Dubai: With COVID-19 disrupting travel and overseas studies across the world, uncertainties are still aplenty for prospective students who are looking to begin their courses abroad in 2021. So, a question arises – is it worth spending money on a course abroad, if e-learning is a continuing trend?
With the pandemic still spiking in several countries worldwide, the foreign education landscape has been evolving to adapt to a shift towards e-learning – at least for the time being, especially in countries with stricter travel restrictions in place.
Will pandemic-induced e-learning trends last?
Even before COVID-19, there was high growth and adoption in education technology, with related investments reaching $18.6 billion (Dh68 billion) in 2019 globally and the market for online education projected to reach $350 billion (Dh1.3 trillion) by 2025, data from the World Economic Forum showed.
Whether it is language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, or online learning software, there has been a significant surge in usage since COVID-19. In response to significant demand, many online learning platforms are offering free access to their services.
Platforms like BYJU’S, an India-based educational technology and online tutoring firm founded in 2011, which is now the world’s most highly valued education technology company and Chinese business magnate Jack Ma’s Alibaba’s distance learning solution, DingTalk, is benefitting from this trend.
Since announcing free live classes on its digital application, BYJU’s has seen a 200 per cent increase in the number of new students using its product and elsewhere, China-based Tencent classroom, saw approximately 730,000 students attending classes via its Online School in China – a record figure.
Lark, a Singapore-based collaboration suite, also began offering teachers and students unlimited video conferencing time, auto-translation capabilities, real-time co-editing of project work, and smart calendar scheduling – and witnessed a surge in demand.
What does this mean for the future of learning?
While some believe that the unplanned and rapid move to online learning – with no training, insufficient bandwidth, and little preparation – will result in a poor user experience that is unconducive to sustained growth, others believe that a new hybrid model of education will emerge, with significant benefits.
There have already been successful transitions amongst many universities. For example, China’s Zhejiang University got more than 5,000 courses online just two weeks into the transition. The Imperial College London offers a course on the science of coronavirus - the most enrolled class launched in 2020.
There are, however, challenges to overcome. Some students without reliable internet access and/or technology struggle to participate in digital learning; this gap is seen across countries and between income brackets within countries.
For example, whilst 95 per cent of students in Switzerland, Norway, and Austria have a computer to use for their schoolwork, only 34 per cent in Indonesia do, according to OECD data.
While some schools and governments have been providing digital equipment to students in need, such as in New South Wales, Australia, many are still concerned that the pandemic will widen the digital divide.
Research shows that on average, students retain 25-60 per cent more material when learning online compared to only 8-10 per cent in a classroom, the World Economic Forum revealed.
This is mostly due to the students being able to learn faster online; e-learning requires 40 to 60 per cent less time to learn than in a traditional classroom setting because students can learn at their own pace, going back and re-reading, skipping, or accelerating through concepts as they choose.
Nevertheless, the effectiveness of online learning varies amongst age groups. The general consensus on children, especially younger ones, is that a structured environment is required, because kids are more easily distracted.
Option to study online still popular among students
Majority of international students are happy to study online, another study had revealed, although they do miss not being able to study in a foreign setting. But for those, this will do for now, as long as their studies are not affected.
Universities and business schools around the world have turned to online learning as a way to temporarily continue educating students during the coronavirus outbreak. Around the world, different cities have restrictions on mass gatherings, making in-person classes impossible.
While COVID-19 is an unprecedented situation, there are encouraging signs that online education isn’t putting students off from applying to university. Only 39 per cent of international students were completely opposed to the idea, according to the survey, while the rest were supportive of it.
2021: A year of more e-learning or a time to move overseas to study?
If you’re looking to commence your study in 2021 or later this year, then there are application and intake options available for 2021.
If due to COVID-19, you’re unable to physically attend campus or travel to the country due to travel restrictions, many universities are working closely with their governments to put in place study options for prospective and current international students.
Have foreign universities reopened amid COVID-19?
For countries that have strict border closures, universities and training providers are offering prospective international students the option of starting their degrees online, with a transition to on-campus options as soon as sanctioned travel arrangements are in place for student intake.
The UK had announced extended post-study work visas to two years, which helps extend their stay in the country or start their careers. This includes any students who have commenced online studies due to COVID-19 restrictions as long as they arrive in the UK by April 2021.
In Ireland, higher education institutions are scheduled to re-open on a phased basis this academic year. Canada has permitted international students to commence their studies online until their study permit application is assessed, but most colleges are accepting applications.
Many universities in Australia and New Zealand have transitioned to online studies so international students can commence their studies online. It has recommenced granting student visas, which means when borders re-open, students will already have visas and be able to make arrangements to travel. Limited numbers of international students may be allowed to come in to New Zealand.
The US has limited travel restrictions and are accepting international students, which means you are able to apply to commence your studies in the 2020/21 academic year. However, any international students residing outside of the US will not be able to enter and enrol in a full-time study course in a US university, if it’s 100 per cent delivered online.
Costs easily overlooked when studying abroad in 2021
If you’re thinking about studying abroad and the first thing that’s on your mind is money, it is very important to remember that the tuition fee is not the only factor which will be important for your financial planning.
Let’s look at other overlooked expenses you’ll need to keep in mind and how they can add up to the overall expenses. This way you can budget accordingly for your study abroad.
While many universities offer free degree programmes, they usually come with administrative costs. These can cover materials such as books or documents related to your enrolment.
Administrative costs generally vary between Dh670 to Dh 1,100 per semester. Depending on the courses you're taking, expect to pay anywhere between Dh1,000 and Dh4,000 per year for all the books and other online materials you will need.
Studying abroad usually means that you’ll be away from home for anywhere between 1-3 years, if you aren’t opting to study online or from the comfort of your home. Therefore, it is vital that wherever you go your healthcare will be covered.
Most international students will need private insurance to cover their health and travel. It’s important to mention that a scholarship can provide financial aid and provide coverage for them. The costs of plans are different and monthly fees can vary from Dh1,800 to up to Dh4,400 if you choose a premium plan.
Verdict: Worth investing in overseas studies given that digital learning is seen lasting?
While it's still a convenient option with virtually endless choices for international students all over the world, unlike in-person education methods, online education tends to be more affordable.
There’s also often a wide range of payment options let you pay in installments or per class. This allows for better budget management. Many of you may also be subject to discounts or scholarships, so the price is rarely high.
You can also save money from the commute and classroom materials, which are often available for free in an e-learning environment. In other words, with lesser monetary investment, it’s more cost-effective than traditional education.
It’s important to keep in mind that the concept of traditional education has been changing radically within the last couple of years, and the trend has only accelerated with the pandemic-related restrictions.
When it comes to spending your hard-earned money on an education abroad, while a key downside is not being able to travel abroad and being denied the overseas experience, savings-related perks gives e-learning an edge over an in-classroom experience – without compromising on the quality of education.