Absence of international students like a tsunami hitting university sector

What you might not know is, a university functions as a small city, where some of them are highly dependent on the revenue from the international student populations.

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Published by Malay Mail, image from Malay Mail.

As international students are either blocked from enrolling or refused to enlist, universities are now feeling the heat and find themselves in a dilemma too since their revenue now is severely compromised due to Covid-19.

In the United Kingdom, some universities are already expecting to lose more than £100 million (RM533.9 million) as international students cancelled their studies, with warnings that the impact of coronavirus will be “like a tsunami hitting the sector.”

According to Peter Hurley, a policy fellow in Mitchell Institute, “international university students are a pipeline, so if you miss a six-month intake, it is revenue that is not going to be in the system for two to three years.”

Malaysia is also no exception, as a research done by Professor Geoffrey Williams, former deputy vice-chancellor at University Tun Razak showed that many private colleges and universities in Malaysia are operating in the red even before the movement control order takes place.

Thus, the current crisis would further strain their cash flow, due to the government control over the inflow of the international students to Malaysia.

The world continues to reel under the coronavirus as it has shattered the dreams of thousands of excellent students to pursue their passion through studying abroad.

Due to the lockdown restriction of various countries in response to Covid-19, physical classes, visa application process and study abroad programs have been suspended and even cancelled.

For some, this situation is disheartening, as studying abroad has always been their dream. Not only it is a rewarding and life-changing experience, but also opens a wide field of golden opportunities.

Usually, January to March is the month selected students would receive admission letters from the universities abroad for the September intake so that they have ample time to prepare all the necessary preparations and paperwork for visa processes.

But now, the decision to study abroad comes with its own set of challenges, along with many uncertainties and questions in mind, mostly on the financial and health concern.

Not only students but parents are also unsure of what the future holds for their kids and worry if sending their kids abroad is a risky decision, as no one knows when things will fall into places again.

Moreover, as universities are starting to embrace online learning, a recent survey shows 55 per cent of students planning to study abroad would not be interested in an international education offered online, as it kills the purpose of studying abroad.

This is because they are more interested in the experiential aspects of studying abroad, which are the chance to see and explore the world, travel to new places, experience a brand-new country with incredible new outlooks, culture, history and society.

A counsellor from consultancy firm pointed out “there are many students who have already got admission but are now reconsidering because the classes have moved online and there is no clarity by when the situation will improve. So, for students who want to live abroad, paying a hefty fee just to attend classes online does not seem to be a worthwhile option.”

This makes them want to reconsider their options and to look for a plan B by starting to apply for university in their own country.

While for some students, rather than cancelling their plan to study abroad, they have decided to postpone their international studies for 2021. Thus, applying for an internship or getting a temporary job in the meantime would be the best thing to do.

However, this seems difficult and challenging, as the world is currently facing an economic downturn — where hiring is not a lucrative option now.

In the same token, interviews and announcements for several scholarships are also currently put on hold due to no clarity by when the crisis will end.

As a result, this situation has affected the long-term plans for many students, who are highly dependent on funding help to study abroad.

However, the Chevening Scholarship, which is a prestigious international awards programme run by the UK government, is working to ensure plans are not affected.

For the applications that are still in progress, the interview session will be conducted via online to replace the face-to-face interview, in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“We will make every effort to ensure your interview can still take place,” as said by the Chevening Secretariat.

Indeed, for those who are already looking forward to studying abroad, this whole tragedy is bizarre and unspeakable — what was good news a month ago seems to be bad news now, full with vagueness.

What you might not know is, a university functions as a small city, a universal city, so to speak, and sustains a micro-economy of its own, where some of them are highly dependent on the revenue from the international student populations.

From accommodation providers to catering services, bookstores and cafes, any drop in international intakes will hurt not just the universities but also surrounding businesses.

Indeed, at a time like this, a cash injection from the government as well as shareholders would be a good help for the universities to sustain their cash flows so that they can remain afloat.

And for those students who are badly affected due to the crisis, do not give up just yet. Keep your dream to study abroad alive, as all obstacles will eventually come to an end.

In the meantime, fill your time by proactively seeking out new opportunities such as online free classes to sharpen your skills and upgrade your knowledge so that you can remain relevant and competitive in the market.

Nurafifah Mohammad Suhaimi is Research Assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

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