Thousands of students in the Arab World who had hoped to complete their higher education overseas this fall are having to put their dreams on hold because of closed university campuses in the United States and Europe, travel and visa restrictions, strained finances and other hardships brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Some who wanted to come to the United States now find that possibility hinges on university decisions about whether to hold classes in person or online. U.S. immigration officials announced this week that student visas would not be issued to people enrolled in programs that are fully online, and that students already in the United States must leave “or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction,” if they want to remain.
Bishoy Magdy Zaki, a 29-year-old Egyptian, is among the students whose plans were in limbo. Zaki was preparing to start a Ph.D. program in the United States in September, but the coronavirus lockdown measures “stopped everything,” he said.
Zaki, who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Cairo University and a master’s degree in public policy from the American University in Cairo, was accepted at three doctoral scholarship programs in the United States late last year and was supposed to choose one by the end of April. But when the coronavirus crisis made it unlikely he would get to study on a U.S. campus this fall, he requested one-year postponements of his scholarship offers.
On-Campus Study Preferred
“It seems that universities are suffering financially,” Zaki said in a phone call. “One of the universities that had previously accepted my request to postpone the scholarship for the next year reconsidered its decision and asked me to start studying online or not to continue the scholarship.”
The university told him that because of the financial stress caused by the coronavirus, funding would be withdrawn for international students who could not travel on schedule, Zaki explained.
The other two universities have told Zaki that they can postpone his admission for the next year, or he can start by distance education this year and travel later when the situation stabilizes. But Zaki wants to study in the United States even if he has to wait a year.
“My dream is to travel and study abroad, not to study from here online,” he said.
He added that the scholarship offers included a research assistantship that would pay him enough to help cover his personal expenses—a benefit he would lose if he studied remotely.