Dubai: Flexibility in admissions and visa rules have helped sustain interest in universities abroad from UAE-based students despite the COVID-19 disruption, experts have said.
After an initial dip, there has been “a rebound” in interest as many overseas universities are offering virtual classes that students can start without first having to apply for a student visa, said Vandana Mahajan, CEO of Futures Abroad, which specialises in consultancy for applying to universities in North America.
“As this has become the new norm, students can still pursue their international education dream. Most universities are prepared in being flexible with application deadlines, adapting entry requirements, etc, as well as by adapting to a digital education model until in-person teaching resumes,” she added.
Also for the UK, it was announced earlier in September that international students from the UAE and other countries can apply for a study visa when they are due to travel to the UK, rather than at the start of their course. It means students who have already gained university admission can begin their courses online and apply for a UK study visa when they are ready to do so.
In the year ending March 2020, more than 900 student visas to the UK were granted to Emirati students alone.
Business as usual
Mahajan said applications from the UAE continue unabated despite the worldwide rise in coronavirus infections. An estimated 4,500 students and parents in the UAE are actively seeking university admission, she added. The figure is collated from university counsellors in schools across the country.
Universities have also become “very flexible” in their admissions by waiving entrance exams like SAT, Mahajan said. Moreover, pushing back application deadlines has particularly helped students who were hesitant initially because of the pandemic. Some universities have kept admissions open for a January intake on top of the usual September intake.
Also, as many school-leaving external board exams, such as IB and A-Levels, were cancelled this year because of the lockdowns, universities turned the focus on school grades of applicants.
Futures Abroad hosted a two-day virtual expo for the UAE students looking to pursue education in Canada on September 25 and 26.
Another expert said there has been a rise in interest in higher studies abroad despite the pandemic. “We had more students sign up in May, June and July than any other months in our history here in the UAE,” said Soraya Beheshti, director of MENA region at Crimson Education, a university admissions support company.
“More students were interested in looking at alternative options to the US than in previous months, including Europe, UK, Canada and Australia, New Zealand. In May, we saw a 215 per cent month-on-month growth in sign-ups with Crimson for university admissions,” Beheshti said.
Accepting the new normal
“When the pandemic stuck, there was a fear of going to another country for university studies. Now, even with the rise in recent cases, we have accepted that this is a new normal and life has to go on. Many students and parents have realised this, and they don’t want to compromise on their higher studies,” said Dr Mohammad Yousuf Qadri, CEO of Qadri International, a Dubai-based education consultancy.
“Those who were undecided before or unwilling to travel overseas for university are applying now, especially as there are online options. It’s too late for the September intake but there are universities that also accept admissions in January. In fact, some students are already planning for Fall 2021,” Dr Qadri added.