Greater interest in studying abroad, but Covid left its mark on admissions

Greater interest in studying abroad, but Covid left its mark on admissions

Goodbye, late-night Zoom classes. Hello, campus. After months of uncertainty and travel restrictions, many students are travelling and experiencing campus life and classes in colleges abroad. Meanwhile, a new bunch of students are preparing to study abroad.

Estimates from a RedSeer report on higher education says that between 2020 and 2024, the number of students going abroad to study is slated to increase by 25%, touching 1.8 million by 2024.

But what shift has the pandemic effected? In 2020, as the pandemic set in, the international student enrolment in the US fell by 15% — the biggest ever drop, says Ayush Bansal, cofounder, iDream Career, a career counselling and guidance firm.

Adarsh K handelwal, cofounder, Collegify, an admission consulting and guidance firm, says, “Many students chose to defer their admission by a year (to the following fall) as most colleges had online classes. This reduced the number of seats available for students in the current year considerably.” He adds that 16% students who got admission in 2020 contemplated taking a gap year and deferring their admission to 2021, as per US news reports. For some institutes, the number was much higher.


Things seem to be changing now. “The most recent data, for fall 2021, saw an increase of international students by 4%. Number of applications in 2020 went up by 51% but the number of students taking admission went down, meaning a lot of students were interested in studying in the US but had apprehensions due to Covid and online classes, and in the end dropped out,” says Bansal.

Tarun Aggarwal, chief business officer, CollegeDekho, a college admission platform, says there is an upward trend in study-abroad applications as most countries have offered relaxations in travel policies for Indian students. “We are very optimistic about sending more students to foreign universities in 2022,” he says.

All of this will influence the spend on studying abroad. RedSeer predicts a 23% increase in expenditure on studying abroad till 2024, reaching a $75-85 billion market. The preparation starts early. Companies that help students in their application process are busy. They offer services like career counselling, preparation for international tests, guidance on college applications and access to financing. “At iDreamCareer Study Abroad division, we are seeing a 7-8x increase for our study-abroad application and guidance programme. The market has clearly opened up and I believe 2021 will see a 28-30% increase in international enrolments and this will stick for 2022, too. We are going to see a huge demand among Indians to study abroad in the next five years,” says Bansal from iDream.

New trends are emerging. Digitalisation will become an important aspect of higher education, impacting student and faculty mobility, professional development, teaching and learning, says Bansal. This will lead to full online degrees, and hybrid learning as components of traditional degrees. Students are grappling with the fallout of the pandemic and are looking at a faster return on investment and, therefore, are scouting for shorter programmes and online certification.

Where are the students headed? The stringent health precautions observed by universities abroad and relief in travel restrictions have evoked interest among students. Moreover, pro-student policies have also led to a rise in interest among Indian students and in the number of applications in colleges in the US, UK and Canada, says Aggarwal from CollegeDekho.

Its 2021 “Study Abroad” data says about 55% of people registered were interested in studying in Canada, US and the UK, followed by Australia, Germany and Singapore. Canada was the most preferred destination. A similar upward trend is seen in pursuing medical education abroad, specifically in Russia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary.

“Study Abroad” data also found that more people are interested in programmes like artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, biostatistics, biotechnology, economics and econometrics, and pure sciences. Enquiries for nursing courses in international universities have increased by almost 42% in 2021. Canada, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, US, Australia and the UK are the most searched countries for nursing courses.

Khandelwal from Collegify says demand for courses in the US has shot up. This, he says, is because of the rise in the number of scholarships, the way the US has handled international students, the current administration’s policies for international students and access to more skilled jobs. While multiple lockdowns in the UK have created confusion among students, the relative ease in getting work permit after studies in Canada is driving more demand there.

Australia has said it will open to fully vaccinated students from December 1. Where are the students coming from? Studying abroad is an expensive option, and has been the dream of a privileged few. Data from RedSeer shows that certain states such as Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra, historically, had more students migrating, leading to strong established communities and better access to networks. Now, the demand seems to be broadening and it is not just a big-city phenomenon. CollegeDekho data shows students from across India are looking to study abroad. Khandelwal says enquiries are coming in from tier-II cities.

The decision of several universities to go test-optional — which means students are not required to take standardised tests like GRE, GMAT and SAT — is another reason for the rising interest, says Study Abroad data from CollegeDekho.

But there is a downside as well.

Khandelwal says that with several institutions going test-optional or test-blind for fall 2022 admissions, the acceptance ratios have dropped drastically, which means there will be fewer seats for international applicants in the current year.

While it is clear that the demand to study abroad will continue to rise, it’s important for students and parents to get the right guidance to avoid potential traps and rabbit holes. Everyone is, in the meantime, watching if the new variant of concern, Omicron, will cause further trouble.

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