Fair options for the future
The education fairs throw up opportunities for ambitious Indian students wishing to pursue higher studies abroad. SUDHA UMASHANKER writes about the choices offered by the foreign universties.
FOR STUDENTS with stars in the eyes and fire in the belly, higher education abroad is the ultimate passport to success. While they spend hours in libraries, poring over reference bibles like the Hobsons Directory of British Universities, Colleges and Schools, Peterson's Graduate Programs, Petersons 4-year Colleges, Barron's Profile of American Colleges etc or renewing ties with friends and relatives living abroad, scouring the net, downloading and filing applications online, education fairs are yet another exercise that pave the way for an interface between academics from abroad and the prospective student.
Close on the heels of the Australian education fair held recently (the last one was held in Sept 2001 and the next one is scheduled for April 14 and 15, 2002, in Chennai), and coinciding with the U.S. education fair (which this time was a small and low key affair with less than 10 participating institutions) came the British education fair education U.K. fair 2002 last week in Chennai.
Hundreds of eager students and parents with hope writ large on their faces converged at the venue of the British Council's Education U.K. fair on February 22 and 23. Into its seventh year, the fair is now a bi-annual feature and figures on every ambitious student's calendar.
About 50 universities from the U.K. set up shop and over 100 academics were represented. Three hours into the fair, the place was teeming with young students eager to check out the study options available to them and their chances of securing admission into an institution in the U.K.
Why a British education? As one of the resource persons at the seminar (one of a series being held side by side while the fair is on) explained, British education has the advantage of worldwide acceptance. It offers the opportunity to live and work in a different environment and improves the English of the Indian students which is already good except in some contexts. "Tests like TOEFL and IELTS are not intended to be hurdles but to ensure that the student has the necessary language skills to understand what is being taught and perform well".
Do British Universities offer discounts on the fee structure? "Some universities fix their fee high and then offer discounts, while some don't offer any at all.''
What about job placements? "This fair is about learning not employment.''
Kartar Singh, Deputy Director South India, the British Council, says, "The South is one of the fastest growing markets in India as far as U.K. education is concerned. Last year, we witnessed a growth of 105 per cent in terms of number of students going to the U.K. compared to the previous year. You have a large number of educational institutions in the U.K. offering courses relevant to India, particularly in areas like Biotechnology or Bioinformatics (for which there are limited seats). The demand has been factored in such a way that they can take in a large number of Indian students."
Colin Matheson of the University of Westminster, says, "The fair gives us an idea of what people are asking for and where the market is moving, whether we have the appropriate courses and whether we need to develop new courses.'' Does he look forward to attending a fair like this?
``Yes and No. The problem is that this time there have been too many students and it's difficult to talk to them properly and counsel them. Students who come to us are generally bright, particularly proficient in Maths and Computer skills. The Westminster University is of the view that students learn as much from one another as from the course.''
According to Janet McCann, manager, International Operations, Doncaster College, "We are interested in developing the Indian market for our college, impressed with the level of qualifications of Indian students. Most of the overseas students cannot converse or understand English, but that is not the case with students from India.''
Some of the students visiting the fair are first-timers, while there are others who have done a good deal of homework. Freda, a teacher, is looking for a year-long break to hone her English language teaching skills. There is Aniruddh, a second year B.Sc student looking for a Computer Animation and Graphics course and there is a young doctor keen to pursue a course in Forensic Medicine etc.
Aniruddh feels the fair is more advantageous to students looking for MBA courses, while Freda has been trying to get an audience with the people from the University she wishes to join. Murali, a second year Commerce student who wants to do MBA, says, "The university representatives feel it is too early for me to join and want me to finish my graduation. Besides, they also are looking for work experience. The course is expensive but is worth the money. The fair is a very good place to come to. Next time, I will have more inputs and would know which university to approach.''
Sushma, a second year B.Sc student looking for a Masters in Molecular Biology feels that no extra information is provided. Finance is the biggest constraint though our grades are considered good, she adds. According to Pradeep, the fair facilitates a better understanding of the situation. All the finer details like cost of living etc. can be obtained to help make a decision. Besides, it is a good forum to establish contact.
Some students point out that though the fair is interesting, not all good colleges have been represented.
Kartar Singh reasons that well-known universities like Oxford and Cambridge and the London Business School are not represented perhaps because they don't need to come. We have large number of other universities that are equal to the traditional university.
With no official rankings of British universities to guide them in the selection process, what is the yardstick for students?
"What students should look for are the teaching quality and the course content. In the British system, universities are assessed by independent agencies, so the quality of courses are generally good,'' explains Colin Matheson.
At the end of a visit to the fair, if a student still finds it difficult to take a decision and needs more inputs, he/she can get in touch with the British Council in India.
With an ever-increasing demand for education abroad and most foreign universities pulling out the stops to promote a larger inflow of students from India, the fairs are indeed a step in the right direction. If one does one's homework thoroughly and chooses one's course and university with care, it is, as they say in business jargon, a `win win' situation.
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