American Council on Education (ACE) interviews Acumen on Covid’s effect on South Asian students looking to study abroad

Acumen’s Senior Manager of Education, North America, Ishrat Jahan, as well as Ritika Singh of Acumen, were invited to a webinar hosted by Maria Claudia Soler, Senior Research Analyst at the American Council of Education (ACE). As part of a series highlighting ACE’s 2021 Mapping Internationalization survey of US universities, the webinar examines the impact that COVID-19 has had on South Asian students’ ability to pursue higher education in the United States.

This article will cover what was discussed at the webinar, including insights on the COVID-19 impact on student mobility from India and South Asia, what U.S. admissions may expect to see in the upcoming recruitment cycles and changes in the way students and families make decisions about higher studies and study abroad. We will also touch upon India’s National Education Policy, partnership opportunities and recommendations offered to higher education institutions in the U.S. as the education landscape evolves in the region.

Understanding the hurdles faced by students in South Asia

At the onset of the pandemic, students grappled with navigating lockdowns, travel restrictions, delays in scheduling appointments for visas and test centers, and later on by vaccination mandates, border closures, and travel restrictions. US institutions reacted swiftly to address a key challenge by instituting “test optional” status, unburdening students and families from having to find a safe and secure way to take the required college admissions tests such as the SATs. When US embassies finally opened in mid 2021, after months of lockdown, student visa interviews were prioritized and a higher than usual number of appointment times were made available. After a year of delays, students have finally been able to secure visas and US campuses are seeing increasing acceptances from India and the region.

The lockdowns also impacted the students yet to graduate from high school, colleges, and universities. Continuous closures of schools, colleges, and universities under strict lockdown orders meant academic assessments and examinations grew to be a challenge. The panelists describe the latest innovation in this space – India’s DigiLocker, an online portal housing Indian student’s academic transcripts. US admissions will need to understand and adapt to the changes resulting from COVID specific to international student transcripts.

Future opportunities for students in India and South Asia

Ishrat and Ritika discuss India’s National Education Policy (NEP) and the priorities in internationalizing Indian institutions. The NEP opened the doors for international institutions to enter India, open campuses and forge meaningful partnerships with Indian institutions. At the time of this interview, eight international universities had expressed interest in setting up campuses in India, five of which are US universities. In addition, COVID conditions have added additional motivation for Indian universities to develop international partnerships. Paving the way for Transnational Education (TNE), Acumen is ready and prepared to support international institutions to build partnerships in the region.

Final thoughts…

The future of student decision making and implications for US institutions remains to be seen but there are certain new trends here to stay, at least for the upcoming recruitment cycles. Students in the region have a growing range of choices of destinations for study abroad. While the US remains at the top of the list, students are using new sets of criteria to make decisions – for example, UK institutions offering to cover the cost of quarantine saw an immediate response resulting in increased enrollments.

The Key will be ensuring admissions offices in the US continue to address students with empathy, flexibility, and attentiveness to the changing needs. In order for US higher education to remain competitive in the region, admissions will need to communicate with transparency, look beyond the set admissions criteria, and respond to student questions timely – in real time, whenever possible – to remain top of students minds. US universities will also need to be agile and plan for a new future where students may want to stay at home a little longer, save money, before pursuing study abroad. Begin now to develop partnerships with institutions in the region to ensure future pipelines.

Watch the full discussion here.

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