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Students from India and Pakistan still ‘positive’ about UK study

Survey shows more certainty on study plans than among Chinese applicants

Almost half of students in India and Pakistan who have already applied to study in the UK say they are “not at all likely” to cancel their plans, but concerns around health and safety remain.

A British Council survey of 1,493 students in India and Pakistan revealed that a significant share of respondents who had already applied had no plans to cancel their studies in UK universities in the next academic year. A total of 43 per cent of respondents in India and 39 per cent of respondents in Pakistan said they were “not at all likely” to change their plans, while only 14 and 13 per cent respectively said a change was “neither likely nor unlikely”.

It comes after a similar British Council survey of students in China revealed that 40 per cent were on the fence about whether to cancel their studies in the UK from September, while just 12 per cent reported that they were still most likely to stick with their study plans.

UK universities have seen numbers of international students from China rocket over the past few years, while the proportion of students from India and Pakistan has also recovered after years of decline between 2010 and 2018. As the coronavirus forces more students to stay at home, some experts have warned of losses for UK universities of more than £1.5 billion as a result of a dip in international recruitment.

Only 39 per cent of those surveyed by the British Council in India and 28 per cent in Pakistan had already applied to UK universities, compared with 72 per cent of respondents in China. But the British Council said the lower numbers of applicants reflected a trend in India and Pakistan for students to apply later in the year.

However, students in India and Pakistan echoed fears among Chinese students about health and wellbeing. Among students from China, 79 per cent said they were “very concerned” while 67 and 46 per cent of respondents in India and Pakistan agreed, respectively.

Asked about personal safety, 87 per cent of respondents in China said they were very concerned, compared with 63 per cent of students in India and 49 per cent in Pakistan. A total of 40 per cent of students in China said they were very worried about money, lower than the 57 per cent in India and 61 per cent in Pakistan.

Matt Durnin, global head of insights and consultancy for British Council International Education Services, said it was “encouraging to see positive sentiments” among the major south Asian markets of India and Pakistan, especially after students in China had shown reserve in committing to their study plans.

But Durnin warned that respondents in India and Pakistan had “shared many of the same concerns as their Chinese counterparts” on health, safety and affordability. “The financial concerns in particular could still lead to a surge in the number of students deferring offers until next year,” he added.

Commenting on the survey, Simon Marginson, director of the Centre for Global Higher Education, told Research Professional News that it was too early in the pandemic for a survey to reveal “even a broad guide to what is likely to happen to demand and to the final numbers in 2020-21 and 2021-22”.

Marginson explained that as disruption to student mobility was tied to the coronavirus, it was likely that on-site international education would “be massively disrupted until some time in the second half of 2021 or early 2022”. Universities “should plan at the pessimistic end of the scenario”.

Instead of focusing on how many students will arrive on site in September, universities should plan around how many students will enrol online at the start of the next academic year with the understanding that they will travel to campus as soon as possible, he said.