London: UK universities have urged distressed Indian students, whether still in Britain or in India, to get in touch with their varsity support services if they need help or guidance during the coronavirus related lockdown.
On Monday, the Indian government announced plans to begin phased repatriation of its citizens stranded abroad from May 7.
Air India will operate 64 flights from May 7 to May 13 to bring back around 15,000 Indian nationals stranded abroad amid the COVID-19-induced lockdown, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said in New Delhi on Tuesday.
As the Indian government’s first phase of repatriations from the UK to India begins from Thursday, many Indian students in the UK still face a long wait before they can fly home. The UK universities said they wanted them to know that the support continues to be available.
“We are aware that many Indian students are concerned about money and accommodation, are missing their families and are understandably distressed to be far from home during this global pandemic. My message to those students is: please, please speak to your university,” said Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK international, which represents 143 UK university leaders.
“We may not be able to fix everything, but there are people on hand who will do everything they can to make things easier for you. Universities are providing support in the form of funding, food, accommodation and advice and guidance. We are in this together, please don’t struggle alone,” she said.
Universities UK said that support offered by universities includes delivering food to students, providing hardship funds for students in financial difficulty, waiving accommodation fees or moving international students into accommodation where they can look after them by providing cleaning, security and catering. Universities are also providing pastoral and mental health support.
Jaspreet Singh, an Indian student at Birmingham City University (BCU), had some advice for his fellow BCU students: “I know being an international student how worried our parents can be. I send them regular updates and say I’m safe here. Make sure you are in touch with your lecturers and the amazing support team which BCU has got make sure you use them.”
Universities UK also highlighted a range of specific steps taken by a snapshot of universities around the UK to support international students who may feel stranded as a result of the coronavirus crisis and need support.
The University of Bath has moved all students in university owned accommodation around the city into campus accommodation and is providing three free meals a day to all students who remain on campus. It has also enhanced the availability of financial assistance to students who find themselves in hardship.
Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland has implemented a dedicated helpline for students, which operates seven days a week, and has introduced a fund to support students through the COVID-19 crisis as well as waived rent for April and May. Solent University and the University of Bangor have been supporting students stuck in the UK to access hardship funding.
Indians make up one of the largest groups of international students from outside the European Union (EU) studying at universities in Britain, after Chinese students. Thousands of these Indian students have found themselves stranded as India imposed a ban on international flights in the middle of March.
Indian students’ representative groups such as the National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK (NISAU-UK) and Indian National Students Association (INSA) have issued advisories and have been organising food deliveries and other assistance through the lockdown.
The UK Home Office had confirmed that any foreign students or professionals on visas that had expired or expiring would be given an extension at least until May 31. Many of the stranded students, from different parts of India including Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand, expressed their relief at that extension but remain concerned about the limited resources at their disposal.
A ticket on one of the initial seven Air India repatriation flights organised by the Indian government are set to cost around Rs 50,000, which combined with the cost of quarantine to be borne by the passenger on landing in India, is a new cause for worry among this group as they await their turn to be flown back to India.