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Two UK unis defer Sri Lankans but demand continues to increase

Despite the ongoing unrest, forex payment issues and governmental upheaval, the appetite for study abroad is still very prevalent among Sri Lankan students, according to a leading agent in the country.

Two universities have asked students to defer their places for at least six months while the crisis is ongoing. Photo: Pexels

Numbers have only been increasing in the last year; and the unrest across the country has not affected those numbers

However, some universities in the UK are unsure, and with ongoing issues with finances, that demand has unleashed a bigger strain on the market.

Talking to The PIE, Campus Direct UK, which deals with students wanting to go to places primarily such as the UK, Canada and Australia, said that numbers have only been increasing in the last year; and the unrest across the country has not affected those numbers in its preliminary data findings.

“What we’re seeing is actually really amazing, especially in the increase for UK numbers,” said Amrith Weerasekera, director at Campus Direct UK.

“While there were issues with the process and the removal of the previous president, that has somewhat subsided, and of course things are not going to improve within six months – this will take a year at least,” he relented.

This is the primary concern that two different universities in the UK have – the University of Huddersfield and the University of South Wales. Both have reportedly decided that they will be deferring Sri Lankan students.

Replying to The PIE’s request for comment, the University of South Wales said: “We are continuing to process applications from Sri Lanka who are at an advanced stage of the application process and look forward to welcoming in them in September.

“We have, however, taken the difficult decision to offer Sri Lankan students who are at an earlier stage of the process places in the next available intake, where possible in January and February 2023,” a spokesperson said.

The University of Huddersfield did not reply to The PIE’s request for comment before the time of publication.

Weerasekera said that while the demand is still high, the forex crisis in Sri Lanka continues to be the main barrier not just for students, but for the parents who fund their studies.

“While international banks are available with no forex issues, and there are ways to do it, the forex issue is still there; they are just managing to do the payments with bank approval and need to open a student file with the bank,” he said.

“Sri Lanka has always been known as quite a late market in terms of decision making – we’re seeing a change there”

“I think [South Wales and Huddersfield move] was quite unfortunate, because I understand students are finding it tough to make payments out, but parents will obviously will make the payments and it’s not actually an issue – the majority of universities are not having this problem.”

While concrete numbers for this year’s intake have yet to be released, the trends are proving that the students still very much have the appetite to study abroad – and while financial issues are still a concern, most parents who help their students to study have ways around the problem.

“Some of the parents are affected by the devaluation and income levels, but they do have the funds available and a lot of those who would go for foreign education won’t be affected as heavily because they are relying on foreign incomes or assets,” he explained.

His colleague and head of global partnerships at Campus Direct, Nishika Hassim, said that the mindset of some parents has been changing in recent times too – perhaps preparing some even better for the current upheaval.

“Sri Lanka has always been known as quite a late market in terms of decision making because they want to wait until results are out and decide then – but we’re seeing a change there as well. Parents want to have their options open,” she told The PIE News.

As they are not relying on a heavily devalued Sri Lankan rupee, the payments can still be made – the issue is getting them to the university, and, as the PIE has previously reported, keeping their living costs under control.

For universities like South Wales, Weerasekera suggested they may be having issues with some students who are “not complying with immigration regulations” like making payments on time due to the forex crisis.

“I think that things don’t seem as bad as what the media has showed”

While he acknowledged that temporary logistical issues such as fuel prices are still causing problems, people are still able to get counselling and help from agents online, due to the country’s strong internet connectivity.

“I think that things don’t seem as bad as what the media has showed – they’re showing one side of things,” Weerasekera mused.

“Things are continuing normally, things are operating as they should – any issues are mainly due to forex payments. Some flights have had restrictions due to the fuel prices, but people are still able to leave,” he insisted.

Now that former president Rajapaksa has resigned and Ranil Wickremesinghe has taken his place, it remains to be seen what might be done to help ease the ongoing forex crisis and combat the devaluation of the rupee.

But, the payment issues international students may be facing will most likely not be at the top of the priority list, as he has already warned that the overall IMF loan agreement which would assist the country’s return to more normal economic climes has been pushed back until September.

However, there have been no changes made to the country’s cost-effective unpaid leave scheme, which allows public sector workers to take up to five years of leave to gain study or work experience and return to the same or elevated position depending on what they have achieved in their time away.

“We have a really large number of people working in the state… the government has probably trying to reduce some cost [by continuing it] and in turn they would get a very good, qualified person coming back to the country with that extra experience.

“For the next couple of years at least I don’t think they’re going to change any of those regulations,” Weerasekera declared.

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