They say a good education is a foundation for a better future. However, with the “closed” sign across the globe, how can one possibly maneuver forward?
The appalling impact of COVID-19 has rattled the world to its core. For most people, it appears like the world we knew has hit the pause button. Mahima Charan, 22, was looking forward to pursuing her Master’s degree in International Relations from Georgetown University, Washington DC. However, as the worldwide lockdown continues, her higher education plans have arrived at a screeching halt.
With most countries imposing visa restrictions in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, international education dreams of millions of students in India have been clinched by uncertainty. So, where does it lead us?
Despite the World Health Organization advising against the application of travel restrictions, various countries across the globe have issued travel restrictions. These also include the leading study harbors, such as the United States, China, Canada, and Australia. Furthermore, this has now protracted to multiple nations halting visa services, which has led to a backlog for students exchange programs, later this year.
Equally hard-pressed are aspirants who are enrolled in courses abroad, but cannot fly due to these unprecedented times. Reports by Quacquarelli Symonds suggest that the pandemic has feigned the decision of over 48% of Indian students, aspiring to study abroad. The Quint, on April 16, 2020, shared uploaded a YouTube video explaining the plight of Indian students as they are skeptical about studying abroad. Click here to watch.
The unanticipated reversal of the trajectory
I believe, the world will not be the same post this crisis, nor will we, as students. In the post-crisis scenario, a combination of factors will influence the volume and shape of international education ahead. The question remains, how quickly can the education sector rebound from the dizzying drops that have been recorded in 2020?
It has been noted that a rising number of students have changed their education plans due to COVID-19. Furthermore, immigration experts claim that over 1 lakh students from certain regions of India land abroad, to countries like Canada, Australia, and the UK every year. Navneet Singh, an immigration consultant stated, “Last year we had sent around 1,200 students abroad for studies, but we have experienced a dip this year. Worst affected are those who have already paid their fee and their files are with the high commission offices. Every May and September countries like Canada and Australia take students, but we aren’t sure whether students will be able to go in the fall either.”
An A&SG report on the impact of COVID-19 on college-going seniors states, “If this phenomenon continues or worsens, it will have far-reaching consequences on college enrollment this fall and possibly have a substantial impact of higher education for years to come.”
The virus has put antiquated educational models, graduation rates, dismal student progression, and rigid registration procedures to a spotlight. Simply put, this change has taken the students by storm. As the 2020-21 academic year unearths, we will learn more. However, at the current juncture in the story of higher education and students exchange under COVID-19, three themes have arrived at the spotlight: place, equity, and learning.
The challenge of Place
Amid the pandemic, what is lost is the ability for students to immerse themselves in the learning environment. For years, students have been walking on a similar roadmap, where international education is known to further steepen the success curve. They have been tirelessly dreaming about venturing into their dream university, the gatekeeper to progress. Now that their plans have hit a suspension, their inability to pursue international education has hit altogether a different low.
The challenge of Equity
At worse, the aftermath of COVID-19 will be dismal for various students who may not get the opportunity to do this again. Aakash Sharma echoes this point, “We do not get a redo of this. You can reschedule anything, but studying abroad. We were given a single chance, and the loss of opportunity is what we receive”. Thus, it is clear that the forecasts for the far-reaching implications of the pandemic will last for a long time. The present moment will pass. The pandemic will recede. How will students respond to those residuals?
The challenge of Learning
There lies an enormous ambiguity across the international education sector, with no quick-fix about the new, “compromised” roadmap to success. Moreover, the international lockdown and ascending crisis have struck the learning graph of the students like a thunderbolt. With the syllabi stranded, learning at a staggering rate, and the air of skepticism, students have everything at stake. Charan further continues, “COVID-19 has absolutely changed my plans, and I am not starting my Masters this year. It is evident that acquiring a student visa might still be within reach, but employability might not be.”
Nonetheless, moving forward
The great thing in this world is not so much where you stand, as in what direction you are moving.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
The legion of international education across countries is a melting pot of driven individuals who have a flair for learning. For the Class of 2020, this might be the year to take a gap. Charan elucidates her future plans, “There is nowhere you can be, that isn’t where you are meant to be. This is what I have concluded for my education plans in these times of crisis. What is even more important is that it (COVID-19) has also changed my perspective on studying to a greater extent. Additionally, amidst a health crisis, I believe there is no safer place than being at home. I also feel that it is important for everyone to comprehend that education is a means to an end; not an end in itself. I just hope that me, along with my fellow hopefuls can find alternatives and make their own space!”
In the end
The COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the prospect of failing international education this coming year has certainly lead a vast number of graduating seniors to consider a gap year. Throughout this trial period, there is never a clear-cut or “easy” answer. What a student has is their own unique circumstances and the inner voice that navigates us further. There can be neither a return to yesterday nor a sprint into the future, all we all have is now.
Regardless of how much the landscape of international education and student exchange has plummeted, I firmly believe that my generation is the flagbearer to rebuild and hoist it! As soon as the situation is better, my comeback trail will be to take responsibility by the horns. While I try to determine what comes next, talent and commitment are the two vital ingredients to create the higher education that we - the student fraternity - choose.