LONDON Aug 4: A leading representative group for Indian students in the UK has issued a warning against dubious educational agents operating unregulated in India, as it hosted its first free virtual session to help university applicants from India address concerns ahead of the new academic year in September.
The National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK (NISAU-UK) said its "#AskNISAU" session over the weekend attracted a virtual audience of over 2,000 prospective students, with queries ranging from job prospects to the coronavirus lockdown impact on UK universities.
“Students have increasingly been complaining about receiving misleading/biased information from educational agents, a sector that remains unregulated in India. Notably, NISAU had previously called on the Indian government to appropriately regulate this sector,” the group said in a statement.
“To address students' ambiguities and apprehensions with credible information in an unbiased manner, NISAU organised the UK's first-ever session where current students, recent graduates and domain experts responded to students'' queries live in a virtual #AskNISAU session broadcast live on Facebook and Instagram,” it said.
The session for Indian students hoping to begin their courses from September or in the future covered an overview of the UK's new points-based visa system applicable from January 2021, including the new post-study or Graduate Route visa, which allows overseas students the chance to stay on and find a job in the UK for a period of two to three years at the end of their degree course.
“The Indian diaspora is a true asset, which must be cherished, nurtured and effectively deployed to shape India's future but it all starts with empowering our youth with the right information that can enable sound decision-making in the first important step of their careers,” said Sanam Arora, chairperson of NISAU UK, which will next conduct a pre-departure briefing at the end of August for students from India who have chosen to commence their studies in the UK from September 2020.
The group had recently conducted a survey of Indian students to assess the impact of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown on the higher education sector and found that nearly half of Indian students with an admission offer to a UK university from September 2020 were unsure whether to accept.
However, 45 per cent had accepted their offers and intended to carry on with their education in the UK as planned and only 5 per cent chose to defer their offers to the next academic year.
The findings coincide with wider findings of the UK's Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), which found that amid an overall spike in university applications for the year, most applicants from India were planning to start a course from the autumn semester, which begins next month.
“We are still receiving a lot of queries from students who will be arriving in the UK for the coming academic year. They also want to understand if courses are to be conducted online, would they be entitled to a reduction in fees,” said Amit Tiwari, President of the Indian National Students Association (INSA) UK, which has been active during the lockdown to help Indian students in Britain with travel updates and health concerns.
“We request the authorities in the UK to provide complete clarity on key questions ahead of the academic year. We are in touch with various universities, but they all have differing approaches and are dependent on the government for some of the answers,” he said.
Meanwhile, university representatives in Britain have been encouraging international students to connect with their individual universities as the concept of a blended teaching model – both online and face-to-face – is likely to be the format followed by most amid localised coronavirus lockdowns expected in the coming months.
The UK Home Office has also offered some crucial concessions for overseas students, including an off-shore eligibility criterion for post-study work visas for the new academic year as long students arrive in the UK by April 2021.
“With the introduction of the UK's Graduate Route, a post-study work opportunity, we saw a significant spike in student interest in the UK from students around the world, including significant interest from India,” said Stephanie Harris, Head of International Engagement at Universities UK International (UUKi).
“We therefore welcomed the UK''s recent announcement that PhD students will be eligible to apply to stay in the UK to work or look for work for three years after graduation, and we hope this will be a strong signal to Indian students that the UK welcomes them and students from around the world,” she said.
According to official UK statistics, Indian student numbers have been on an upward swing in recent years.
Earlier this year, the UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that over 37,500 Indian students received a Tier 4 (Study) visa in 2019, which marks a 93 per cent increase from the previous year and the largest number of visas issued in the Tier 4 category to Indians over the last eight years. - PTI