Germany: the land of ideas and aspirations
COVID-19 has impacted us all, but it is even more worrying for international students, because they are away from home and more isolated. They are trying to keep up with their studies, but they still miss the class exposure, socialisation and community building. Most universities worldwide have relaxed attendance and on-campus regulations, and are also providing online counselling to their students.
Remote learning is an option for some degree programmes, but not for all. Regular classes may run online, but accessing library material and other services and staying connected with teachers and peers are challenging issues. A recent student and lecturer survey at the University of Freiburg revealed that online learning should be temporary, and that face-to-face learning is irreplaceable. Blended learning is the middle way for the overall benefit of the students.
Dhruv Khattar, a Master Student in Educational Sciences, University of Freiburg, emphasizes that “the biggest challenge in remote learning is the cultural shift. It is not easy to understand the study atmosphere and a university’s (and country's) culture via a computer screen.” This challenge can be frustrating for students. The possible solution here is to teach students to take baby steps in the initial semesters and not set high standards, he advises.
Germany is popular with Indian students
DAAD, the German Academic Exchange Service, has demonstrated great examples of ways in which international students can be supported. DAAD is one of the world’s most important funding organisations regarding the international exchange of students and researchers. It is not yet clear for all countries of origin whether and when entry to Germany will be possible without any problems, so DAAD has provided its scholars with the opportunity to start their scholarship project online from their home country. Another possibility is to postpone the start of their scholarship if entry to Germany is not possible. DAAD has moreover proactively taken the lead in updating international students on COVID-19 related information, research and analysis.
India is a good example of why it is so important to support international students. German institutions have recorded a phenomenal increase in the number of Indian students studying in Germany. The number has grown by over 20 per cent in recent years. They become integrated into German culture and society and are easily assimilated in German companies to pursue their purpose and passion. They become assets, both for Germany and their home country.
As true ambassadors of the international community and as global citizens, they are the real human capital, building communities with their energy, creativity and network. And international applicants’ interest in studying in Germany remains undimmed despite COVID-19, reports the Federal Statistics Office of Germany. More than 400,000 international students currently pursue their higher education in Germany.
Creating a pipeline of international students
The COVID-19 pandemic might nevertheless have negative impacts on international exchange. The principals of the so-called PASCH schools raised similar concerns in a conference recently held in Delhi. The PASCH initiative networks more than 2,000 schools worldwide where German is particularly important.
In India, 47 PASCH schools are catering for 16,000 students. At the conference in Delhi, the majority of the principals expressed the view that alumni are critical stakeholders. They are the most authentic and inspiring resource for current students. Schools must harness their skills, experience, and network to create a pipeline of information, handholding, and onboarding to facilitate future generations’ career pathways. The best Alumni Community of Practices (ACoP) rests on three pillars: recognising, acknowledging and celebrating alumni; establishing communication channels with them. As more international students prefer to head towards Germany, the alumni pool could bridge the gap between the new aspirants and their dream destinations. Dhruv Khattar also suggests that students like him can function as mentors to new international students. He is a mentor himself.
Khushboo Mehta, who trained in Germany, is a guest faculty member at the prestigious Khalsa College affiliated to Delhi University in India. She laments, “the pandemic led to a rise in unemployment. Getting a part-time job as a student would seem to be much more daunting. Thus, getting an education over there becomes more expensive and competitive than before.”
Visa regulations and restrictions on international flights due to COVID-19 have moreover put everything on hold. Those admitted are learning online. Most admissions have been postponed to 2021, especially for German taught studies, because a B2 certificate is required to enter Germany.
Khushboo Mehta suggests that “given the pandemic situation in Germany and elsewhere, German universities should allow remote learning to international students so that learning continues.” Some Canadian universities have done the same.
Germany: top-ranking universities, attractive international programmes
Germany is undoubtedly an ideal place for international students to study. Germany’s higher education system is unmatched, highly regarded, valuable and worthy. Germany is also a place of culture and art, and its quality of education is one of its most distinguished aspects. Affordability, internationally qualified instruction in the top-ranking universities, attractive international programmes, and a diversity of courses across disciplines both in English and German languages make Germany a dream place for aspiring students from across the world.
I hope, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, this continues and German universities will still attract the best and the brightest from different continents in the future.
Listed by Forbes India among the top 100 People Managers, Dr. Ashok Pandey is Director of the Ahlcon International School in Delhi, India, where he served as the Principal until 2019. Author of several articles and research papers, his third book, “Launch your Inspiring Principal Leadership”, was published in 2019.
He received the “President of India” Award (Rashtrapati Award) for his outstanding services to education. He is actively engaged in inter-faith dialogue and peacebuilding. He participated in the Global Peace Convention held in Seoul in 2019, the UN Festival for Action on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) held in Bonn in 2018 and the Australia India Youth Dialogue in Melbourne in 2017. Ashok sits on the Governing Body of the National Council of Teacher Education (NCTE), India.
What do you think?
What do you think universities should do to support international students during the pandemic? Share your ideas and experiences with other alumni in the Alumniportal community.