A revival of the study abroad sector is not far away

Dream on hold: Farhan Khan, who is waiting to join his photography course in the UK Dream on hold: Farhan Khan, who is waiting to join his photography course in the UK

In April, when India was put on the red list for travel in the UK, Farhan Khan’s heart sank. The 26-year-old Uttar Pradesh boy had enrolled for a one-year photography course at the University of London. He had also paid 03.5 lakh as advance fees. He is now at his parents’ house in Aligarh, hoping against hope that the ban will be lifted in time for him to reach the UK before the course starts in September. “When I enrolled in February, things were fine,” he said. “A photography course has to be offline and I need to be at the campus.”

Khan is among scores of Indian students whose aspirations of studying abroad are in limbo. Many students have deferred their admission to the next academic cycle. Amit Ratanpal, founder and managing director, BLinC Investment, said that the pandemic caused a drop of around 20 per cent in the value of the study-abroad sector in India (allied services like consultancy and training) in FY21.

Shruti Parashar, a higher education professional, career transition coach and founder of education consultancy Goalisb, said: “International applications had increased for master’s and doctoral programmes, but the enrolment decreased because of Covid-19 and pursuant travel advisories [and other restrictions].” She added that the Indian education sector had definitely seen a spike in applications because of this.

However, international universities have also responded fast to change pedagogy and course structure to enable them to shift to online delivery models. Some top institutes, like Harvard, MIT and Stanford, have even achieved 100 per cent enrolment. “Many universities continue to accept applications and are trying to complete admissions, conduct online interviews and start classes online,” said Neeti Sharma, co-founder and president, TeamLease EdTech. But, the desire to go abroad may drop in view of the current situation, she added.

Another issue in India, which supplies an estimated 1/5th of international students, is the delay with regard to the Class 12 examinations. Sharma said the study-abroad sector could help potential applicants continue their application process, to take up an online programme and to prep for the eventual interview (most application cycles start in August). “This way, the study-abroad sector can reduce the immediate impact of the pandemic,” she said.

Prof Gurinder Singh, group vice chancellor, Amity Universities, said that Covid-19 may have affected academic cycles, but has not dampened the spirit among Indian students for studying abroad. “Foreign universities are as keen as ever to welcome Indian students, and have also removed the mandatory requirement of test scores like SAT,” he said. “Latest data shows that the number of applications is, in fact, up, with early estimates showing an increase of Indian applications by at least 30 per cent for the US, with growing preference for other destinations like Canada.”

According to Pavithra Srinivasan, founder, Galvanize, an edtech company, campuses abroad are working towards resuming on-campus instruction in the fall, which starts in September. “Students from countries where Covid-19 is under control are unlikely to face travel bans and the increase in vaccination reach in the 18-45 age group in India would lead to easing of travel restrictions and resumption of visa services,” she said.

Srinivasan said that those with valid student visas, and numerous H-1B workers, are in the process of petitioning the US government to allow the arrival of vaccinated Indians. While any such development would be a major relief for those who aspire to study abroad, they must get globally accepted vaccines like Covishield in time. In India, that could be a challenge, too.