Students in Singappore defer, cancel plans to study abroad due to fears, uncertainties over Covid-19

Darius Cheong gave up an offer from the University of Virginia in the United States. Instead, he will read business at the Singapore Management University. — Picture courtesy of Darius Cheong via TODAY
Darius Cheong gave up an offer from the University of Virginia in the United States. Instead, he will read business at the Singapore Management University. — Picture courtesy of Darius Cheong via TODAY

SINGAPORE, June 10 — Months before her graduation in April from Lasalle College of the Arts, Prarthana Mittal had her post-graduation plans meticulously laid out. 

The 21-year-old fashion student was en route to taking up a master’s degree in fashion design school Instituto Marangoni in London this October and was hoping that the opportunities provided by the school would help to jump-start her career.

She was also looking forward to living abroad — a dream that she has had since she was a child.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

As the cases of infections skyrocketed across the world and countries began to impose travel restrictions to curb the spread of the disease, it became clear to Mittal that continuing with her plans to go abroad might not be the wisest decision.

With a heavy heart, she decided to defer her enrolment for a year, submitting her application to the school last week.

Like Mittal, some students here have had their plans to study overseas — including at prestigious universities — scuppered by Covid-19. Although there are still a few months before school starts, they no longer feel that it is safe to travel and settle in another country due to the uncertain and volatile situation surrounding the pandemic.

As a result, they have either chosen to put their study plans on hold or opted to stay in Singapore and enrol in a university on home ground. Those who defer or cancel their placement offer from overseas universities would have to forfeit their deposits.

Based on information posted on the websites of various universities in Britain and the United States, many of the institutions said that they would consider requests for deferring enrolment on a case-by-case basis.

However, some universities — such as the University of Oxford in England — have said that it is unlikely to support deferments despite the global crisis.

Erring on the side of caution

Students told TODAY that their decision to defer or cancel their plans to study overseas was mainly motivated by the health and safety risks brought on by the coronavirus.

Gabrielle Tay, 24, was in the midst of deciding between doing a full-time master’s degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and a part-time remote learning course with the University of Glasgow, also in Scotland, when the outbreak happened.

She is presently a research assistant with the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore (NUS). At first, she was leaning towards going to Scotland for her post-graduate degree as the year-long course meant that she would be able to apply for her doctorate at an earlier date.

However, as the number of infections climbed in the United Kingdom, she decided to stick with the distance-learning course so that she could remain in Singapore.

She said: “There was also a lot of uncertainty with respect to how the situation would be like when I fly over to prepare for the start of the full-time course in Edinburgh, so I eventually decided to accept the offer from the University of Glasgow.”

Melia Ho, 20, turned down an offer from King's College of London to study food science. — Picture courtesy of Melia Ho via TODAY
Melia Ho, 20, turned down an offer from King's College of London to study food science. — Picture courtesy of Melia Ho via TODAY

The uncertainty was also what led Melia Ho, 20, to turn down an offer from King's College of London to study food science. Instead, she will be enrolling at NUS in August.

“It didn’t really matter to me whether I went overseas to study," she said. "Going overseas would be a new experience but I’m not that disappointed (that I won’t be going).”

For Darius Cheong, another deterring factor was that the pandemic has led to a rise of racist attacks towards Asians in the US. The attacks are linked to the disease having had its first outbreak in Wuhan, China, in December last year.

Cheong gave up an offer from the University of Virginia. Instead, he will read business at the Singapore Management University (SMU).

The 21-year-old said: “This was what gave me the final nudge to change my mind Even though I felt that the university community is quite liberal and inclusive, there will definitely be a time when I would travel out of Charlottesville and I don’t know if I would get stabbed or shot.”

The infectious nature of the respiratory disease has also dampened some of the allure of studying abroad, some of the students interviewed said.

For example, many universities have moved tutorials and lectures online to minimise physical interaction on campus as the pandemic rages on.

While this means that some students such as Cheong could remain in Singapore while enrolled in overseas universities, he said that he was put off by the thought of having to become nocturnal, since the lessons would be held from 8pm to 6am due to the time difference between the US and Singapore.

Mittal said that she had chosen London’s Instituto Marangoni because the university’s programme offered many job placement opportunities. However, these may no longer be available to students as the global economy has taken a hit.

“Because of Covid-19, I might not get the exposure (to the industry) that I want If I am paying so much money to study abroad, I might as well go next year when I can fully enjoy my master’s,” she said.

Embassies assisting students

In response to TODAY’s queries, Leighton Ernsberger, the British Council’s director for education and English in East Asia, said that it has seen more than 30,000 unique visitors to its Study UK website, which provide students with information on how universities are managing the Covid-19 situation.

He added that the British Council plans to provide tailored support to students who are still planning to move to the UK this year for their studies.

This includes hosting online sessions and virtual briefings with the council’s Careers and Higher Education Committees so that students can have all the information they need.

The council will also still be holding its annual pre-departure briefing for Singaporean students who have received an offer from universities in the UK.

“The sessions cover preparation, settling in, visa applications, life in the UK and other relevant topics — such as finances, insurance and travel.

“Participants will get a broad sense of what they need to feel prepared as well as an opportunity to ask questions to current students from various UK institutions,” he said.

An EducationUSA representative — an arm of the US embassy that provides advice to students interested in studying in the US — said that it continues to offer advisory services to students and families via virtual platforms to ensure that they have up-to-date information about the application process.

It has also held pre-departure orientations for some students and will also continue to do so in the coming months. — TODAY

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