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Will the virus make us choose virtual?

With all the changes COVID-19 became a reason for, education may have been the least expected. Globalshala, an organisation that aims to assist students with finding global educational opportunities that are the right for them, undertook a survey of prospective graduate international students and the results show the expectations and concerns that the ones who were hoping to study abroad is facing at this point. Will the virus be responsible to make graduate international students prefer virtual education? One needs to only look at the survey results to find out.

The concerns that the graduate international students have in this situation are assorted. While some fear that they wouldn’t be able to study in their dream institutions, thanks to the worldwide restrictions especially on international travel, others are worried about not getting a suitable visa appointment in time to go to the United States for a term starting in the Fall. It was in such an environment of chaos that Anushika Jain, Founder, and CEO of Globalshala decided to design a survey to gain clarity on what the students of higher education wanted. “The current pandemic facing the world is impacting all sectors of the economy, including higher education. To better prepare the graduate international students I work with, I felt it was important to better understand how they are feeling and what they are expecting in the coming year” says Jain.

Some things are better done in the traditional way. When asked if they would prefer an in-person class or online training, the majority of graduate international students opted for in-person or a hybrid of both. However, given the situation, they agreed that a virtual mode would be advisable but most students would opt for this only until the earlier educational climate can be restored. About 30% of the graduate international students were ready to let a semester get deferred than take online classes. Further, the respondents expect at least a 55% reduction in the fees for online courses, given the situation.

While this may surprise a lot of us, that’s not the case with educational experts who have been following trends among graduate international students pursuing education abroad in India. Mallik Sundaram, Associate Vice President of International Enrollment Management at Northeastern University, offers his opinion. “Students who are seeking a degree from a U.S. institution are often motivated not only by a quality educational opportunity but also by the experience to travel to a new country to have a fully immersive postbaccalaureate experience.”, he says. Online education, Sundaram continues, can only be a ‘hold over’ until they can travel safely. Premium education institutions like Northeastern University recognise these graduate international student preferences and are working their best to provide high quality online content to initiate the graduate international students’ study while at the same time ensuring that they will be able to continue on-ground training once the situation becomes better. For the question that we started with, will COVID-19 be the reason graduate international students turn to virtual media, the answer doesn’t seem to be positive.

N Malavika Mohan