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Indians studying abroad going back to pre-Covid levels after challenging 2020

Applications to Canada, the US and the UK are going back to pre-pandemic levels, while Australia is still behind.

September 29, 2021 / 11:46 AM IST

After a challenging year due to restrictions on account of Covid-19, more Indians are showing interest in studying overseas as embassies open up and flights resume.

While there was a 20-30 percent drop in the number of students going abroad last year, the number increased significantly in 2021, according to Surekha Shetty, senior director, admissions and office of career advancement and networking at Alliance University.

The Bengaluru-based private university has tie-ups with over 45 educational institutes abroad including Kingston University, Oakland University, The American Business School of Paris, and the University of California.

Premila Paulraj, Director- Employability & Qualifications - South Asia, Pearson, a British-owned education publishing and assessment service, said that while there has been drop in the number of students going abroad last year, the pulse of the learners has still remained positive.

"With gradual unlock policies, easing of travel restrictions and uprising vaccination procedures, there has been a major push for students across India to reconsider their decision of studying abroad in 2021 and as per a study, over 91 percent of Indian students have expressed strong interest in studying abroad this year."

Student interest has remained resilient, said Abhishek Gupta, who looks at edtech and is an engagement manager at RedSeer, a management consulting company. He said while Australia is still lagging, the numbers are going back to pre-Covid levels in terms of applications to Canada, the US and the UK.

Gupta estimates that by the end of 2021, the number of Indian students going abroad will be back to pre-pandemic levels.

Tarek Kouatly, director of marketing and development for APAC at Swiss Education Group, an alliance of schools specialising in hospitality, business and culinary art, is also seeing a recovery.

“The enrolment of new Indian students is slightly below 2019. We didn’t have many deferred students from 2020 to 2021. So, you can see the intent of Indian students to study abroad,” said Kouatly. “There is a surge of Indian students wanting to study abroad with embassies opening up… The number of enquiries we are getting are on the same levels of 2019.”

He noted that new admissions of Indian students at Swiss Education Group are currently 10 percent below 2019 levels.

The number of Indians studying abroad was growing at a healthy pace until last year, when the coronavirus outbreak impacted countries across the globe.

According to Gupta of RedSeer, the number fell to 700,000 students in 2020 from 770,000 students in 2019. There were massive challenges for Indian students opting for education abroad, said Gupta.

Pandemic posed challenges

“In terms of countries, Australia was completely wiped off because borders were totally shut. There the drop was high,” he said.

Canada had the least drop because it clarified that online enrolment would count towards visa eligibility requirements, Gupta added.

Paulraj pointed out data by the Bureau of Immigration which noted that there was a 56 percent drop in student visas issued in 2020. Last year, only 2.6 lakh students were granted permits to study abroad, compared to 5.9 lakh in 2019.

Kouatly highlighted some of the challenges faced by Indians wanting to study abroad last year.

“The fear of the unknown was the biggest problem. Then there were issues like embassies were shut and people couldn’t get visas, English-testing centres were shut and embassies were not accepting online English exams,” he said.

For Swiss Education Group, 20-30 percent of enrolments in the Asia-Pacific region come from India. Swiss Education Group saw a 30-40 percent drop in enrolment of new Indian students as compared to 2019.

Courses and careers

When it comes to what Indians are interested in studying abroad, Gupta said there is an increasing preference for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and data analytics.

“In the US, data analytics courses fall under the STEM category. There is a lottery system for visas and for STEM students this can be extended for three years. So, there is an increased preference for STEM courses instead of
regular MBA,” he added.

Paulraj pointed out that IT related courses are gaining traction given the increasing trend of digital across all sectors and nursing programs are also becoming increasingly popular, given the global shortage of healthcare workforce and the future trend of healthcare sector becoming increasingly lucrative from employment perspective.

In terms of internships and placements, Kouatly said companies in the hospitality sector that had laid off employees due to the impact of Covid-19 needed to quickly hire staff when businesses reopened.

“We started getting a huge amount of interest from the Middle East and North America for placements and internships. Also, of the many people who were laid off or who quit the hospitality industry due to Covid-19, almost 30-40 percent did not go back and found other jobs. So, we don’t have enough supply at the moment,” he said.

But he pointed out that the need for scholarships and financial aid has increased. He estimates that for the Swiss Education Group, the number of Indian students will be the same in 2022.

“Will see the return of 2019 numbers or growth in 2019 numbers by 2023 and beyond,” he said.

Maryam Farooqui
first published: Sep 28, 2021 07:01 pm