Stuck here, don't know what to do

Updated: Apr 26, 2020, 08:28 IST | Anju Maskeri | Mumbai

Indian students who were all set to fly to study abroad, forced to chart up a last-minute Plan B

In March, Worli resident Meghna Bajaj was all set to pay the fees for a brand management course at London's Coventry University. Now, she's waiting it out to see her options
In March, Worli resident Meghna Bajaj was all set to pay the fees for a brand management course at London's Coventry University. Now, she's waiting it out to see her options

IN January, Meghna Bajaj, a city-based PR executive, applied for a master's degree in luxury brand management at Istituto Marangoni, a private school of fashion and design in Milan, and at Coventry University, London. After completing her undergrad course in fashion communication and PR from London College of Fashion, the 24-year-old returned to Mumbai last year to gain on-ground experience working for bespoke brands. "This was supposed to be a stop-gap arrangement. I eventually wanted to go back," she says. To Bajaj's delight, she made the cut at both institutes, but picked London. "I've applied for a scholarship at Coventry, but they ask you to pay a sum of 4,000 £ (Rs 3.7 lakh) to secure your seat. I was just about to pay the fee in March, when the pandemic broke out," narrates Bajaj. Though the course starts in September, seeing the uncertainty, she has chosen to hold back. "The situation in the UK is bad, and Italy is worse. I'm in limbo."

Bajaj is one of many students who have had to rein in their plans to study abroad due to lockdown restrictions imposed across the globe. In several countries, this has even led to suspension of classes and visa processes. To ensure her plans of further studies aren't entirely derailed, Bajaj has begun scouting for courses in India, which are affiliated with foreign universities.

Karan Gupta, career counsellor
Karan Gupta, career counsellor

In the last two months, Pedder Road-based career counsellor Karan Gupta has been inundated with queries from anxious students and parents on what to do next. Gupta says those students who were planning to join this fall have three sets of options available. "In the first scenario, students can take up online classes in September and start with physical classes on campus in January 2021. The second option is that they defer and not do anything in August and directly start the programme in January; the third is to take a year's drop and resume in August 2021," says Gupta. Some universities, he adds, have decided to take a call on their plan of action only in July given the uncertainty. "As of now, students aren't able to make a decision because you don't know what's going to happen tomorrow".

According to American and Canadian embassy statistics, 42,694 Indian students went to the US and 1,07,290 went to Canada in 2018-19. As per 2019 Open Doors Report, there are over 2.04 lakh Indian students currently in the US. In Gupta's experience, the bulk of applicants are often for the US, which presently has the world's largest number of Coronavirus cases at over 8.68 lakh. According to reports, over 26.5 million Americans have sought unemployment benefits over the last five weeks. Gupta says students are scrambling for a plan B, and for many that option might be to take a gap year. "Even if you want to apply for competitive schools here, they require entrance exams, and none of the students have given those, because they never thought they would study in India," he says.

SP Jain School of Global Management, which has campuses in Mumbai, Singapore, Sydney and Dubai, is planning to use their proprietary Engaged Learning Online technology to replicate the classroom experience at home
SP Jain School of Global Management, which has campuses in Mumbai, Singapore, Sydney and Dubai, is planning to use their proprietary Engaged Learning Online technology to replicate the classroom experience at home

SP Jain School of Global Management, which has campuses in Mumbai, Singapore, Sydney and Dubai, is planning to use their proprietary Engaged Learning Online technology to replicate the classroom experience at home

Seeing the state of affairs, SP Jain School of Global Management which has campuses in Mumbai, Singapore, Sydney and Dubai has already delayed the start date of their MBA courses to October. The institute will use their proprietary Engaged Learning Online (ELO) technology that is custom-designed for replicating a classroom experience at home. Here, a professor has 18 large TV screens and a robotic camera tracking them which enables eye contact with the student, along with additional features like real time polling in order to make the classes seem "real". President Nitish Jain says that though students were initially reluctant to study online, they are slowly warming up to the idea. "We have got used to the work from home culture, and similarly, some students have got used to studying from home. You have no choice, but to adapt."

Assam resident Pragyan Rajkhowa, 18, has accepted the fact that the first quarter of his course at the University of California, San Diego, is likely to be online. He accepted the offer letter for a double major in Mathematics and Economics last month. "I applied to four universities abroad, and many of them had made it amply clear that they might have to take harsh steps such as cancelling guaranteed housing for international students and other cost cutting and budget restructuring measures. Fortunately, the University of California, San Diego, was open to the idea of remote classes. They have said that they will call us when the situation stabilises, not just in the US, but also in India."

Aware that they might be longer in India than anticipated, some students are mulling how to put their time to good use.

Nottingham Trent University student Amman Singh who is studying product design has been stuck in Mumbai due to the lockdown. He says his graduation will be delayed if he doesn’t complete his mandatory placement
Nottingham Trent University student Amman Singh who is studying product design has been stuck in Mumbai due to the lockdown. He says his graduation will be delayed if he doesn’t complete his mandatory placement

Amman Singh, who is pursuing his BA Honours in product design, a six-year programme from Nottingham Trent University, is one of them. He came to Bengaluru for a mandatory six-month placement , but is stuck in Mumbai due to the lockdown. "I'm supposed to go back to Nottingham in October for my final year, but won't be allowed if I haven't finished the internship. All of this means there will be a massive delay in my plans to either apply for a job or go to Sweden for a master's in automative design."

He is currently freelancing with local carpenters to design household furniture. "I design the furniture and the carpenter builds it and then we split the profits. If nothing, it will at least broaden my portfolio," says Singh.

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