International education experts exude optimism in Covid times, ask students not to give up on their career dreams
International education experts, representing renowned universities in Finland, Ireland, UK, Canada, and USA, urged students to remain positive in the face of the Covid-19 crisis and hold on to their career dreams.
Speaking at the 'Studies Abroad in Covid Times' webinar, organized by the Institute for Career Studies (ICS) recently, they exuded optimism about the international higher education scenario, while also agreeing that there were some challenges.
"It's important to make informed decisions, especially when planning to study abroad, as the cost is usually high. We invited experts who we knew would be able to guide students to a future of happiness and success, despite the challenges," said Dr Amrita Dass, Founder-Director, ICS.
Famous Finnish entrepreneur, Peter Vesterbacka, known for developing the immensely popular online game Angry Birds, said that his country was looking at getting qualified professionals to fill up jobs. "While Covid has impacted the world economy, students can stay on in Finland for work after completing their studies. Also, education in Finland is very affordable and there are fantastic jobs here. In the tech industry, we have about 50,000 jobs that need to be filled over the next few years," said Vesterbacka, who is associated with 11 universities.
Nilanjana Shihn, senior recruitment adviser for Trinity College Dublin, University of Dublin, encouraged students to learn from the situation. "The biggest learning from Covid is to be as prepared as possible for the unexpected and to focus on innovation," she said.
She gave a brief overview of Ireland's and Trinity's long tradition of educational excellence. "Trinity offers international students a friendly environment, great learning experience, and dedicated merit-based scholarships for various programmes. Moreover, if you're at Trinity, you're at an institution that has over four centuries of experience in designing and delivering education!" said Shihn.
"According to the OECD, the Irish economy is expected to be the least affected by the pandemic and bounce back the quickest. Ireland has been ranked sixth globally in terms of its innovative response to the pandemic," she further said, adding that the lockdown had been lifted almost completely there.
Shihn also spoke about the Irish government's commitment to the international students in the country. "Any international student, who gets affected by Covid, will be provided free healthcare services. Also, every international student who loses a part-time job is entitled to an emergency payment of 350 Euros per week," she said.
Sandeep Sharma, director, student recruitment & partnership, South Asia, University of Essex, England, observed that it was natural for students and parents to be anxious. He said that considering the current situation, Essex was not making academic references mandatory this time.
"We understand that offices are closed and generally, there's a sense of flexibility. A lot of UK institutions will be happy to host international students in October. So, undergraduate students looking to study in the UK can still apply through the UCAS and join the October session," said Sharma.
Regarding health, he said that the NHS insurance of Rs 40,000 would cover any Covid-related expenditure for students.
Scott O'Neill, associate director, marketing & undergraduate recruitment, University of Waterloo, answered student queries about internships and post-study jobs. "Our co-op programme leads to cash flow. Students can also work part-time and bring down their expenses further," he said about Canada's co-op programme, which is supervised and paid internship for students and prepares them to enter jobs equipped with the right skills.
O'Neill said that many Canadian universities, including Waterloo, were looking at being very flexible. "At Waterloo, we are not just getting ready for the Fall, our academic process is already functioning. Classes are online and every effort is being made to provide students all the assistance they need," he said.
Amber Longtin, Senior International Admissions Counsellor, Michigan State University, USA, addressed the concerns of students and parents. "Remember, the US is not centralized and not all places follow the same protocol. Hence, you will find different reactions to the pandemic. Over a million international students come to the US every year and supporting them is very important to the universities," she said.
"So, you saw how universities reacted swiftly," she added, referring to the recent announcement by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, which said that foreign students had to leave the US if their Fall classes were completely online. The decision had evoked a sharp response from prestigious universities, including Harvard and MIT, and had to be withdrawn.
"Schools are making it easier for students to connect with them. At Michigan State, we are adopting a hybrid model where some classes will be in person but the majority will be online," added Longtin.
She clarified that the Optional Practical Training (OPT) was still available to STEM students for three years and to the others for a year's duration, giving them an opportunity to earn after studies.
Anju Singh, regional director, global operations, University of Arizona, said that foreign universities were collaborating with Indian institutions for Transnational Education (TNE) where course credits were transferrable.
"Currently, there's a lot of uncertainty. With salary cuts and downsizing, many won't be able to afford an education that's entirely abroad. This is where TNE greatly helps. We have launched this model through the University of Arizona's global campus in India," she said.
"There are various models. For instance, you can get your international degree by studying in India entirely, or you can study partially in India and partially abroad," said Singh explaining how the system works.
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