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Clouds of uncertainty over students

Last updated on May 8, 2020

The spread of Coronavirus has increased uncertainty in the future of Indian youth, here and abroad, including the postponement of internships, often the first steps to a career 

The spread of Coronavirus across the globe has led to countries shutting their borders, announcing lockdowns and concentrating on containing the spread of the virus. In tune with the need of the hour, India too announced a 21-day lockdown. 

Along with the lockdown came problems that are not getting visibility, nor will they be addressed anytime soon. The threat from Covid-19 is real, not only in terms of its impact on health but also in terms of the economic slowdown that came in its wake. Reports by the UN suggest that the virus could cost the global economy up to $1 trillion, leading to a lot of economic stress on countries and slowing down their growth. 

Amidst this pandemic, it is envisioned that job prospects will take a hit, as will the future prospects of millions of students. India — home to one of the largest student populations in the world — will face the brunt of Coronavirus in terms of employment possibilities. These students enrolled in different government and private institutes form the backbone of the country’s future and they too have not been left untouched by the pandemic. Patriot talked to some students to unearth the issues they face due to the lockdown. 

“International internship and job offers stand cancelled, and domestic PPO (pre-placement offer) joining has been postponed till September,” says Rehan (name changed) a resident of Kashmir currently pursuing his MBA from an IIM (Indian Institute of Management).

He adds, “Quite a few startups have slashed the stipend amount by at least 50% and while bigger companies have done no such thing so far, the impact of the pandemic is being felt by all”. He also says that coordination of the timelines of internships with the restart of sessions in June will be very difficult to manage.  

He further adds that while domestic Internship offers for marketing companies have been deferred to 14 April, operations companies have started with work-from-home and will call interns once the lockdown is lifted. Finance companies are also following the pattern of operations companies.

On being asked about his travel experience when the college was shut down, Rehan recounts a tale of trauma. He says it was not easy. “I had to catch three different flights to reach Srinagar, out of which two were rescheduled. As I finally landed, I came out to curfew-like measures that were imposed in Srinagar. I was tested multiple times as the area I was travelling from had witnessed confirmed cases of Covid-19. Due to lack of transport, I had to walk for 10 km when finally I got a car from a relative’s home to reach my own house.” 

Talking about managing timeframes for internships and restarting of the session, Devashish Motwani, a student at IIM Shillong says, “My internship was supposed to start in the first week of April. It has now been deferred by a month as the work related to my profile could not be done remotely.” He also tells us that while some companies have asked interns to work from home till the lockdown lasts, others have taken back their offers.   

For a student pursuing business management, securing a good internship is considered to be the stepping stone to a good job, and in wake of their being postponed and even cancelled, the prospects of pre-placement offers (PPOs) now stand on shaky grounds. “Things are pretty uncertain at the moment as this is unknown territory for everyone — students, faculty and companies alike,” adds Devashish. 

He also states that while returning from Shillong to his hometown in Lucknow, the assistance of the state government was crucial. “Cars with special permits had been allotted to ferry students from the campus to the airport as the entire state of Meghalaya was under lockdown. Though body checks were being done at the Guwahati airport, no such screenings were done in Lucknow.”  

A lot of people, he says, are looking for work-from-home internships due to cancellations. He, on the other hand, has opted to pursue online additional certificate courses to increase his future job prospects — a path taken by many others. The time lost due to the outbreak of the virus is one of the most crucial in the academic calendar as most students will be looking to establish a strong base from where to start their careers. This then has led to rising pressure on them as many had availed student loans to finance their education. In such a scenario, the loss of internships, PPOs and delays in examinations can have long-lasting repercussions on their future. 

And while students within India face uncertain times, Indians studying abroad are facing an even more difficult time. 

Ishan Chowdhary, a student pursuing Sports Management at the Deakin University in the suburbs of Melbourne, says that the lockdown and the shutting of international borders have made things very difficult. “Many of us do not want to return to India as there have been no clear instructions or announcements from the Australian authorities regarding the return of international students. Many students have decided to stay back until the spread of the virus can be contained,” he says. But staying abroad is not easy either and comes with a host of problems. 

Firstly, Ishan says, are the accommodation issues. “Although the civic authorities have asked landlords to not evict tenants if they are unable to pay rent on time, the final say in the matter has been left to the owner.” Ishan, whose flatmate has already left, faces a whole lot of issues, along with the increased burden of rent. Secondly, he said, “We have had to pay the entire campus fee even when classes are only being conducted online for the current trimester”. But the biggest problem, he says, is psychological. “Being away from family is not easy, especially in times of crisis.”

Another problem that international students are facing is the drying up of jobs that they take up to supplement their spending. “With the lockdown, most of the jobs related to fields that students work in have been hit, this is especially with students associated with event management and sports. With all sporting events cancelled the jobs we took up are all but gone. In such a scenario a lot of students are opting to work in supermarkets and local stores,” he says.

While the world is facing one of the worst health crises in recent history, the implications the spread of the virus will have on the lives of students and by extension, their future is nothing short of a crisis in itself.