What studying abroad will be like in a post-COVID world

How will overseas studies be affected in a post-COVID world? Bobby Mehta, Global Head, University of Portsmouth weighs in on what the situation is likely to be
Image for representational purpose (Pic: Google)
Image for representational purpose (Pic: Google)

The Coronavirus pandemic has changed how we look at teaching. While the knowledge delivered remains the same, the way it is delivered has changed. Universities in the UK have not had to change much though. We already have a robust online teaching format. What we did was to shift the offline lectures and study materials to the online portals. Our motto now is to work fast and finish fast — the students need to finish their courses on time. The faculty is helping the students finish their course work and projects online. Since exams cannot be conducted amid the lockdown, the students will be graded on their assignments and project work. We will try to resume on-campus classes in Autumn. Even though online teaching has proven to be very handy during the lockdown, it is not possible to replicate the entire experience online.

From the data that I have seen and the anecdotal evidence that I have, I can say that students still want to travel to a different country to study. It is not just about the course but the experience itself. The experience of living in a different culture and being an integral part of the community. But in a post-COVID world, change in campus life is inevitable. There will be social distancing norms that need to be followed, restrictions to be abided by and that changes the daily life as we know it. There is one more aspect that impacts the students — a number of scholarships have been recently closed but I am unsure whether it is due to the current crisis or due to financial issues.

We have learnt a lot during this lockdown and it would be wise to implement these practices and strategies once we come out of it. Large lectures that attract a huge crowd have to be probably shifted online and conducted through live sessions, while supplementing it with smaller seminars that have fewer number of students. Even if we have to start late, it will not be possible to condense the syllabus and finish it on time. What we can possibly do is adjust the breaks, holidays and study breaks that are there to try and finish the course as close to the actual semester as possible. There are numerous possibilities that might crop up. Some universities might also start the session online and then, finish it on campus.

A lot of these strategies depend on what the government’s exit strategy (from the pandemic and lockdown) will be. But we will make sure we cover everything and are clear on every possible scenario so that the students do not have to be in a difficult position in the middle of a session. The University of Portsmouth has decided to give full refunds to those who want to get admitted at a later session. Universities in the UK have September and January intake, some even have a June intake and students can opt for any of them when they reapply. We do not want the students to suffer in any way.

Job prospects might be dim now but I personally think it will be on much stable grounds a few years from now. So, if I were to advise my children or my students, I would say that this is the best time to invest in education. Because when the global economy comes out from the other side of the crisis, it will be when they graduate. And we will need the same skills that we need now, only then will we have a stable situation that would lead to higher opportunities. Students, I suggest, should also look at skill shortages in the countries they plan to work in. The skills required will still be the same when we emerge from the crisis.

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