A survey of 850 Indian students has found that nearly two-thirds (61%) would defer overseas studies if their universities of choice could only offer online education due to pandemic-induced social distancing measures.

As the Covid-19 crisis grinds on, keeping businesses closed and citizens confined to their homes across dozens of countries, universities are grappling with questions around how to deliver degree tuition come September if lockdowns persist.

International students, who are lucrative to universities in the UK, US, Australia and Canada because they pay inflated fees, are taking stock of the situation, considering deferments or cancelling study-abroad plans entirely, in some cases.

The survey of students using Shiksha, a popular study-abroad platform, found that 35% of students were “extremely concerned” about the quality of online education that has replaced lectures, seminars and in-person tuition to allow universities to comply with social distancing rules.

As a result, 13% of students surveyed said they would cancel plans entirely if online classes were the only option, fuelling further concerns among vice-chancellors worldwide around how to mitigate sharp falls in international student numbers. Universities in the UK and Australia have warned that September will see multi-billion-pound losses and that some institutions could go bankrupt.

However, more positively, the survey found that just over 40% were “not at all likely” to cancel their plans entirely, but half were “very likely” to monitor the situation as it evolves.

Findings linked to students’ willingness to pursue online university studies varied significantly according to destination countries.

For instance, some 78% of students looking at options in Australia said they would “likely” defer, compared with 54% of those headed for Canada. The survey noted a caveat, however: this could be due to the availability of some courses in the autumn intake, or due to deposits being charged upfront.

Vivek Jain, Shiksha’s chief business officer, said: “As we can see, the survey clearly shows a likely change in student’s choice of the country due to the current situation.

“Students are more likely to shift away from Australia and New Zealand, while aspirants preferring US/Canada are more convinced of their choice of country.”

Jain’s long-term outlook remained optimistic.

“I expect the number of students going abroad for higher studies to see a temporary decline and again increase after the fears subside,” he said. “My suggestion will be not to panic and stick to long-term plans.”