Plight of prospective international students due to COVID-19 pandemic



With an acceptance offer from a renowned American research university, Chandra Limbu was by now supposed to be in the States pursuing her PhD in Biomedical Engineering. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis has halted her plans albeit temporarily as uncertainty surrounds her study abroad dream.

Like her, Nepali students who have got their offers from American universities, are now deferring since the US is now the most affected country in COVID-19 pandemic.

Enrolled for the summer intake 2020, Limbu was all set with her I-20 form and was scheduled for a Visa interview on March 20 when the US Embassy cancelled appointments for routine Diversity Visa and nonimmigrant visa from March 17. So, she deferred her summer session to fall but given the growing cases in Nepal and stringent lockdown protocol, it’s still ea-rly to know if she can obtain Student Visa to begin her September classes.

“As an offer holder, Chandra has little to worry about,” says Bikalpa Neupane, founder of Omviser. “She should probably just defer her admission to Spring. Deferring admission means you can postpone your start date for school without having to apply again and a lot of Universities are offering that option to international students.”

A current PhD Candidate at Penn State University, Neupane has been offering webinars educating prospective students on the on-going education system in the US.

For universities in the US, there are a few measures adopted for overseas students, as per him. First, no deferring plan, which means all students need to register this year. Second, multiple deferring options, third no official policies with a wait-and-see attitude, and lastly online classes, he stresses.

While online classes might come off as a source of reassurance, it has its flaws. In the context of Nepal, the most prominent one is the struggle with the time zone changes amid virtual learning. For students like Limbu whose focus is on research, online classes can only do so much.

Educational consultancies in Nepal that help students with their applications do anticipate a degree of decline in client volume. But Bindra Jakibanjar, Counsellor at Overseas Education Consultancy, doesn’t believe the crisis will greatly hinder the prospect of studying abroad. Saying the market is resilient, she believes the negative influence will not last long and predicts next year’s study abroad market to be booming since those who choose to take a gap a year now will return to pursue further studies. “A good chunk of the revenue for foreign universities comes from international students, which is why they can’t afford to overlook them. After all this ends, many institutions will try to lure in international students by either easing application process or introducing attractive funding choices,” adds Jakibanjar.

As per a data released by the Institute of International Education and US Department of State Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, Nepal ranks 12th in both undergraduate and graduate students in the US, totaling 13,229. Likewise education consultancies in Nepal are regularly hosting virtual fairs via social media handle.

Sujata Sherpa Pradhan, General Manager of PAC ASIA Nepal, is impressed with how Canada is going about the situation. “It’s time to learn from Canada on how to protect international education industry and international students community from the CRISIS,” she opines referring to the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s move to temporarily ease some of the rules for international students seeking post-graduate work permits.

A version of this article appears in e-paper on May 21, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.

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