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Indian students adjust to blended learning at UK universities

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The Economic Times
16th October, 2020 09:18 IST

LONDON: A significant cohort of students from India have managed to travel to the UK despite COVID-19 restrictions to take up courses across universities and are adjusting to the blended learning approach of a mix of online and in-person teaching, according to an analysis of the first few weeks of the new academic term.

Universities UK, which represents 139 universities across Britain, said the latest data and insights from universities indicate that a higher number of international students have been placed at UK universities than was initially expected.

As the 2020-21 autumn term got underway this month, they collated reports of universities putting in place a range of dedicated support measures for students flying in from overseas, including India.

“My journey to the UK was extremely smooth. I had no trouble at all getting through my CAS [college admissions service], visa application process and accommodation booking,” said Rohan, an Indian student who returned to the campus recently to continue his course at Birmingham City University.

“I felt safe throughout my journey to the UK, with social distancing guidelines being followed, and the immigration process was quick and straightforward upon arrival in London,” he said.

The National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK (NISAU-UK) said it is in the process of conducting a wide-ranging review into the experiences of Indian students and found that close to 40 per cent of students are satisfied with the blended learning approach.

A near equal number of students, however, seem unsatisfied and hope that the teaching process will be improved as further adjustments are made.

“Few to none of the respondents have faced trouble during self-isolation as those that had decided to enter the UK, had been well equipped with knowledge and guidance,” said Vignesh Karthik, NISAU-UK's head of thought leadership.

“All respondents almost unanimously agree that a reduction in fees will allow for a better experience on the whole,” he said, in reference to a demand that has found echoes widely across the student community in the UK amid the coronavirus lockdown.

There have also been concerns for student well-being as several campuses reported coronavirus outbreaks, resulting in Universities UK's new checklist of measures for universities to ensure access to basics during enforced quarantines.

Among some of the specific measures in place, the University of Salford has set up an international “buddy project” to support international students through self-isolation and Cardiff University and the University of Bristol said it is offering packs for students in self-isolation, which includes bedding and food.

“Universities have robust plans in place that prioritise the health and safety of their students, staff and wider community, while continuing to deliver a high-quality teaching experience. Our first message to any student is to talk to their university to understand any flexible arrangements and support in place for students depending on their circumstances,” said Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International.

The British Council in India said it has been interacting with thousands of Indian students planning to study in the UK over the last six months, to understand concerns on health and safety, travel and modes of study.

“Many universities are geared to deliver some in person teaching this autumn term, and will blend face to face learning with online technology and tools to support students' education. This will be regularly reviewed in line with current and local guidance to ensure that teaching is delivered effectively in a safe environment,” said Barbara Wickham, Director India, British Council.

“Along with this, the UK government has introduced the new Student Route and added new provisions in the Graduate Route, offering greater flexibility in post-study work benefits and ease of immigration for students,” she said.

The Graduate Route allows international students to remain in the UK to work after graduation and under modified rules as a result of international travel being hit by the pandemic, overseas students will qualify for it provided they are in the UK by April 2021.

“UK universities are offering measures such as staggered and later start dates, online starts and a whole package of support for international students to accommodate individual circumstances. We understand that this is a difficult time to make decisions about studying in another country, but we are here to support students to pursue their plans,” said Bobby Mehta, Director of University of Portsmouth Global and Chair of the British Universities International Liaison Association.

According to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, India is largely responsible for driving up Britain's overseas student arrivals, who account for great financial gains for the UK universities with fees nearly three times that paid by domestic students.

Indian nationals accounted for 17 per cent of the total 299,023 sponsored study visas granted by the UK Home Office in the year ending March 2020, with the number more than doubling from 2019 to hit a total of 49,844 grants.

It remains to be seen how the pandemic would impact these numbers, but universities hope their blended approach to teaching alongside the new post-study work offer would help safeguard the robust demand for the UK's higher education sector among Indian students.

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