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British Universities take a hit, Indian Universities likely to benefit

As British universities conduct outreach programs online; they prepare to incur a loss of billions of pounds this year. What does this mean for Indian Universities, and how are they going to benefit?

Priyam Sharma

“Last winter, I got accepted at The University of Warwick to pursue my master’s degree in global media and communication. I was so excited to join in fall after my graduation. However, due to the global pandemic, my dad told me to reconsider my other options due to uncertainties that lie ahead for International education in the UK” said Bhavya Shyam, a graduate from Jindal School of Journalism and Communication.

The COVID-19 crisis has gotten Indian students anxious about their plans for studying in the UK.

Representatives from various British universities interact with the students online as part of their global outreach program.

“Many universities are organising online webinars to talk to prospective students about their programs. They also go over their plans and address student queries individually and in groups.” said a counsellor from SI-UK, a leading career consulting agency for the UK, in Delhi.

It is important to understand that these outreach programs are essential to give assurance to students about the situation in the UK. “British universities are likely to expect a loss of 750£ million due to the deferral rate of the students for the current academic year”, a survey released by University and College said. Both the government and universities are putting in efforts to help prospective students and offer holders online. We are yet to see the worst as British universities are likely to suffer a massive loss of billions of pounds, and here is why.

With the UK universities being a global educational hub, part of their international investment comes from two major countries- India and China. As of 2019, the UK saw a 63 per cent increase in the number of Indian students as per the data illustrated below.

Universities are expected to suffer a massive loss, possibly witnessing the worst financial year yet. In most cases, international students pay twice the fee paid by home students. This year, with an expected fall in the number of international students, universities are likely to suffer more loss than anticipated.

However, as per the report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, an economic research institute in London, nearly 2,70,000 international students were expected to start courses in British universities in the fall. However, recent reports from China suggest that many students are considering staying back. While last year the fee income generated from international students was nearly 7 billion pounds, this time, however, the number will take a hit with students deferring payments.

“International investment comes to the UK through many channels. Primarily, the fees (including tuition and university accommodation) and international visa processes contribute the highest” said the SI-UK counsellor. She also added, “The wellbeing of the students is of utmost priority in situations like this. Hence a direct interaction with the University representatives in an uncertain situation like this is a must to clarify all doubts.”

Shalini Kanta, a student who attended one of the webinars by The School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), London said, “I feel these webinars are very informative for prospective students who are interested in the various programs offered by these universities. They help understand the application process better before applying. It was great talking to the course director. He clarified my doubts regarding the plans of the university for this academic year and SOAS in terms of career opportunities”. Moreover, to streamline the process of doubt clearing, the UK’s Department for Education (DFE) opened up a helpline to respond to student queries. They also clarify doubts regarding the government’s response to education-related matters in the UK amidst COVID-19, details of which are available on DFE’s website.

Recently, the UK government announced relaxation in Tier 2 visa rules and a 2-year post-study work visa for international students in the UK. These policies are introduced to increase the number of international students and help the UK get more international students to invest. However, with the current COVID-19 situation at hand, all of these policies which are essentially their selling points to Indian students are going to prove futile for the UK government to attract international investments this year.

As per the survey, “The Indian Graduate Outcomes 2020” conducted by the Universities of the UK, a collective body which represents participants from 52 Universities in the UK, mentioned that, “The Visa application numbers suggests that the growth in Indian students coming to the UK will increase. The number of student visa applications for the UK from India increased by 40 per cent between March 2018 and March 2019”. But with international travel restrictions, students are sceptical about leaving and are reconsidering their options in India.

Currently, there are over 3,78,000 cases in the UK, with over 41,684 thousand deaths, making the concerns of both parents and students reasonable. Mr Shyam, Bhavya’s father said, “Being a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the United States, graduate myself, I feel the exposure to culture, teaching pedagogy and interaction in a diverse environment taught me more. Sitting in front of a laptop screen and listening to your prospective professor through online teaching is not worth it. The experiences of living and studying in these universities to experience the culture and international educational standards are what we as parents would be interested in investing lakhs and crores on, depending on the degree.”

While British universities anticipate a fall in all figures, Indian universities are rather optimistic about this year’s turnout. As emphasised by C Raj Kumar, Vice-Chancellor of O.P. Jindal Global University and Shreeram Chaulia, Dean of Jindal School of International Affairs, co-authors of “Stay in India, Study in India” article published by Education times, they said “The ball is now in the court of Indian universities to accommodate the captive market of the aspiring foreign-bound youth and to retain them sustainably in India. Good Indian universities that have already made a mark in global rankings in various disciplines have the human intellectual resources in the form of outstanding faculty, publication track record, research ecosystem, infrastructural facilities, international partnerships, and career support services. Students should look at these universities with a fresh perspective as there is a sufficient supply of quality Indian universities which can meet their demand.”

However, there lies a major question that is holding these aspiring students back, which is, can Indian universities provide a diverse environment and a nuanced cultural experience? There are no concrete responses to this question yet. Raj also added that “By choosing to study in Indian universities, the hitherto foreign-prepping students will not only help themselves, but also contribute to the bigger cause of transforming India from a ‘sending market’ of students into a ‘retaining market’, and eventually even a ‘receiving market’ for foreign students.”

Considering many families who are willing to send their kids to the UK to study, usually are from an upper-middle-class background, and therefore there is a higher chance of them using the seat in Indian universities as a backup for a year. Once the situation is normalised, and the DFE UK gives the green signal, there are high chances of students dropping out in the middle from these Indian universities to pursue their dreams of studying in the UK. However, it is important to consider that there is a high possibility of this sustaining for a short period only.

However, this will only be successful, depending on how well the pandemic is contained in the UK. Given the situation in hand, returning to a physical mode of teaching seems unlikely this year.

Will Indian universities benefit from this situation? Possibly yes, but can that sustain for an extended period? The situation seems unlikely as there is still a long way ahead for most Indian Universities to match global standards. Career opportunities, cultural experiences are key factors advertised by UK Universities to attract massive investments, a trend currently on hold at the moment but is very likely to continue next year.

The counsellor from SI-UK rightly emphasised this when she said, “Over 10,000 students are still applying to Oxbridge and major universities in the UK even during such trying times. This proves that the interest amongst Indians students to study in the UK has not been drastically hit.”

Edited by Ishita Dang, Bhavya Vemulapalli & Shaardhool Shreenath