Indian students heading overseas ‘less concerned’ by Covid

Research finds that young Indians particularly ‘resilient’ in their pursuit of education

August 14, 2020
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The Covid-19 crisis, which has decimated student flows all over the world, “does not seem to have a significantly adverse impact” on the growing number of Indian students heading to Germany, according to a report.

“Strikingly, despite the fact that Covid-19 is first and foremost a health crisis, health-related fears about studying in Germany during a pandemic were largely absent” among Indian students, says the paper by Sazana Jayadeva, a research fellow at the UCL Institute of Education and associate researcher at the GIGA Institute for Asian Studies in Hamburg.

Dr Jayadeva, who based her findings on interviews and social media monitoring, found young Indians to be particularly “resilient” in their pursuit of education in Germany. She told Times Higher Education that these findings might have relevance in other destination nations, and that she might discuss her research with Universities UK International.

The Indian response is in stark contrast to that of Chinese students, who have shown great concern about what is perceived as a lack of disease control in the West and who have also experienced the impact of xenophobic attacks and geopolitical tensions spurred by the pandemic.

Other surveys have shown that Indian and Pakistani students do have “strong concerns about health, well-being and personal safety”, albeit to a lesser degree than Chinese students. According to a British Council comparison, 57 per cent of Indians were unlikely to cancel or delay overseas study plans, compared with 38 per cent of Chinese.

This disparity might reflect the countries’ vastly different success rates in containing the epidemic. India has 2.4 million infections and has closed campuses, while China has kept infection numbers below 85,000 and has reopened campuses. Germany, which has had about 200,000 cases, might seem relatively safe compared with India.

There are more than 20,000 Indian students at German universities, according to Daad, the German Academic Exchange Service, marking a fivefold increase from a decade ago. The driving force for this emigration seems to be economic.

“The popularity of Germany as a postgraduate study destination among Indians is closely related to the job market,” Dr Jayadeva wrote. A glut of engineering graduates in India has meant that “a large percentage” of them cannot find jobs in their area of specialisation, particularly computer science.

Dr Jayadeva has been interviewing Indian master’s students at German universities since 2017. For this most recent paper, she followed up with 15 of these students, and also analysed Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp accounts popular with overseas Indian students.

The interviewees who were already in Germany said they felt “stuck, unhappy, and frustrated by the job market for engineers in India” before moving.

Germany has encouraged migration by offering more master’s classes in English and giving foreign graduates 18 months for job-hunting. It also has state-subsidised tuition, even for international students, making it more affordable than the US and the UK, which were seen as financially riskier options. “Indians considering study in [the US and the UK] were much more likely to be uncertain about proceeding with their plans,” the report said.

Indians viewed Germany’s job market as “excellent”. In fact, many students felt that overseas work experience would do more than the degree itself to boost their career prospects.

The shift to online study and work was also a concern among Indian students, although not enough to alter their plans significantly. Those who arrived in Germany in March, just before the lockdown, felt a “loss of the university experience”. Even those lucky enough to score German jobs were wary of online experiences. One interviewee, who was told to work mostly from home, felt he was “losing the chance to fully experience working in a German company” and to network.

joyce.lau@timeshighereducation.com

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