Abhinav Mital is the Founder of The WorldGrad – which enables access to students for a global education from the comfort of their homes. Abhinav comes with more than 15 years of experience in traditional and online education domain. He has been a founding member of Parthenon-EY’s international education practice. He serves on the operations advisory board of The Education Fund, Australia. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Technology from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT Delhi) and an MBA from the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.
International student mobility to and from India has come a long way, surviving major global situations threatening its essence. Global recession, 9/11, Brexit, and now COVID -19, all have failed to deter students from studying abroad. Even in the face of Corona, towards the first quarter of 2021, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), recorded the number of students moving abroad for studies at 71,769. This data does not account for multitudes of students across India, even from tier 2, tier 3 cities, who have never imagined studying abroad, enrolled in their respective overseas programs. This is made possible by marrying traditional education with new technology. These students will join their international counterparts when the border, travel/visa restrictions are lifted. The same can be said about the international students coming to India. According to the Ministry of Education, till 2019, 164 countries sent their students to India, and that number was rising towards the beginning of 2020. If the acceptance of online education is the same across the globe, the predictive numbers that will come out towards 2022 of international student mobility across the globe will be way beyond our imagination.
Technology has undoubtedly changed the landscape of education, much before 2020; however, it took us a pandemic to realize its full potential. Millions of students across various levels of educational institutions are now using an online medium of learning. As per many industry surveys conducted in 2020 and now in 2021 by platforms like Shikhsa, UNESCO, and several study abroad platforms, the interest of students to study abroad has not faded, it may have been delayed but certainly not something that has been shelved for good. So, why the interest? India stands only next to China in population. With competitive education at the school level, more students are coming out with top grades, where do they go from here? The cut-offs in Indian universities are sometimes unrealistic, setting the bar too high for even the deserving candidates who then start looking for better avenues abroad. Plus, the benefits offered by a foreign culture, and country, are too exciting for a young mind to solidify this decision.
Data from MEA suggests nearly 85% of students from India choose the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand to study abroad. However, the same data also suggest that Germany, China, Ukraine, Russia, and Georgia are also emerging as destinations for students to study abroad. A further drill down will also show preference of countries like Romania, Ukraine, and the Netherlands. The pattern may look random but is well thought over with more awareness in place. For example, students choose a country not only for its glamour anymore but the value it can bring them. Is it economically viable? Does it provide a post-study, post-work extension in Visa? Is the quality better without compromising on the living conditions? Probably a particular course is better than a country while the name of the University is bigger for another. Pandemic has made this data more accessible to students at the school level. Students have more time to research and upskill. Going by the success of online coaching, upskilling, and hobby platforms in India, we can comfortably say, students have more access to data.
Considering the fact that almost all surveys suggested that around 80-90% of students across India are still keen on pursuing education abroad, what happened to the class of 2021? A large number of universities across the globe and in India shifted their model online; however, for higher educational institutes this was not easy to do without the help of Edtech enablers. This is where a platform like The WorldGrad fits in. Technology played an important role in supporting not only tangible but intangible aspects of the study abroad model. EdTech not only solved the immediate dilemma of Universities and Colleges to onboard international students remotely; but also answered a myriad of long-standing issues- like Financing, admission process simplification, and a need for personalized support for students to assess and improve progress. In a survey conducted by us (The WorldGrad) around the financial preparedness of the students aspiring to study abroad, more than 65% were found to be not prepared, but still interested. Each year ~350-400K students from India aspire to go overseas and take standardized exams to prove their candidature, and only less than 30% enroll. One of the biggest issues is financial inadequacy. Studying abroad can cost families anywhere from INR 50L to 1.5Cr. However, study abroad platforms have partnered with universities to create hybrid programs that bring down the cost to as low as 35L without compromising the quality and experience of overseas education. These platforms have converted a part of a year or a full year of the university online which students can do from home. This component is more economical in fee and saves living expenses.
Another headache for students and families is the complicated overseas admissions processes and the use of consultants and agents. EdTech players provide a single-window application system interaction for aspiring students. The admissions are conducted through a transparent process of academic and English scores. The fact that students complete a part of their year 1 online is considered sufficient for the partner institutions to admit the student on their campus. Additionally, students have access to alter/change their university, location, program, and degree of choice. These flexibilities were never possible in the traditional study abroad application process. Technology has unified this into a single standing solution, scalable and relevant in the times to come. If we were to take a guess as an average of the students who decided to enroll online for studying abroad via various online education platforms- also supported by the fact that since a year or semester is online- it becomes 1/5th of the actual cost, the numbers would easily be more than what it was in 2019-20. With a calculated guess, the impact of online education on international student mobility remains positive, and we predict it will fall back to 2018-19 numbers.