How Omicron has affected the vision of studying abroad for students

“The effect of the new variant is undisputedly a headache for Indian students. However, our data suggests that students are going forward”

The pandemic has continually derailed the study abroad plans since March 2020 affecting student mobility, admissions, and financing overseas education. Just as the situation was stabilising, with many universities expecting to begin on-campus classes, a new variant hit the world, says Ankit Mehra, founder & CEO of GyanDhan.

Omicron, the highly mutated variant of Covid-19, disrupted the entire economy of overseas education once again, forcing countries to introduce travel restrictions and universities to switch back to remote learning.

To understand how the new variant affected the vision of study abroad education, the student cohort can be divided into students who are already on the campus, those who will be traveling for the Spring semester, and those who are preparing for the Summer and Fall semesters.

For students already on campus 

The effects of Omicron on the study abroad plans were more prominent in the Winter semester and the current Spring semester. The dynamics changed for students already on campus as the universities issued new guidelines for students. Harvard, Yale University, Bentley University, MIT, and many other universities have made vaccination mandatory for every student, staff, and faculty.

Institutions also pivoted to making booster shots compulsory for every individual on campus. Students are expected to cross-verify the guidelines to enter the campus.

While countries are scrambling to re-calibrate their strategies for the upcoming semesters, the new variant once again pushed these universities to the e-learning mode of 2020. Several universities like Harvard, George Washington University, and Cornell moved semester exams online and canceled all in-person classes and events to stop the spread of the virus on campus.

Students traveling to the US, UK, Canada, despite the travel guidelines, had to adapt to virtual learning as cases increased.

For students preparing for travel 

Students, who usually travel to their destinations two weeks before the commencement of the session, saw it fit to board that plane a month in advance in case international flights were to stop. Particularly, in countries where the cases are rising exponentially.

US Covid cases touched a peak in late December with 488,000 cases in a day, as did the UK with 183,037 cases getting registered in a day. These countries further issued travel guidelines and put restrictions on students traveling from certain countries like, South Africa.

Fortunately, India was not on any travel ban list. Countries like the USA and the UK mandated students to plan their travel with plenty of time for Covid-19 testing and self-isolation before the session started. A negative RT-PCR test report done within 72 hours of boarding the flight was also mandatory. Even countries like Canada and New Zealand that did not register as many cases requested students to start online classes and only travel to the country if they are nominated by their educational institution.

For students planning for the Summer and Fall semester 

Most students are in quandary over the Summer and Fall semesters, especially if remote learning continues. Though the entire international student community and involved parties are hoping and expecting, the situation will stabilise and return to normal.

Is uncertainty looming over study abroad 2022 plans?

It would be fair to say that the international student community is not as impacted this time around, even though the variant spread like wildfire. The vision of education abroad now features a contingency plan in case the pandemic poses a threat again. Students are being cautious as to when they travel and apply to universities. But, the overall sentiment around overseas education has not gone for a toss as it did in March 2020, wherein students, universities, and countries found it difficult to maneuver the unprecedented global event.

The effect of the new variant is undisputedly a headache for Indian students. However, our data suggests that students are going forward with their abroad higher education plans. We, at GyanDhan, have not seen any significant impact in the number of loan applications to finance overseas higher education.

The vision of overseas education has stayed intact, with students adjusting to the new normal and keeping abreast of all the recent developments on the university and travel front.

About the author: Ankit Mehra is founder & CEO of GyanDhan.