Fewer S'pore students applying for visas to Britain and Australia

The Yale-NUS College campus in 2017. Applications from Singaporeans for student visas to traditional higher education destinations have fallen. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - For Singaporean students studying in overseas universities, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic last year meant they had to cut short their experience of life abroad.

As infection rates skyrocketed and international borders began to close, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released an advisory on March 17 last year encouraging Singaporean students to come home.

But some, like Ms Dawn Tan, 26, have chosen to stick it out.

She had rushed back to Japan to finish her studies in February last year, when news broke that the border was going to close. She now works as a game planner in Tokyo, having finished her master's degree in intercultural studies at Kobe University.

Ms Tan said: "I wouldn't say choosing to come back to Japan was the best decision of my life. But it was necessary for me to return for my job hunt."

Meanwhile, applications from Singaporeans for student visas to traditional higher education destinations have fallen, reflecting the instability of the situation.

According to the official British government website, the number of student visa applications from Singaporeans to Britain fell from 2,535 new applications in 2019 to 1,421 last year.

For Australia, applications fell from 1,315 in 2019 to 530 last year, a 59 per cent decrease.

The British Council said more than 6,820 Singaporean students (excluding exchange and visiting scholars) chose to study in Britain during the 2019 academic year. The number includes students who had applied for visas earlier.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times on how universities in Britain plan to support international students, the council said the institutions have implemented several Covid-19 support services that their international students can access.

These include airport pick-up services, support through self-isolation periods and food packages.

Mr Leighton Ernsberger, the council's director of English and education for East Asia, said the universities also have plans in place to support students if they are required to self-isolate or if local lockdowns are introduced.

Ms Dawn Tan with a wax sculpture of a samurai in Japan. She had rushed back to the country to finish her studies in February last year, and now works as a game planner in Tokyo, having completed her master's degree in intercultural studies at Kobe University. PHOTO: COURTESY OF DAWN TAN

Last year, many international students were left stranded as university accommodations in the United States and Britain closed.

To address this, Singapore's universities opened up more places to take in students who would otherwise have gone overseas.

Around 2,000 more places in Autonomous Universities were offered last year to accommodate students whose overseas university plans had been disrupted.

Some students, however, have chosen to continue at their overseas institutions through distance learning.

Ms Tan Xiao Xuan, 21, a Chinese language and literature undergraduate at Peking University, decided to remain in Singapore after her winter break in January last year because of the worsening coronavirus situation in China.

An only child, she said: "It was pretty shocking at first when Covid-19 was still very serious in China. Real anxiety kicked in when offline school resumed in the second half of 2020."

A Public Service Commission (PSC) Secretariat spokesman told The Straits Times that while it offered scholarships in different disciplines and countries, it will offer this year's overseas scholarship recipients the concurrent option to pursue their studies at a tertiary institution in Singapore, due to the ongoing pandemic.

The spokesman added: "The PSC takes reference from the prevailing national travel advisories. Our scholars' health and safety remain our key priority.

"We work closely with our scholars and their families on their decisions to return overseas for their studies or remain in Singapore to study remotely. For those who choose to return overseas for their studies, the PSC provides the relevant support and networks to maintain their well being."

Ms Christa Tay is pursuing a degree in economics at the Australian National University.

The 21-year-old, who has decided to remain in Singapore while taking virtual lessons, said her parents had been worried about the threat of rising anti-Asian sentiments (in Australia), her staying there alone, health risks and border closures.

She said: "It is unfortunate, but instead of blaming it on the pandemic, I will just have to adapt accordingly and make the best of every situation and connect with people on campus and remote students through online events."

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