As the world finds itself entangled in the rapidly spreading Covid-19 pandemic with the resulting travel restrictions that the alarming situation has caused, students across the globe are experiencing a sense of uncertainty. Following gruelling hours of test preparations and tedious application processes, most students were awaiting their admits with bated breath when the virus raised its ugly head. Travel restrictions also raised questions concerning the timely commencement of the next intake. Amid such uncertainties, the epidemic, which has now been declared by the WHO as a pandemic, is being viewed as an impediment threatening to dampen students’ international education experience. The situation demands closer scrutiny, and our research has led us to believe that universities are equally concerned about the situation as the students.
Universities, especially those without state or public funding, run the risk of losing out on a significant chunk of their annual revenue as a consequence of the failure in meeting enrolment targets.
A survey conducted by the Institute of International Education reveals that the scales are tilted in favour of international students. Higher education institutions in the USA are bending over backwards in adjusting their teaching methods to the current requirements. Of the more than 230 higher education institutions that responded to this survey, almost 37 percent confirmed that they were considering alternatives like ‘flexible study or distance learning, leaves of absence, refunds, or other opportunities’ owing to the fact that the Chinese students are unable to return to the campus due to travel restrictions. Around 76 percent of institutions acknowledged that student recruitment activities for the next intake would be rendered ineffective in China due to the cancellation of standardized tests. Therefore, they have started incentivizing Chinese students by offering application deadline extensions and deferrals. More on this can be read at: https://www.iie.org/en/Why-IIE/Announcements/2020/03/IIE-Releases-Survey-on-Effects-of-COVID-19-on-International-Students-and-Study-Abroad
Even in the UK, some of the higher learning institutions are considering extending deadlines for or waiving off the requirement for standardized tests. For instance, the London School of Economics has allowed its prospective graduate students to submit their applications without their GRE/GMAT scores. More information on this can be obtained on: http://www.lse.ac.uk/study-at-lse/Graduate/Prospective-students/Entry-requirements/GRE-and-GMAT
As the outbreak escalates in major US states like Washington DC, California, Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey, many prominent universities have devised elaborate academic continuity plans to ensure that ongoing courses for their currently enrolled students are on track. The following link elaborates on the efforts undertaken by institutions and professors to leverage technology in helping students complete their programs: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1VT9oiNYPyiEsGHBoDKlwLlWAsWP58sGV7A3oIuEUG3k/htmlview?usp=sharing&sle=true#
At the heart of using these innovative, remote teaching-learning technologies is the intention of helping students maintain their F1 status. A delay in the program completion for their current batch of students might necessitate institutions to apply for F1 extensions for a large number of their students. Universities may also need to either hire more professors or reduce the number of seats for the next intake. Nevertheless, both these options could potentially burden them financially. Therefore, the online modalities of teaching, such as MOOCs and webinars, which were earlier not considered as part of main-stream teaching methods, are now being touted as the need of the hour. Professors are now familiarizing themselves with technologies such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom for webinars. Additionally, even the US government has stepped up in its efforts to provide a sense of relief to international students. The Student & Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has temporarily suspended the limitations on online class hours for all current international students within the USA. More on this can be read at: https://www.ice.gov/doclib/sevis/pdf/bcm2003-01.pdf
Such extraordinary measures being undertaken by educational institutions and the government highlight the fact that universities are now ready to explore previously unchartered territories to maintain their financial viability. This paradigm shift is bringing in numerous advantages for the international student community. As soon as the COVID situation subsides, universities would resume operations and expedite I-20 and other procedures with vigour. In the worst-case scenario, should travel restrictions prevent students from entering the USA for the Fall intake, there would be a high chance that the SEVP would extend its support. Students might be able to complete a considerable portion of their studies in a subsidized online mode in their home countries and still receive the benefits of the F1 visa and the OPT period once they enter the USA. In their procedural adaptations update, the SEVP has acknowledged the ‘fluid and the rapidly changing’ nature of the Covid-19 crisis, which seems like a ray of hope for international students.
Therefore, students must exercise patience for now and continue preparing for their visas. While, as of March 14, 2020, the embassy has canceled visa appointments in response to the declaration of national emergency in the USA, the embassy may be required to work over-time to compensate for the lost time as soon as the situation is brought under control. Hence, in the given situation, the students should spend time in educating themselves about visa processes to minimise last minute hassles. In the current circumstances, we intend to serve our students to the best of our abilities and our team is all geared up towards resolving any visa queries that the students may have.