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The Coronavirus pandemic has jeopardised carefully thought out higher education plans of most families. Image Credit: Stock photo

Babita Madan, a parent in Dubai, is in a dilemma. She and her husband are in two minds about sending their son for higher education to universities in the US and Canada. With the first term of college starting in September, the family needs to make up their minds on admission by the end of May. However, the economic uncertainty created by COVID-19 is making the family worried about taking on a big financial commitment. The parents are now also considering cheaper education options in the UAE and India.

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Babita Madan

“We have approached the overseas universities for merit-based scholarship. The application for need-based aid has to be submitted along with the application in December or January. A Canadian university has reverted that they are willing to offer my son a scholarship if he commits to enroll. The institution will offer a 25 percent discount on the first term fee of CAD44,000 [Dh115,900]. We also have to pay a separate amount of CAD10,000 [Dh26,300] for lodging, food, mobile and other living expenses per year. In normal circumstances, a return air ticket to Canada comes up to Dh5,000, but it is likely to cost more now,” Babita shared the costs with Gulf News.

We have approached the overseas universities for merit-based scholarship. The application for need-based aid has to be submitted along with the application in December or January

- Babita Madan, parent in UAE

The mother said there is a gap in the quality of online education when compared to on-site classes and, therefore, urged universities to consider this and offer a discount on tuition fees.

Parents share concerns

Lalit

Lalit, another parent in Dubai, is evaluating various universities in Canada and the UK for his 18-year-old daughter’s higher studies in humanities, media and communication. He said all colleges have been actively communicating via email for the first term admission that starts in September. Communication with the universities began in March and parents need to give a confirmation on admission by the end of May or early June.

“Once we select a particular university, we will approach them for some fee discount. Since COVID-19 will still be active during the first term of college and it is likely to take at least two quarters for business to be restored globally, it is the right gesture on the part of colleges to offer a discount at least for the first term,” Lalit told Gulf News.

$200k


Estimated tuition fees for a four-year course abroad

He added that the tuition fee for a four-year course abroad would cumulatively cost between $200,000 (Dh734,500) and $240,000 (Dh881,400), depending on the country and college one chooses.

Education plans in jeopardy

With several universities offering education online in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic and students not having access to all facilities on campus, parents in the UAE are increasingly seeking tuition fee refunds, rebates and discounts from colleges, both abroad and locally. The pandemic has jeopardised carefully thought out higher education plans of most families. With so many uncertainties, including postponement of exams, delayed board exam results and start of academic session, job loss and a general sense of confusion, families are being forced to rethink plans. Several parents are appealing to universities for a reduction in fees, citing loss of job or reduction in salaries.

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Students are facing many uncertainties, including postponement of exams, delayed board exam results and start of academic session. Image Credit: File photo

“Students who have been accepted in highly ranked institutions abroad for undergrad programmes are now looking to conserve funds by looking at local institutions and those in their home countries. Some are even looking at putting things on hold and taking a gap year,” said Rema Menon Vellat, Director, Counselling Point Training and Development.

Some students are looking at putting things on hold and taking a gap year

- Rema Menon Vellat, Director, Counselling Point Training and Development

“Even families who have been prepared for the costs of education and may not have asked for financial aid in the past would welcome some respite given the economic uncertainties,” observed Shyamala Elango, Director, Inner Universe, an education consultant.

Need-based aid vs. merit-based aid

A few universities abroad have been responding positively to attract international students. In most cases, the financial aid packages for this year’s college-bound students were decided before the crisis. In other cases, the scholarship or reduction in fee is tied up with academic performance. Merit-based scholarships are awarded irrespective of a family’s income. Universities are also offering other perks and incentives, such as guaranteeing no increase in tuition for four years, free meal plans, upgraded residential dorms, laptops, tablets and iPhones.

“The universities will also have to account for loss of their income this year and so for them to entertain additional burden of financial aid, they will need evidence of extenuating circumstances – loss of job, proof of decreased income, etc.,” explained Elango.

The universities will also have to account for loss of their income this year and so for them to entertain additional burden of financial aid, they will need evidence of extenuating circumstances – loss of job, proof of decreased income, etc.

- Shyamala Elango, Director, Inner Universe

Heriot-Watt University Dubai offers several types of scholarships to students who qualify. To mark the holy month of Ramadan this year, the university has announced a discount of Dh8,000 to any student, (foundation, undergraduate or postgraduate) applying and paying a tuition fee deposit by June 1, 2020, for September 2020 intake. Other types of scholarships include the alumni scholarships, family scholarships, merit scholarships, sports scholarships, vice chancellor’s scholarship and discounts on early applications, full advance fee payment and more.

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Heriot-Watt University Dubai offers several types of scholarships to students who qualify. Image Credit: File photo

“Both the UAE government as well as educational institutes in the UAE acknowledge that the effects of COVID-19 have been extraordinary and this is a time to extend as much support as possible to families who reach out,” said Claire Roper-Browning, Director of Marketing and Student Recruitment, Heriot-Watt University Dubai.

No compromise on plans

However, several parents in the UAE have saved over a period of 10 to 20 years to afford to send their students to a university abroad and while all have been impacted by COVID-19, they are not willing to compromise on making the most important investment in their child’s future.

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“Most universities in the US do not offer need-based aid for international students and if a student had applied successfully to one that does, then they would have been awarded that aid upon admission. If there is a material change in the family’s economic position due to job loss, then the colleges will consider that change. However, with a record number of American employees filing jobless claims since the onset of COVID-19, universities are also stretched financially. Most have refunded housing and dining fees and they are foregoing lucrative summer programmes, which has also impacted their budget,” Peter Davos, Found and CEO of Hale Education, pointed out.

With a record number of American employees filing jobless claims since the onset of COVID-19, universities are also stretched financially

- Peter Davos, Found and CEO of Hale Education

Educational consultants pointed out that the highly selective and acclaimed universities have acceptance rates in the single digits and a long list of candidates on the waiting list. Therefore, they do not need to engage in such promotions. It is the less selective and less affluent universities that are being compelled to get creative, particularly to bring in international students.

Top universities to stay selective

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Another major trend this year is that students are being put on the waiting list by foreign universities. Image Credit: File photo

“There are over 3,000 universities in the US. Some have and will resort to incentives, discounts and promotions, but the top universities will not. Have you ever seen deep discounts at Louis Vuitton and Chanel? No, because they don’t have to and the same goes for the most prestigious US universities, which have deep pockets to support those students that come from truly needy families, and not those who may be experiencing a temporary loss of income,” said Davos.

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“Another major trend this year is that students are being waitlisted by universities, even Ivy League and other Top 20 institutions. Colleges need to protect their enrollment and yield at all costs and instead of rejecting many of these qualified candidates, they have been placed on the waitlist, just in case,” informed Davos.

How much do college fees cost?

Education consultants claim universities have been offering between 20 to 40 percent waiver on tuition fee for a year. In the US, the annual college fees can vary from approximately $25,000 to $70,000 (Dh91,800 to Dh257,000), which includes food, housing, tuition, books, travel, etc. In the UK, it can vary from approximately GBP16,000 to GBP25,000 (Dh72,900 to Dh114,000) and Canada can be approximately CAD25,000 to CAD60,000 (Dh65,800 to Dh158,000), according to Menon Vellat.

Dh24000


Estimated annual college tuition fee in the UAE

“The fees in the UAE in contrast are much cheaper and can vary from approximately Dh24,000 to Dh125,000. The annual fee in countries like India, Pakistan and Philippines are even more economical. Families who are facing economic hardship may consider this option if the children are willing to do so,” she remarked.

Admission dates

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The start dates for foreign universities are typically between July through September. Image Credit: AFP

The start dates for foreign universities are typically between July through September. The deadlines vary with destination and institution. “The admission deadlines for most universities abroad like UK, US, Canada are past but we are in extraordinary times now. International students pay much higher fees so I feel they may be more accepting this year. January 15 is the deadline mentioned in the UK’s UCAS website but international students will be able to apply well past this date. In many US universities other than those that offer rolling admission, January 1 is the deadline for admission. Most Canadian institutions have January or March deadlines,” Menon Vellat added.

Some overseas colleges are considering delaying the start date to commence in-person sessions. Universities such as Boston University in the US and York in Canada to name a few are considering opening only in January. “This would allow them to charge full tuition fee as they are offering the full spectrum experience to incoming students,” observed Elango.

At Heriot-Watt, we are not delaying admissions in any way, and it is business as usual for us

- Claire Roper-Browning, Director of Marketing and Student Recruitment, Heriot-Watt University Dubai

However, in the UAE, admissions are not delayed owing to the extraordinary situation. Most universities are using digital platforms to reach out to potential students and their families. “At Heriot-Watt, we are not delaying admissions in any way, and it is business as usual for us,” said Roper-Browning.

Every year, universities set aside funds for deserving students. Most offer merit aid, some even full tuition fee waivers for those that have outstanding academic records. Universities receive annual funding and research grants from their governments, private endowments, alumni donations, etc., that they use to allocate towards their merit scholarships, research scholarships and financial aid.

“Aside from this, some school managements have tie-ups with universities that offer fee waivers based on agreements. These are not linked with academic outcomes. Individual universities have their own policies to determine aid offers. When it is need-based, it is based on the income and financial commitments of the family,” said Menon Vellat.

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Every year, universities set aside funds for deserving students. Most offer merit aid, some even full tuition fee waivers for those that have outstanding academic records. Image Credit: File photo

Struggle to meet enrolment goals

Admissions officers in overseas universities are seeing a significant number of students who’ve paid deposits promising to attend certain campuses opting not to enroll because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Such decisions could affect the budgets of colleges and universities.

“There will be a lot of competition to secure enrolment numbers and meet targets,” added Menon Vellat. This could provide some leeway to UAE parents in their negotiations with colleges abroad.

Families are seeking clarity before committing to any decision. Most have plans A, B and C in place

- Rema Menon Vellat, Director, Counselling Point Training and Development

Meanwhile, some families in the UAE are likely to keep their children home for the year to tide over the uncertainty and reapply next year. The students might enroll in a college locally and transfer next year while gaining some exemptions for modules they have covered.

“So far, it has been a wait-and-watch response. Families are seeking clarity before committing to any decision. Most have plans A, B and C in place. Their emotional readiness to leave the UAE, financial commitments and unique personal situation will determine outcomes. A cookie cutter approach will not work. Each family will need to determine what is best for their child based on their circumstances,” Menon Vellat remarked.

Dos and don’ts of seeking financial aid from a college
Dos
• State your reasons for asking need-based aid clearly and explicitly
• Add evidence to support request, include income projections – tuition fee commitments are for three or four years or longer, proof of loss of income/job, financial liability, etc.
• Have an honest discussion detailing reasons for requesting financial aid

Don’ts
• Don’t be unrealistic in your demands
• Don’t produce exaggerated numbers
• Don’t be afraid to ask