Interest in studying in Germany still strong among Indians despite Covid-19

“Almost everyone was very worried about the prospect of entering an unfavourable job market upon graduation”

Covid-19 is first and foremost a health crisis, writes UCL Institute of Education research fellow Sazana Jayadeva, but research into how the pandemic has impacted postgraduate-level student mobility from India to Germany suggests that health-related fears about studying in Germany during a pandemic were largely absent among both current and prospective students.

Between March and June 2020, I conducted interviews with Indian postgraduate students in Germany, as well as digital ethnographic fieldwork in mutual-help Facebook and WhatsApp groups used by prospective students to navigate the process of going to Germany for study.

The vast majority of my interlocutors were studying or applying to engineering postgraduate courses (reflecting the fact that the majority of Indian students in Germany are studying engineering).

Among my interlocutors, there was a feeling that Germany was handling the pandemic well, the healthcare system was robust, and international students were being well supported. Rather than health and safety, their main concerns centred on two issues.

The job market 

For the vast majority, an important goal of studying for a master’s degree in Germany was to get some work experience in Germany, in their field of specialisation, upon graduation. Unsurprisingly, almost everyone was very worried about the prospect of entering an unfavourable job market upon graduation and—in the shorter term—about their chances of getting work placements, which they viewed as crucial for increasing their future career prospects.

Educational experience

There was a growing acceptance that courses would need to rely, at least for the time being, on online and blended learning formats.

Nevertheless, the loss—or anticipated loss—of a ‘normal’ university experience (marked by face-to-face learning and engagement with staff and peers, the chance to enjoy an international campus environment and experience, and do work placements) was considered disappointing by current and prospective students alike.

Moreover, many prospective students worried that even when universities re-started face-to-face teaching, they might be unable to travel to Germany because of the state of the pandemic in India. The uncertainty regarding how long they would need to study online and/or from India was particularly stressful.

Student perceptions

Despite these concerns, most prospective students did not appear to be reconsidering their plans for postgraduate study in Germany for several reasons. To begin with, the relatively affordable cost of study in Germany (low to no fees) reduced the perceived risk of the decision to begin a degree there.

There was also a feeling that Germany was handling the pandemic well and that the economy—and, with it, the job market—was better equipped than that of many other countries to bounce back from a recession. In addition, many felt that they did not have good alternative plans and worried about a long period of stagnation and inactivity in India, were they to abandon their plans to study in Germany.

Prospective students were also concerned that many other applicants might decide to temporarily postpone their plans to study in Germany, which would lead to the competition for places at German universities skyrocketing the next academic year.

Finally, some prospective students were disinclined to postpone their plans to study in Germany because they worried that in the future a recession might lead to German universities placing restrictions on international student numbers or introducing fees, or to the German government implementing restrictive visa policies.

Germany and other destinations

My preliminary research into how Indian student flows to the US and UK have been impacted by Covid-19 suggests that prospective students interested in studying in these countries were more likely to be rethinking or attempting to defer their plans to study abroad.

Germany’s unique position appears to relate to the relatively affordable cost of study, and perceptions that the country is handling the Covid-19 situation efficiently, has relatively stable and non-hostile visa policies, and a strong job market (at least for those in the field of STEM).

Nevertheless, Indian prospective students applying to universities anywhere abroad were all facing major logistical hurdles in applying to universities, obtaining visas, and organising travel, as a result of lockdowns in India and international travel restrictions.

These logistical problems might also lead to a fall in postgraduate student flows from India this year. In the coming months, it is important that universities take these exceptional circumstances into account and make adjustments to the application process, where possible.

About the author: Sazana Jayadeva is a research fellow at the UCL Institute of Education in the UK. “The impact of Covid-19 on postgraduate-level student migration from India to Germany” can be accessed here.