Does pursuing a degree abroad still make sense even in these times of COVID & economic challenges?
1. Which fields will see increased job opportunities despite the Covid-19 pandemic?
Requirements for STEM graduates will continue to see a high demand in the USA and other countries post-COVID-19. The reason is simple: as companies look to de-risk from a future pandemic, this will accelerate the adoption of technologies like AI, Digital, Industrial Automation,Robotics, Driverless vehicles, Drones, etc. For instance, US e-commerce sales jumped by 49% in April 2020. We expect to see the rapid adoption of these technologies which will create a huge requirement for STEM graduates.
A US Congressional Research Service report from Nov 1st, 2019 reported China and India as the #1 and #2 countries from which STEM students (MS & Ph.D. programs) graduated in the US in the academic year 2017-2018. With the worsening relations between the US and China, we also expect that the number of Chinese students enrolling in graduate programs in the US will reduce. This provides a unique opportunity for students applying to STEM fields from India.
2. Evaluating the ROI of a degree abroad in current times
I would like to bifurcate the ROI conversation into STEM and non-STEM degrees, as the ROI has to be evaluated differently for both.
For STEM fields, the ROI can be huge as we expect COVID-19 to accelerate the adoption of smart technology. Let us take the field of Data Science as a case in point. A lot of students across engineering, math and statistics want to apply for Data Science and Analytics programs. With the emergence of AI and Machine Learning, Data Science is one of the key areas that most companies are investing in across Industries – Healthcare, Fintech, Logistics etc. The average cost of an MS in Data Science program is around $60,000 in the US and the median starting salaries for graduates from good universities is around $105,000 p.a. And then there are stock options, signing bonuses and annual bonuses which are additional. Therefore the ROI for such a degree is huge. Even from an immigration and a work visa standpoint, as countries move to a points-based immigration system based on their needs and salaries paid, visa approvals can be easier as there is a shortage of skilled professionals.
COVID-19 has also shown how under-invested we are from a healthcare infrastructure standpoint across the world. We expect that STEM areas like Biomedical Engineering, Biotechnology to have good ROI for students as companies and governments will invest heavily to upgrade their health infrastructures
For non-STEM areas, students and parents should look at the Life Time Value of the degree based on the brand of the university and the opportunities it can open up for students wanting to work in that field. While getting a work visa initially with a non-STEM degree can be more difficult in some countries, for a student armed with a degree from the right university, great opportunities can open up in India or other neighbouring regions. Keep in mind that after some years of great work experience in their home country, the student can always look at opportunities to transfer abroad either within the same company or by applying to another company. With some years of quality experience under one’s belt, it will be easier to find opportunities internationally.
3. Qualitative and quantitative factors to evaluate while making the decision
Some of the qualitative factors that one needs to consider include:
- Life Time Value of the degree – One needs to look at the Life Time Value of the degree when evaluating the decision to study abroad. Life Time Value of degree is the culmination of various factors like the brand of the University, the field of study and the peer group/alumni network that you have access to. All of these factors are important whether one is looking at a Corporate career or entrepreneurship.
- Access to cutting edge research- Especially for MS/Phd studies, this is an important factor that one needs to consider. For example, if you take a lot of emerging areas, a lot of the cutting edge research today happens in the US. This is because of the amount invested in research by both the governments and private industry. So in these areas, it definitely makes sense to study abroad because of better access to research and opportunities.
- Curriculum Flexibility- Flexibility in curriculum is also great at universities abroad.Typically, a 30 credit MS program which requires 10 courses usually would have a number of course choices for the student for both their core areas and elective areas. Similarly, for an undergraduate degree at universities in the US, the students have the ability to major in multiple areas (example computer science and business).
They can also pick their majors after trying out courses in each area in the first couple of years and can also switch majors. This flexibility is not available in undergraduate courses in India where the course is often allotted based on a rank in a competitive exam and not based on the student’s interest. A student may be interested in Computer Science but based on their rank they may get assigned mechanical engineering. There is also an easy option to switch majors if the student wants later. The amount of flexibility available at universities abroad is far more than what is available to students in India.
- Practical immersion of curriculum with Industry – At universities abroad, there is far tiger integration of curriculum with Industry requirements. Course work tends to focus on practical use cases versus a more theoretical approach. Students also get opportunities to do summer internships and co-ops (typically longer internships over a regular semester). The companies give them challenging projects and they learn valuable corporate skills. These opportunities may not be available easily at all colleges (except Tier 1 colleges) in India.
- Soft Skills & Independence – There is a huge focus on developing one’s soft skills (presentation, communication, interpersonal skills etc). Companies evaluate you not only on your subject matter expertise but on your soft skills too. Also, living in a country outside your comfort zone can help develop better leadership and decision making skills.
4. Should work visas be a determining factor in the decision?
Work visas are certainly important but should not be the sole determining factor. More important factors include the job opportunities available in the field that you are planning to specialize in and the brand value of the university degree in your field of specialization. Moreover, for MS-Thesis and Phd students, the quality of research being carried out in your field is a critical factor in decision making.
Immigration rules can change based on the government in power and the condition of the economy in a country. So there is no guarantee that the same ease (or difficulty) of immigration will prevail in that country when the student graduates. So students should look at getting a university experience, degree and brand that will help them with career and entrepreneurship opportunities world-wide.
Also, the size of the economy and the field that you are studying will matter. For example, in emerging areas in technology (Computer Science, AI, Data Science), the US, being the world’s largest economy, has the most opportunities. Most of today’s major tech giants and leading startups like Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Uber, Tesla, AirBnB and more have emerged from the US. Access to capital for start-ups and an innovation ecosystem are well established compared to other countries. This is supported by a large network of top notch universities. Hence, for technology and STEM, the US still remains a great destination.
Canada is another country that has emerged as a popular destination in recent years due to easier immigration policies. Canada also has good universities, and Toronto and Vancouver are fast emerging as hubs for tech companies and start-ups. However, as the economy is much smaller than the US, the number of opportunities will also be lesser. Some of our students for example, apply to both the US and Canada to keep their options open while applying.
The UK, Australia, Germany and Singapore also remain popular choices for students, although from the perspective of job opportunities and work visas, they have scope for improvement.
About the Author
Earning one’s academic degree abroad is truly a life-transforming experience. There are significant personal, academic, and of course career benefits to studying abroad. However, while many are aware of what it takes to do a Master/PhD/MBA abroad, few Indians have an understanding of pursuing undergraduate studies overseas.
In this article, Pavithra Srinivasan, Stanford alumna and founder of Galvanize Test Prep & Global Admissions Counselling, sheds light on this increasingly popular trend that parents, students and teachers are curious about.
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