WITH the outbreak of Covid-19 worldwide, many students are reconsidering their options to study abroad, and some are even writing them off over safety concerns.
British Council (Malaysia) director Sarah Deverall said while the interest to study overseas remained high among Malaysian students, a large number were waiting to see how the situation in their study destinations would unfold before continuing with their plans.
"There is currently a mixed picture, with some students choosing to delay their plans, some planning to do transnational education (completing a portion of their programme in Malaysia before going abroad), while others are cancelling their plans altogether."
Deverall said students were also facing challenges in submitting their applications to overseas universities.
"While the actual process of submitting an overseas university application is handled online and, therefore, unaffected, due to lockdowns in many markets, students are experiencing delays in gathering the required documents to submit their applications, such as school reference letters and transcripts," she added.
According to University of Wollongong (UOW) Malaysia KDU deputy vice-chancellor (academic) Professor Dr Hon Wei Min, there were three reasons why overseas studies were popular among students.
The first was to pursue a specific area of study that is not available in Malaysia. Second, students wanted to graduate from specific programmes at institutions which were deemed prestigious in that field. And lastly, they wanted to gain an overseas experience.
"The majority of Malaysian students planning to go overseas are from the third group, and many are reconsidering their plans."
Hon said the process of studying abroad had been affected by financial limitations, bad timing, travel bans, visa delays, and not least, health and safety concerns.
"Education sponsors or financiers, such as parents or corporate and government agencies, are being hit by financial constraints due to Covid-19 lockdown.
"The cost of studying abroad will be at least three to five times the cost of studying at a local private institution of mid-range pricing.
"Most of the overseas institutions only have one intake. Covid-19 has definitely affected a few key dates — scholarship interviews, exams and results release," she said.
"Hence, students may not be able to apply before the next intake and, thus, may have to consider delaying their studies," she said, adding that the delay was expected to last a year.
As for travel plans and visa applications, the possibility of students facing complications in entering their study destinations depended on the immigration policies of the host countries.
"Health and safety-wise, Malaysian parents are rightly worried about these two issues as some foreign universities have closed their campus housing, leaving international students stranded without help," said Hon.
Sunway Education Group International Office associate director Hor Poh Choo said a fairly significant number of students targeting to embark on degree programmes abroad had indicated a preference to start later only if the situation improves.
"My advice is to keep abreast of the Covid-19 situation in the country and area you are planning to go. Be in touch with the international student office for updates and advice.
"Most importantly, ensure that there is a strong support system to provide you assistance in the event of any untoward turn of events once you arrive there," she said.
Deverall said international students who were already enrolled in a United Kingdom (UK) university were continuing their studies online.
"UK universities are continuing to provide support to international students, ensuring that they have access to learning resources, and that critical services are maintained.
"In addition, they are developing contingency plans, including online provisions, in case international students are unable to attend classes on campus this autumn," she said.
"UK education institutions are working closely with health authorities, government departments and exam regulators to ensure that they are taking every possible measure to keep the school and university community, including current and prospective international students, well informed, supported and safe," she said, adding that prospective students should contact the UK institutions for updates.
Hon said it would not hurt for students to look at alternative options.
"There are a lot of options in Malaysia that will be able to help you save cost and time, such as starting your international degree locally first.
"If you plan properly, your dream of studying abroad may only be delayed by a year or two. And most importantly, you are not delaying your graduation and you are not forgoing the study abroad experience. You just delay the actual study abroad start time," she said
Student Wilson Chee Chan Weng, 21, who applied to study at UOW, Australia, was optimistic that the Covid-19 crisis would end soon.
"In the meantime, I am enhancing my skills to prepare myself when I'm studying abroad," he said.
"I am looking forward to attending classes on campus once the pandemic is over."
A student known as Shu Ping, 18, was putting her plans to attend Monash University in Australia on hold.
"I do not want to travel abroad in this pandemic until things begin to return to some sort of normalcy. Besides, even if I wanted to go, my parents would never allow it. So, I am delaying my university admission a little.
"I plan to enrol in Monash University Malaysia in its first intake of 2021, and keep my options open for a transfer to their Melbourne campus in my second or even final year.
"Moreover, starting off at the local campus will keep me closer to home and still benefit from the same quality of education," she said.
A student who applied to study in the University of Adelaide in Australia was ready to travel and would join the programme "as soon as I am allowed to travel".
"I don't plan to delay my studies as I know many have this idea, which means that if I proceed, I will graduate earlier than my peers. Hopefully, this will give me an advantage.
"I don't believe online studying will provide me the same quality and experience. At our age, we still need some structure in our learning as very often, we lack self-discipline to manage our time," he said.
A parent named Yow said the plan for his daughter to study overseas remained firm, but it would be restricted to a country nearby.
However, given the current uncertainties, he said there was no hurry to send her off.
"I would not want to put her in any danger of infection, discrimination or be caught in a situation of social unrest as we are seeing in some places. We will wait for the next round of admission."
On the other hand, he was not keen on having his daughter studying for her degree online with the overseas university.
"Part of the whole learning process comes from the experience of being at the university, participating in the campus community and making friends.
"But I might be open to the idea of her spending half the year on campus and another half at home studying online," he said.