The Covid-19 catastrophe has jeopardised the plans of thousands of Indian students

Up in the air.
Up in the air.
Image: Reuters/Brendan McDermid
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Aman Trivedi was all set to pursue a master’s degree in international affairs from the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin come August. When the Delhi University graduate started applying to schools abroad in September 2020, he never could’ve imagined that India’s Covid-19 crisis would spiral the way that it did.

“I absolutely did not foresee the second wave of the pandemic mainly because there was a sharp decline in the number of cases towards the later months of 2020,” the 20-year-old told Quartz. “I did not make any contingency plan and the second wave of the pandemic completely changed my plans.” Trivedi has now deferred his admission by a year, and he is certainly not alone.

The second wave of Covid-19 has put thousands of Indian students who were planning to study abroad in limbo.

As the country continues to clock over 280,000 daily new cases of coronavirus, Indian borders are sealed barring some exceptions. Among students, those who want to return to college and have valid visas are allowed to travel to most countries, including the US and the UK—the two most popular destinations for Indian students—but first-timers are struggling to get visas as most embassies are either shut or moving extremely slowly with limited staff.

Additionally, the visa process has “become stricter in terms of screening and deciding the genuineness of the student,” according to Abhishek Nakhate, founder and CEO of UK-based educational consultancy Zoom Abroad.

Students are worried because the pandemic could derail their futures, as the second wave is not likely to end before July and a third one is looking inevitable.

Visa crisis to vaccine crisis

Across North America and Europe, most universities are asking for students to be fully vaccinated before attending classes. While some institutions say they will provide help on campus, the stress is still mounting. Especially among Indian students, who are concerned given the vaccine crunch in the country.

In March, several students protested against Australia’s hardline approach to keeping temporary migrants out for a year—even when India’s reported Covid-19 cases were low. Education minister Alan Trudge still said the fate of the Indian students depends on the vaccine regime being carried out in their home country and their ability to provide evidence that they have been vaccinated upon entry into Australia.

Several current students have since flooded Twitter with calls for help, as well as warning others against studying in Australia.

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Meanwhile, several US universities have said they expect all incoming students attending physical classes to show proof of vaccination for sessions starting in August-September. Those who cannot meet this requirement can take online classes.

While they struggle to get any Covid-19 vaccine at all, some face an even tougher dilemma.

“I need to fly to Canada by September, as my course will begin on Oct. 1, 2021. As per the government of Canada website, Covishield (the Indian brand for the AstraZeneca vaccine) is approved,” Naumaan Siddique, a student planning to pursue a master’s degree in Canada, told the Free Press Journal. “There is no information about the approval of Covaxin, so I do not want to opt for it.”

Universities to the rescue

Elsewhere in the UK, the financial burden has increased for Indian students. When the UK put India on the red list, it exempted students—as long as they footed the £1,750 (Rs1.8 lakh) hotel quarantine bill.

Of course, certain outfits are pushing back.

Universities UK International is in discussions with the UK government to see if Indian students can quarantine in university accommodation instead of a pricey hotel. The National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK (NISAU-UK) has also written to the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, calling for authorities to waive or reduce quarantine costs for international students. The country is also vaccinating international students free of cost.

The University of Edinburgh announced it would “support hotel quarantine costs” up to a maximum of £1,750 for some Indian students.

Besides, it’s only May, and most sessions begin after August. “As of now, students are holding out hope,” Sumeet Jain, co-founder of study abroad education consultancy Yocket, told Quartz. “Most students are just waiting for the visa process. Many are hopeful that consulates will open up soon.”

In the meantime, all they can do is try to find a silver lining. After his initial sadness and panic, Trivedi did. “My undergraduate degree is of three years which is why I could not apply to some schools in Canada because they ask for a four-year undergraduate degree,” he said. “Now that I will be working for a year now before going for my master’s, I will be eligible to apply to the schools I missed out on in Canada next year.”