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Studying in New Zealand in the times of the COVID-19

Studying in New Zealand in the times of the COVID-19

We are now in the 4th week of the lockdown in India, continuing our epic battle against the scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is during times such as these that one wakes up to the realities of the effect that a section of the society may have on a larger body of people. While the COVID-19 began its sordid saga in China, it has now impacted the entire world and we have hunkered down in our fight against an enemy we cannot see, but feel its evil presence lurking in the sneeze or a cough or simply the touch of another.

While the entire world unites in this fight against COVID-19, amidst the gloom and doom that has swept across the continents of our world, without exception, one country brings to every student a promise of hope, a light in the darkness, a silver lining to a really dark cloud, this is New Zealand. With new zeal, the government of this country has faced this uncertainty and without succumbing to the fear of the eerie, increasing numbers, has taken aggressive, intelligent, sensitive measures to not only curb the spread but to also restore this territory back to normalcy.

With the challenge of COVID-19, it has become mandatory that countries and universities adapt swiftly to the changing environments and bring in newer systems of delivering their programs. Universities like University of Auckland, Otago University, and Waikato University have all stated that academics would continue online. Change and relaxation of rules in different areas would be the new mode of academic operations and study, bolstered by faculty and university support. However, in view of the current pandemic scenario, when the universities will open for international students, is yet to be determined. As of now, the embassy remains shut. And the most likely outcome of this is that the courses that should have started this July 2020 would be deferred to start in February of 2021.

With the aspiration of the Government of New Zealand of bringing the best minds in the world to its universities, a resolution was passed, in 2018, in the New Zealand parliament, that allowed international students to stay back and work for 3 years after finishing their degrees and qualified them for a Permanent Residency. This move and the highly industry friendly curriculum have ensured that New Zealand saw a rise of 63% of Indian students in 2019, thus giving their campuses a more diverse global flavour. New Zealand currently has over 13,500 Indian students studying in its 8 universities and 14 polytechnics and they contribute to the NZD 5 Billion education sector to the New Zealand economy. These 8 universities rank among the top 3% of universities in the world. Thus, the sheer quality of the programs stands out.

What one can discern is that universities are providing not just quality education, but are also displaying an amazing depth of care to the young students who have travelled many a mile to seek the fruits of knowledge at its highly rated universities. Unsurprisingly, the number of COVID-19 patients in New Zealand remains rather low, thanks to aggressive steps taken by a young, determined and highly effective leadership provided by a dynamic young Prime Minister. The leadership has displayed a sagacity and wisdom that transcended into providing care not just for its citizenry but also for International Students. The following are among the steps taken by the Govt. of New Zealand to ensure that the International Students can sustain themselves during this very uncertain, fearful and indeterminate times.

  1. Student health insurance will cover any COVID-19 related healthcare costs. Any international student will be eligible for Free Public Healthcare, if they are affected by COVID-19.
  2. Students who were employed part time, are covered by the government’s employer wage subsidy, to ensure that they do not lose their jobs and continue to receive an income
  3. Students employed in supermarkets are allowed to work full time for the next month, while those working in healthcare (including aged care) are allowed to work full time for the next three months as part of the essential services.
  4. Students who could not return home and were staying in university accommodation have been moved to a consolidated group of Halls of Residence (hostels) where they can continue to be provided a high standard of care, as a group.
  5. While the universities remains shut, each university’s International Department is working from home and is still accessible for study queries. Counselling and mental health services are also available via phone call or video calling for students who are facing difficulties.
  6. Visas due to expire between 1 April and 9 July 2020 have been automatically extended to 25 September 2020

While most countries have relaxed certain visa regulations and school attendance requirements for international students, many are hesitant to provide further financial support for international students, arguing that – at the very least for first-year students – the ability to support oneself financially is a requirement of obtaining a study visa. This debate has played out most prominently in Australia where the prime minister said there would be no support for international students (individual institutions are stepping up, however). International students have since been granted access to their superannuation (pension) funds, which are usually only accessible after leaving the country, up to AUS$10,000. The city of Melbourne has also pledged to create a fund for international students.

In this climate of fear and severe economic distress, it is therefore, very heartening to note that two countries have stood out to take exceptional care of the international students studying in their countries, New Zealand and Canada. New Zealand has taken the unprecedented step of incorporating international students into measures for all citizens, as opposed to being treated as a separate category. Based on measures such as these, it is this author’s opinion that New Zealand be considered one of the most sought after countries for further studies.

What do the students from India have to do to get into universities such as Auckland University of Technology, Waikato University or Otago University is to secure at least 7 on 10 GPA, attempt the IELTS exam and secure at least 7 on 9 and build up their profile. New Zealand universities also strongly consider voluntary experience or work experience as the university looks for soft skills in student applicants, like leadership skills, communication skills, teamwork skills and customer service/client relationship skills.   Take part in internships, work on projects, be a part of teams that organize events and at least 8 months in advance of the session’s start date.

The following is to be expected for students wanting to go to New Zealand this Fall:

  1. Students have received admit letters for July 2020, are still applying for the July intake and are still receiving admits to universities and ITPs. However, most universities have informed students that classes may use an online platform instead of face to face learning for this semester.

It is advisable for students with admits to one year programs with online platform of study for the first semester followed by the face to face classroom learning in the second semester, to consider carefully the Post Study Work Visa (PSWV) rules that state that only students who have completed 30 weeks of study in a university in New Zealand would be applicable for the PSWV.

International students may defer or get deferred admission to Spring/ Fall of 2021, if because of travel restrictions they are unable to get to New Zealand or if they do not wish to travel this July.

Whilst the courses initially may be done online, some universities are considering shifting their intake dates to October or November.

  • In case the students decide to pursue their dream at a later date, it is advisable to pursue courses that expand the possibility of their employability. Look at competing courses in Python/ Artificial Intelligence/ Machine Learning/ Tableau or pick up courses in your field of study that shall ensure your probability of employability rises. For those from non-technical backgrounds, especially management, courses like CIPS (Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply) certification or free Google certification like Google AdWords, Search Engine Optimization, PPC certification, Google analytics certification, a course in basic programming, database management and Excel, communication skills.
  • International students may get deferred admission to February of 2021, if they are unable to get the visa in time or do not wish to travel this July
  • In case the students decide to pursue their dream at a later date, it is advisable to pursue courses that expand the possibility of their employability.
  • Build up your profile with the above and also by participating in team based activities.
  • Enhance your communication skills, improve your understanding of the English language, your precursor to becoming a truly global citizen.

But, one does not simply seek to become a professional and not contribute one’s mite to the society at large. And how does one achieve that goal, by being a human being who can bring about the positive change he desires to see in the world. In that direction, it is absolutely mandatory for the youth of India to forego all aspirations of going to a foreign land just to migrate. You need to create a mind-set that brings into fruition the goals of your dreams. In this direction, you will be best served if you were to first set out your objectives in life, draft a statement of your purpose in life and then set up targets against each year that you spend on Earth. One of those targets inevitably must be to go abroad to study, gain the best out of the system available and if you choose to settle down in that country, contribute in a manner that ensures that future Indian students are welcomed with open arms, because of the great example you set.

Go forth and live your dreams and may God hold you in the palms of his hands and guide your every step.

K. P. Singh

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