Over the past two months or so, there have been a lot of challenges and changes in the world. The coronavirus pandemic has brought the world to a standstill. It has changed our daily lives and brought uncertainty to every walk of life.
As on 15th June 2020, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has infected more than 82 lakh people across 215 countries and has caused more than 4.4 lakh deaths, by far the largest only after the two world wars. To tackle this epidemic, more than 22 countries including India have shut down their countries completely and about 90 odd countries have imposed partial lock-downs and/or stiff restrictions on their citizens to contain this virus.
The world of international education also is going through tough times because of this coronavirus pandemic. Most universities across the globe have closed down their campuses and have asked their students to vacate their dormitories and go back home. Almost all of them have shifted to an online mode of pedagogy and are now actively conducting their classes and assessments remotely for their current students.
May / Summer 2020 Intake
Many Universities have decided to cancel their May 2020 (Summer) intake.
- Students, who have a confirmed offer and paid their fees / have valid visas, are automatically being issued a new offer for September / Fall 2020 or January / Spring 2021 intake (based on vacancy).
- Refunds are also being processed to students who do not want to pursue the course/program in the later intakes (for whatever reason).
- Students, who have an offer but did not confirm, are being given an option to defer to the next available season or withdraw their application.
A few universities, who were quick to adapt, are moving their May / Summer 2020 classes online thus enabling students to start their courses as planned. When they have the opportunity to travel to that country (after all the travel restrictions are lifted), students will complete the remainder of their course full-time and on campus. This way there will be no delay in graduating or starting their career.
Semester 2 / September / Fall 2020 Intake
For the Semester 2 / September / Fall 2020 intake, almost all universities are still processing admission applications as normal. All of them expect that things should be settled by July/August 2020 and so everything should be back to normal. This we think is the best-case scenario.
In the case that things have not settled down by August 2020, most of these universities shall kick start their programs/courses with online classes and then move to on-campus mode as soon as things are back to normal. This might be the most probable scenario because even if the coronavirus pandemic subsides, there could still be travel restrictions, country-specific lock-downs, visa delays, etc.
Anyways, as of now, universities are advising all aspiring students to go ahead with their applications, offers, fulfilling the conditions of offers, payment of initial deposits and other related processes for Fall / September 2020 intake as if things are normal. And, since most of the university admissions teams are working from their homes, we can expect delays in processing time and other related aspects.
Few exceptions/facilities being provided to help students during these difficult times
- The US Student and Exchange Visitor Programme (SEVP) has lifted the restriction on mailing physical Form I-20s and is allowing schools to email I-20s directly to the students temporarily. The emailed Form I-20 will now be considered official for the purpose of applying for an F-1 visa.
- Due to the closure of many English language testing centers and the inability of students to take either IELTS or TOEFL tests, many universities are now accepting the Duolingo English Test (DET) as a temporary measure to satisfy the English entry requirements for this Fall / September 2020 intake.
- A few universities are also waiving off the GRE requirement for applicants in countries where the test is not available at this time due to the coronavirus pandemic.
- Certain other universities are processing master’s applications without bachelor certificate, 7th and 8th-semester mark sheets, etc. Students need to submit these certificates at the time of enrollment in the university.
- Some universities have extended their application deadlines to give time to students to make informed decisions as things might get better over the next few weeks giving greater clarity.
- A few universities have moved back their start dates (when teaching will first start) of their graduate programs of study.
- Because of the lockdown, a few universities are ready to accept a statement from Net Banking to obtain their I-20, at least for the time being.
Questions on virtual learning
How are the online programs conducted?
The online learning programs would be conducted through high-quality interactive sessions that will include both live and recorded video and voice sessions. This provides a flexible advantage for the students to go through their classes whenever needed.
Is the online mode of learning available for all courses?
Yes, the online mode of learning would be made available for the majority of the courses for Master’s students. While most universities have confirmed the available programs for virtual learning, few other programs will be confirmed in the near future. Therefore, make sure that you check the university website to ascertain whether your program is being offered in the virtual model.
Who can apply for virtual learning?
Any undergraduate student who has applied for a Master’s program and has received an Offer Letter from the university would be eligible for the online program for the coming Fall intake 2020.
Is the online learning option available to universities in the USA only?
No. The option to choose the online mode of learning is not limited to the USA only and is available to universities in most other English speaking countries (UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand) as well.
Will the post-study work rights be the same if I start the program online and then move to on-campus learning?
Since this is just a temporary adjustment to continue classes during the ongoing pandemic, the post-study work rights will remain the same once you complete the remainder of the course on-campus. The same has been confirmed by countries like Canada.
How do I register for the online program and when is the deadline?
Once you receive an Acceptance Letter from the university and you have made the tuition fees deposit, you should automatically be eligible for the online program. While the deadline to register for the online program differs from university to university, most universities have a deadline of August 1. The same needs to be confirmed from a university’s website.
Can I join the on-campus program any time after the relaxation of travel bans?
Once you opt for an online program, you will need to complete that particular semester or term before you are allowed to travel abroad and join the on-campus program when the travel ban is relaxed.
What if I decide that online learning is not for me?
Most universities provide an option for the student to withdraw from the online course if he/she does not find virtual learning as effective or due to other reasons. A few universities have confirmed that these students will receive a 100% refund of their money if withdrawn within 14 days of starting the online program. However, this needs to be confirmed from the university website as it varies from university to university.
What if I start the online program and is then denied a study visa?
A few universities have announced a partial refund of the paid tuition fees in the event of denied entry, provided the student fulfills their criteria. This differs from university to university and is to be confirmed with the university officials.
To be eligible for a partial refund, the student must achieve the minimum GPA requirements, meet other academic progress criteria, and shows evidence of 3 visa denials (for the USA).
Do I have to pay the same amount as an on-campus program for online learning as well?
There is no tuition discount for this adjustment. Since this is a temporary adjustment during the ongoing situation and the tuition fee is for the academic quality of the programs delivered by a particular university, you will still have to pay the same amount. Through the course of the online program, you will have online access to the university’s student support services and other engagement tools.
That being said, a few universities might consider lowering their tuition fees and also provide more number of scholarships.
A few other questions you may have
If the programs/courses are starting off as online / remotely and then being moved to on-campus as things settle down,
1. Will I be granted credit for completed units?
Answer: Yes, the student will be granted full credits for units successfully completed online. Also, there will be no change in your assessment guidelines.
2. Will there be a change in my tuition fees?
Answer: No, since it is a temporary arrangement, there will be no change in your tuition fees. You will be required to pay your full-term fees before the start of the program as is the norm.
3. Will I need a visa?
Answer: You would not need a visa to begin studying online / remotely but you should continue with the visa process and obtain a valid visa so that you are ready to go to your university once classes start on-campus.
4. What about my post-study work rights?
Answer: All your post-study work rights shall continue to be the same as if the program/course is being offered on-campus.
Update: IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) has announced that if the in-class courses are moved to an online format because of COVID-19, eligibility for the Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) Program will not be affected. International students in this situation may begin their classes while outside Canada and complete up to 50% of their program outside Canada if they cannot travel to Canada sooner.
5. Is this equivalent to an online course?
Answer: No, not at all. This is only a temporary arrangement to ensure that students don’t miss out on their study abroad plans and schedules.
6. Is it worth taking the course from India?
Answer: Yes, you need to take these classes from your home for you to continue your course with that university. Basically, they are starting online to start off the course and you need to join on campus in the next 3-4 months once things are back to normal. And then continue the course normally to finish off as per schedule. There is no question of worth it or not!
7. Will there be visa cancellations or visa rejections because of Corona Virus?
Answer: No, we don’t anticipate anything of that sort for student visas/study permits. Since many embassies and consulates are closed because of the coronavirus pandemic currently, there could be a huge rush for visas when they open up in the near future resulting in delays. Some countries might hold on issuing visas based on country-wise restrictions because of the spread of COVID-19 in that specific country.
To conclude, we can say that COVID-19 presents more questions and unknowns than there are answers and knowns. Things are changing pretty fast and everyone is trying to adapt to these changing situations, addressing them as and when they present themselves. Let’s also continue doing what we have been doing in the immediate past and adjust ourselves and our goals as time progresses and things get clearer.
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