UK not a top destination for Indian students this year with lockdown, COVID-19 fears


The United Kingdom which is the sought-after destination for higher education among Indian students may take a backseat amidst the new lockdown and fears of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Overseas education consultants said that students who had earlier opted for a UK degree are now either switching to other countries like US, Singapore and Australia or choosing to stay back in India.

Between 40,000-45,000 students travel to UK from India for higher education purposes each year. For FY20, the figure was 49,844 as per UK’s Office for National Statistics which was the highest since 2011.

However, FY21 and FY22 may throw a different picture. Students who were originally supposed to join in September 2020 had postponed their plans to February 2021 in hopes of getting to attend physical classes. Considering the new COVID-19 strain, that is no longer the case.

Chennai-based education consultant TS Rajasekhar told Moneycontrol that while the post-study-work-visa for two years (announced in September 2019) would have been an attractive proposition for Indian students, not many are enthused about studying online.

“UK authorities are saying that this work visa will be offered to international students who study remotely also. But students aren’t convinced,” he added.

Introduced in 2019, the new ‘Graduate’ route was open to all international students –including those from India–who have valid UK immigration status as a student and have successfully completed a course of study in any subject at undergraduate level or above at an approved UK higher education provider. The visa allows eligible students to work, or look for work, in any career or position of their choice, for two years after completing their studies.

What are students saying?

Mumbai’s Achint Malhotra who was to pursue a course in public policy from a university in London has now decided to stay back in India due to the lockdown extension.

“There are online classes available in courses but what is the use of that? I will be paying the same fee despite studying from home. So, I decided to drop out,” said Malhotra who had deferred his admission to January.

The fee for his course and living expenses in UK would be Rs 19 lakh per year (excluding administrative expenses and other charges) while a similar programme in India would cost around Rs 7 lakh per annum.

Delhi’s Danica Maria Lobo told Moneycontrol that while initially she was prepared to go to Cambridge to pursue her Masters in History, the virus strain and new lockdown has forced her to rethink the decision.

“UK flights have also only resumed partially and it is high risk to travel right now. I will have to look for accommodation as well and alumni have told me that property owners are also reluctant to rent out to international students right now. It will be of no use if I am doing a course online from Cambridge,” added Lobo.

Meanwhile, Lobo has enrolled into a content project with a museum in India and will be applying to universities in India later this year.

UK universities had made it clear that there won’t be any fee concessions for the same course being taught online nor will there be any refunds in case a student drops out after one semester.

Chennai’s Shyam Ekambaram who had enrolled into an Economics course and was pursuing online lessons from a UK university said that he dropped out in December because of the time difference and low engagement.

“Pursuing a programme online isn’t the same as pursuing a course in a physical classroom. Studying in the campus makes a lot of difference and e-learning had no impact. Despite paying fees partially, I dropped out,” he said.

Ekambaram who had paid Rs 2 lakh as an initial payment will lose out on that amount. He also added that students have been unofficially indicated that UK will continue online lessons across institutions till May 2021.

The expert view

Sumeet Jain, co-founder and higher Education expert at overseas education consultant Yocket said that many students who were already enrolled in UK universities have come back to India hoping to go for the next semester.

“Many students who were to go in September had deferred their admission to January/February. With the rising number of cases and a complete lockdown, it looks difficult for the students to start their courses. Studying abroad is not just about academics but about the experience that you get on the campus. Most of the Masters course in the UK is for a year and if students are to spend most of it online, it deprives them of the experience,” he added.

Jain also explained that there were many students who had kept both US and UK options open. With this complete lockdown and uncertainty, he said that there might be more students choosing to go to the US over the UK.