LONDON: British universities could lose anywhere between £1.4 billion (Rs 13,000 crore) and £4.3 billion (Rs 40,000 crore) in income from enrolment of Indian students because of the pandemic, potentially causing 13 of them to go bust if there is no bailout, a report published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies warns.
Around half of the usual quota of international students aren’t expected to enroll for courses in UK universities this September, states the report.
“I would not be surprised if there was a 50 per cent drop in Indian students this September,” Amit Tiwari, president of the Indian National Students Association UK, said. “They pay three times what domestic students pay, and so this will have a devastating impact on British universities.”
According to the report titled “Will universities need a bailout to survive the Covid-19 crisis?”, the overall loss of income because of a drop in international students is estimated to be between £3 billion (Rs 27,000 crore) and £19 billion (Rs 1,77,000 crore).
Last year, 37,540 Indian students joined British universities. But according to a survey by the National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK, 64% of those who have applied for a place this year, including many who have offers, do not have adequate information to reach a decision yet on whether to enrol. They are concerned about whether courses will be online – all UK universities went online at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak in March – as well as about travel and quarantine restrictions, local lockdowns and a potential second wave of infections.
“They don’t want to pay big amounts of money to study in Britain if the course is part or fully online,” alumni union chairperson Sanam Arora said. “That is why many have not paid their deposit.”
She said the main attraction of higher education in the UK was access to research infrastructure, classroom experience and international exposure. Eighty per cent of Indians surveyed said they wouldn’t enroll if teaching moved wholly online. Around 55 per cent would accept their places if the courses were initially online and then offline, and the fees were discounted.
Cambridge University has announced all lectures will be delivered online for the next academic year while London School of Economics, where 70% of the students are international, has said all its lectures and large-group teaching will be delivered online in the autumn term. Small-group seminars will “run on campus, where possible, in socially distanced environments”, LSE said.
At Cambridge, “tutorials, seminars, practicals, and supervisions will be face to face”.
Students want assurances they will get repatriated if international borders are closed and that they will not be left penniless and starving if there is a local lockdown or a second wave of infections, Arora said.
These apprehensions stem from reports about Indian students being left in dire straits in Britain during the first wave of the pandemic. Around 13,000 Indians have been repatriated from the UK during the Vande Bharat Mission so far, 7,000 to 8,000 of whom are Indian students.
There are questions over whether they will all return in the autumn.
“Most who are mid-course want to come back, but are not sure when they can travel. If their families back in India are in significant distress, they may not be able to afford it,” Arora said.
Many Indian PhD students are “definitely questioning” whether to come to the UK, Tiwari said. They and post-doctoral researchers are struggling to find projects, professors and funding. “For any student, university is not purely about gaining knowledge. It’s also about the whole exposure and experience. They are young. They don’t want to be online. If the courses go online, it serves no purpose being stuck in a room in the UK and studying online,” Tiwari said. “If the fees are not discounted and it is online, some are thinking of dropping out and going to another country.”