Even as September ushers in fresh and advanced rounds of applications for overseas education, destinations other than the United States look to expand their share in pie of Indian students by easing visa norms.
For instance, while Australia recently opened up visa application process for international students with Indians set to benefit from the same, United Kingdom Visas and Immigration (UKVI) has now introduced flexibility in visa rules with health precautions. As part of its commitment to enhance the visa system experience for students, United Kingdom Visas and Immigration (UKVI)'s move looks to ensure a comfortable and safe environment for all customers, especially incoming international students, along with its visa services partner VFS Global.
A recent survey among Indian students by Edvoy, an online platform promising impartial advice, application support and content for prospective international students across South Asia shows that 35 per cent of students desire to go to Canada for higher education in September 2020 while 33 per cent voted for Ireland.
The education consultancy platform surveyed 4,000 Indian students on four study destinations namely UK, US, Canada and Ireland where it conversely found that for January 2021 intake, the US was the most preferred study abroad destination by students followed by Canada. The survey highlights 43 per cent of the students have planned to go ahead with their education in the US and 35 percent to Canada.
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Consultants too feel that with other overseas education destinations like UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada taking a more pragmatic approach in favour of students by allowing them to stay while conducting online classes could work against US varsities. "Many could start looking at these destinations more favourably over US in the next admission session given such favourable conditions for students in these non-US markets," according to Rohit Sethi, director of ESS Global, an overseas education consultancy firm.
Among the latest steps of easing the process for international students, especially Indians, UKVI is allowing incoming international students to apply for study (Tier 4) visa when they are due to travel to the UK, rather than at the start of their course. This means students who have already gained admission can begin their courses online and apply for a UK study visa when they are ready to do so. The move is being taken with an aim to limit disruption caused by ongoing COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Further, the new Graduate Immigration Route that allows students who complete undergraduate or Master’s degrees to stay and work, look for work, and gain experience in the UK for up to two years (three years for PhD students) from Summer 2021, has been modified to accommodate students who start their courses overseas, online. These students will be eligible to apply for the Graduate Route, provided they are in the UK before 6 April 2021 and complete the final semester of their studies in the UK.
The Graduate Immigration Route policy was announced in September 2019 to help the UK attract and retain even more of the best international graduates from India, ensuring those graduates secure skilled jobs and contribute to the UK’s economic growth.
According to David Ratcliffe, UK Visas and Immigration Regional Director, South and South East Asia, over the last few years there has been a huge increase in the number of Indian students choosing the UK’s world-class higher-education system as the destination for their studies.
"Despite the challenges of Coronavirus, we are confident that many thousands more will join their compatriots at university in the UK this autumn. For those travellers, our message is clear: your safety is our highest priority. Throughout the visa application process and your travel to the UK, we are taking measures to ensure you are safe and secure. In addition, the new Graduate Route is guaranteed to open next summer – meaning those students heading to the UK this autumn will be able to apply for 2 years additional post-study leave to kick start their career in the UK," Ratcliffe added.
On the other hand, the Australian government had begun recommencing student visa granting process in all locations lodged outside Australia so that when borders re-open, students will already have visas and be able to make arrangements to travel. International students were now able to lodge a further student visa application free of charge if they are unable to complete their studies within their original visa validity due to COVID-19.
Further, current student visa holders studying online outside Australia due to COVID-19 would now be able to use that study to count towards the Australian study requirement for a post-study work visa. On the other hand, graduates who held a student visa will be eligible to apply for a post-study work visa outside Australia if they are unable to return due to COVID-19.
Lauding the Australian Government's efforts, Study Group Managing Director for Australia, Alex Chevrolle said that the announcements send timely signal to students considering studying in Australia, providing them confidence to start applying for their visas. The move is set to benefit Indian students whose numbers in Australia have almost doubled from 70,000 five years ago to roughly 120,000 in 2019.
Meanwhile, Edvoy's survey also found that with the imposition of worldwide lockdown led to travel bans and quarantines, and closure of all educational institutes, several international universities showed willingness to adopt a blended learning model. The survey showed that 42 per cent of Indian students, aspiring to study in the UK universities embrace the idea of blended learning, a mix of face-to-face and online learning.