A large number of Pakistani students travel abroad every year to pursue higher education and to seek better career and immigration opportunities. While the statistics available with this correspondent show that all major countries such as the United States, Australia, Canada, and United Kingdom are the major destinations for most students, United Kingdom has emerged as a prominent and choiced country to Pakistani students, showing a steep rise in applications. This increase was gradual during the past many years, and slowed down a bit during the pandemic but now the student applications and visa applications, both are showing an upward trend.
I had an opportunity of talking to Syed Abidi, a renowned Educationist, and Career Counsellor with more than two decades of experience in international education for his views and feedback. I decided to be brief and precise; therefore, asked for relevant and hot FAQs that shall not only serve the purpose of this article but will benefit all those Pakistani students inspiring to study in the United Kingdom or abroad from his experience and expertise that very few people have in this country.
Incidentally, Mr Abidi was recently in the UK visiting universities, meeting academics and visa compliance officers, and therefore, should have the latest and most updated information that I feel can be helpful to all from this interaction.
The News: Mr Abidi, in your opinion what are the future international student mobility trends, particularly post-pandemic?
Syed Abidi: This is a very important question and let me answer to the point. Future of international mobility post-pandemic will combine physical and digital experiences to reach a wider range of students in 2022 and beyond. A comprehensive research paper has been produced focusing on several case studies across more than 30 countries worldwide recommending how technologies and innovative teaching and learning methods can help democratise, access to international exchange. A new phenomenon VSM (Virtual Student Mobility) will have its own opportunities and challenges to facilitate cross-border education going forward.
The News: Since you have been involved in international education, recruitment, marketing, and policy-making, what are the key destinations that are currently attracting Pakistani students, and why?
Syed Abidi: When analysing the mobility trends of Pakistani students, I normally divide them into three categories. The first category is of students who are of high caliber, with stars/ A’s in GCSEs /IB for Undergraduate and a distinction in honors from top universities such as LUMS, NUST, IBA, GIK for PGs, etc. This breed will never compromise on quality and ranking and most of them will get sucked in by Red Brick, Russell Group, and Ivy League with scholarship and funding being the decisive factor for country and university.
The second category of students come from mid-tier salary brackets and with just meeting the entry qualifications who tend to choose universities and destinations which are more economical, affordable and offer other benefits to support their education and future immigration opportunities etc. A large number from this category will; therefore, choose UK under the currently available benefits and conditions.
The third and last category is of students who would go anywhere, they get a chance. Their priority is to leave Pakistan and settle in a country where they can easily find ways and means to convert their student visas into other settlement visas, while studying. Often many of these; therefore, fail to achieve their objectives, waste the hard-earned money of their parents, end up paying a huge amount to a consultancy, and finally may get deported or sent back.
The News: What are the major subject areas or degrees particularly post pandemic attracting our students, or in your opinion should choose for skillsets they may need for the digitalised and tech industry and commerce workplace of 21st century?
Syed Abidi: This is a very pertinent question and I hope that those who read this information may revert to research before making a decision about choosing a particular course. As you rightly said, we are witnessing a paradigm change where Technology, ICT and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will more or less be in each and every sector of businesses, industry, and in all walks of life. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, only a very few universities have introduced these innovative degrees or modified their degree syllabus/ contents to develop such programmes.
The most latest and in demand subjects and degrees are Business Analytics, Data Analytics, CS with Artificial Intelligence, Electronic Accounting or FinTech, Cyber Crimes, Digital Forensics, Bio-Informatics, Robotic Surgery, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, and Digital Marketing, etc. The selection of course should, however, be after thorough research, and relevant to the student’s qualification and future career objectives, whether he/she would like to return to Pakistan or settle elsewhere, are some points to consider.
The News: As you rightly said, most Pakistanis are inclined towards applying for or depend on scholarships, which country offers the most scholarships and funding opportunities with particular reference to Pakistan?
Syed Abidi: There are millions of pounds worth scholarships that are available worldwide, and from different countries, organisations, funding bodies, and universities for students. If you are an IT literate, and can put your common sense to work, enough guidance is available on dedicated websites of different countries. These include HEC, British Council, EduCanada, StudyAustralia, USAID etc. In addition to this, information on university websites can easily help you navigate and reach the type of funding and scholarship which fits your qualifications and the prospective choice of country and university etc.
The News: We are known as a high-risk country. Pakistanis find it very difficult, if not impossible, to get study visas for countries such as UK, USA, Canada, Australia etc. What is the latest update on the student visa situation, particularly for UK due to the high volume of students that are applying for this year? According to students and parents, there is a huge delay in UK study visas, no appointments available etc.
Syed Abidi: There is no doubt that Pakistan is considered to be a high-risk country for most of the regions that you named, which is unfortunate. However, the visa, immigration, border control authorities, and inland security agencies of many countries have put in place necessary measures, and have developed visa regulations incorporating barriers to reduce risk factors.
Therefore, there are well laid down rules, regulations, and pre-requisites for study visas/ permits for each country. Despite of these conditions, the most simplest and transparent student visa still stands out to be that of UK.
The latest pre-requisites include a CAS or certificate of acceptance for studies from a recognised university and fulfilling the maintenance requirements of your study periods through authenticated and recognised financial documentation, sponsorships and bank statements. If you have completed an online form and your documents are all according to the required specifications, you don’t need a big consultant to help you, may need an advice from your university or counsellor if needed and that is all.
I strongly negate the claims of unnecessary delays in UK study visas and have not experienced such delays myself or from my reputable colleagues in this business.
Here I would like to inform all that visas for Pakistani students or visitors are currently processed at the UKVI Abu Dhabi Office, which controls Pakistan and MENA region. The team at this office is very efficient and understands the quality and standard of services that their clients expect from them and I must say that they are “par excellence”. As you rightly said, the UKVI is witnessing an extremely high volume of applications from the entire region including Pakistan, and therefore they had to temporarily extend their processing times to 4 weeks in June, but they have now switched back to 2-3 weeks processing time again and have also acquired more staff to assist caseworkers in view of the coming student peak season.
They have been prompt in responding to any unnecessary delays and have helped all stakeholders when needed. My advice to students; therefore, to apply as early as possible, make sure they have the right and correct paperwork and are actively checking UKVI website for Biometric slots even at odd times that are available during 24 hours for up to 5 days as they may go quickly.
Thank you Mr Abidi. Readers, I think this interview is very valuable and informative for all those students and parents who are planning to go abroad or send their children abroad for studies and shall serve as a good guideline on different issues that we discussed in the above interview and I thank Mr Abidi for his time in sharing his views on this very important topic and at the right time. Any student who wishes to have more information or need free help, may visit his website: www.syedabidi.com
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