Outward Student Mobility Trends in the year of the Pandemic

January 2021

Outward Student Mobility Trends in the year of the Pandemic

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Mark Twain

These famous words by Mark Twain seem to be metaphorically the guiding philosophy of most Indian students: Schooling in India over, let us get our education abroad…

However, in recent times due to the prevalent Covid-19 situation, international student mobility has seen a drastic shift of gears. Starting February 2020, travel restrictions were imposed by several countries with their visa applications in a pause mode and universities all over soon shifted to online education to ensure student and staff safety, significantly affecting students both old and new. Most students therefore had to revisit their higher education plans and, in some cases, even the country of choice.

How has Covid-19 affected International Students mobility?

A study in November 2020, conducted by QS Quacquarelli Symonds showed that 57% of surveyed prospective international students stated that they expect to start their studies in 2021, while 25% expect to start in 2022.

Preferred Destination countries by Indian Students

So, let us have a look at the top 10 destinations of higher education which Indian student’s targeted in these trying times. The USA remained at #1 with 135,940 students, followed by Australia (73,316), Canada (34,806), the UK (19,599), Germany (15,473), the UAE (13,370), New Zealand (11,604), Ukraine (10,698) and Kyrgyzstan (8,662)

Some interesting take-aways arising from these figures are:

· Although bound by changes in visa regulations and uncertainties caused by the outgoing administration, the USA still retains its position by a long distance as the first destination of choice for Indian students.

· Australia catapulted to #2 with higher combined numbers than the next three (Canada, UK and Germany).

· The UK has surprisingly dropped to #4, with Germany nipping closely at its heels.

· New Zealand has given way to the UAE.

· Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan are the new dark horses making it to the Top 10

Decision making factors for Indian students

A few back-of-the-envelope jottings bring out certain definite factors which make these destinations a magnet for Indian students, who get invariably drawn to them for higher education.

1. Choice of courses

One of the most obvious reasons - for any international student - is the choice of modules, the programs, and their durations available for the applicant’s preferred subject(s). The plethora of courses on offer from renowned foreign universities of higher education, in most of these destinations is the first tick in the box.

2. Cost of study programs

Different study destinations incur different costs. As far as tuition fees are concerned, the USA and the UK rank high in this area, whereas Australia and Canada come at nearly half the price. Of course, ancillary costs or average living expenses like rent, utilities, food, travel, etc. add another dimension to the student’s consideration of a destination country.

In recent times, Germany has become a favorite destination for Indian students. Why? It can be attributed to the fact that more than 180 German universities offer courses in English with no tuition fees (Study in Germany). And, if students have been honing their German skills then they have more than 400 universities in total to choose from.

Here, the ease of obtaining scholarships, working part time, and the actual duration of paid programs play an important decision-making role.

3. Post-study prospects for employment

A big differentiator in deciding which country to head to is the accessibility to employment opportunities once studies are completed. This takes into consideration the inherent strength of that particular industry sector in the destination country. For example, cutting-edge research opportunities abound in the USA, whereas business analytics and big data would be a draw for Ireland and, Germany finds favor for electrical and mechanical engineering.

An Indian student is bound to incur heavy expenses, effort and time, and will naturally calculate the return on investment. Depending on whether he/she plans to migrate to another country or return to India, a serious consideration of the “value” of the degree or diploma visà-vis job opportunities and monetary benefits is given.

4. Entry requirements and visa regulations

The student’s ability to fulfil required academic scores is one more important (and mandatory) tick mark in considering the destination country. Questions like, apart from the English proficiency test (TOEFL, IELTS) what other additional tests, such as GMAT, GRE or SAT, are required? Are the programs diploma or degree courses?

Entry visa regulations vary from country to country with different sets of rules with a wide variance in requirements, visa processing fees and time frame for processing. Additionally, rejection rates also differ from country to country.

5. Lifestyle and safety

Last but not the least important is the safety factor. This is more from the parent’s perspective rather than from the student’s point of view. Life as the student in India is way different than abroad - with the language, culture, food, and unexpected daily changes. Also, recent incidences of racism and aggressive behavior in certain countries make Indian parents apprehensive about sending their wards to these destinations. This is where the easy proximity to an Indian diaspora plays an important role.

Final Words

With the knowledge-intensive, high value-addition and long-term benefits, international education is a priority economic sector for many foreign Governments. With India and China holding a combined 30% population of international mobile students, these two markets are and will remain priority targets, despite the Covid-19 pandemic situation.

However, this sector is rapidly evolving worldwide wherein technological innovations are changing the basic nature of educating and learning. At the same time, today’s international students are more technology savvy, have greater expectations and are more selective than their predecessors, given the wide gamut of choices at their disposal and competition between universities rapidly increasing.

In this scenario with the sector’s basic nature changing significantly, opportunities on the horizon - both old and new - will draw the attention of international institutions of higher education from the public and private domains. For example, India’s NEP 2020 could open the door for innovative partnerships based on a hybrid model of traditional (in-class) and modern (online digital) methods of delivery.

With the competition heating up, foreign universities will have to use the early mover advantage to target the ever-willing-to-study-abroad Indian student being spoilt for choices, more so today than he/she ever was.

Of course, all universities may not take the route of directly establishing an antenna campus in India but there are other options open, however, to mark their presence in the country. The foremost being an in-country representation with a reliable and experienced partner who could assist with student recruitment in the “new normal”. This could be through group webinars, virtual meetings, and virtual student recruitment fairs with students/parents.