The UK Higher Education, a sector that is expected to help the UK realise its growth and development aspirations, is gearing up to welcome incoming students amid the testing times caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. At the same time, the sector contributes over £20 billion annually to the economy through exports. While it remains unclear what the real impact of the pandemic will be on Indian student mobility, the picture in so far as the UK is concerned should start becoming clearer by mid-September.
In the wake of Brexit and the introduction of the Graduate Visa, the UK is witnessing a reinvigorated interest among Indian students as an education destination. Notably, 2019 saw 30,000 Indian students come to the UK, a 63 per cent annual increase. While the interest to come to the UK to pursue Higher Education is palpable among Indian students, a nudge was pertinent, particularly owing to the jolt and uncertainty ushered in by the Covid-19 pandemic.
At this juncture, as the oldest and largest body of Indian students in the UK, National Indian Students and Alumni Union recently conducted a survey of prospective Indian students and offer-holders to capture the concerns and requirements of Indian students in greater detail. Amongst many interesting findings, some of which have led NISAU to posit a 'winning partnership' between Britain and Indian students in coming years, a key finding was that the majority of the students did not feel that they had received clear communication from their universities and expressed concerns about travel and safety.
Additionally, students have increasingly been complaining about receiving misleading/biased information from educational agents; a sector that remains unregulated in India. Notably, we had previously called on the Indian government to appropriately regulate this sector. Today, by using technology to connect current and potential Indian students to help the latter make the right choice, we set out to make a significant intervention, when it comes to ensuring the welfare of young Indians abroad.
To address students' ambiguities and apprehensions with credible information in an unbiased manner, we organised the UK's first-ever session where current students, recent graduates and domain experts responded to students' queries live in a virtual #AskNISAU session. The session was broadcast live on our Facebook and Instagram pages. It was an exclusive, live event for prospective students where their queries were personally handled by current students in the UK, student societies affiliated to the NISAU and sector experts.
The session was divided into two parts: the first part provided general insights about studying and living in the UK, career advisory, and changed realities in the wake of Covid-19 and the second part was a live Q&A, wherein participants' questions were addressed instantly. Panellists represented a cross-section of more than 30 universities covering universities in all four nations of the United Kingdom, that are sought after by Indian students.
We saw a virtual attendance of over 2,000 during the session, and a reach of over 15,000 soon after the session, signifying the degree to which such an event was a necessary intervention for the benefit of Indian students.
The queries handled and information disseminated can be broadly categorised as: questions about life in the UK and insights on college life, academics, employability, hybrid learning and so on. An overview of the new Points-Based Visa system applicable from 2021 was also provided alongside a more detailed discussion on the Graduate Route, which allows international students the chance to stay on in the UK for a period of two or three years depending on their course.
It is worth noting that the NISAU, alongside like-minded collectives, had run a six-year campaign lobbying the British government for this visa, which is now regarded as a huge win for Indian students. Furthermore, the move is widely considered to be an essential tool for Britain to market itself as the leading destination for international students, as the country seeks to address its skilled workforce shortage.
In the way of providing comprehensive support to the incoming students, we will next be conducting a pre-departure briefing at the end of August for all those students who have chosen to commence their studies in the UK from September 2020.
We believe that the Indian diaspora is a true asset, which must be cherished, nurtured and effectively deployed to shape India's future. However, it starts with empowering our youth with the right information that can enable sound decision-making in the first important step of their careers.
While we are delighted to be the go-to platform that provides credible and unbiased information to the students, we are looking forward to expanding our engagement with universities and students to ensure that British universities and Indian students indeed realise the winning partnership that we firmly believe can be achieved.
by Vignesh Karthik KR
Vignesh is a doctoral researcher at King's College London and the Head of Thought Leadership at the National Indian Students and Alumni Union (@NISAU_UK) - the oldest and largest network of Indian students and alumni in the UK.
*This column is part of a regular 'iGlobal' Campus Roundup series