid learning which combines online learning with in-person classes in shorter programmes, where possible.


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Author: KashGo
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