COVID reduces student exchanges in higher education in autumn

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COVID reduces student exchanges in higher education in autumn

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to restrict student mobility in higher education as the number of outgoing and incoming students in Finland remained clearly lower than normal in autumn 2021, said the Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI) in a press release on Friday referring to a survey.

The survey addressed to higher education institutions (HEIs) by the EDUFI in November 2021, to which all 37 HEIs responded.

In the autumn term, almost 1,800 students from Finland went on student exchanges or traineeships abroad. Of them, 1,000 were students from universities and slightly under 800 from universities of applied sciences (polytechnic Institutes). The number remained lower than anticipated by HEIs in June: at the time, almost 2,300 exchanges were expected to take place.

However, the number of outgoing students has grown each term since autumn 2020, when only slightly over 700 students went abroad. The figures were clearly higher before the COVID-19 pandemic: in 2019, about 4,000 students per term completed a period abroad.

The survey revealed that the uncertainty about the COVID-19 situation made many students postpone applying for a mobility period until the spring term 2022 instead of the autumn as the situation was expected to improve by then with vaccinations becoming more common.

Some of the exchanges planned for the autumn term were later rescheduled for the spring term and some were cancelled altogether. This has happened especially with mobilities to destinations outside Europe as exchanges to many Asian countries or the United States have not been possible. In addition to students’ own decisions, cancellations have also been made because of the restrictions in the destination country or in the receiving HEIs.

HEIs anticipate that the figures for the spring term will be significantly better than in the autumn: there should be slightly over 3,600 outgoing students. However, the situation still lives and exchanges for the spring are still getting cancelled.

The number of students completing a period abroad in Finland has remained clearly higher than the number of outgoing students throughout the COVID-19 epidemic. In the autumn term 2021, Finnish higher education institutions hosted 4,100 foreign exchange students and the number is anticipated to be 4,200 in the spring term 2022. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were between 5,000 and 5,500 incoming exchange students in Finland every term.

There have been differences between HEIs in whether they have accepted exchange students. A total of 7 HEIs said they had cancelled almost all incoming student mobility from abroad in the autumn term. In addition, a few HEIs had accepted incoming students only from within Europe. However, many HEIs have continued student exchanges normally and some HEIs have even received record numbers of exchange students.

According to the HEI’s estimates, Finland's attractiveness in the eyes of foreign exchange students has been increased by the COVID-19 transmission rates, which have been low in comparison with many countries, and the restrictions, which have been found relatively mild.

The COVID-19 pandemic has speeded up the mainstreaming of virtual exchanges: virtuality would seem to be establishing itself as part of international cooperation also in the future.

Some of the planned periods abroad have been implemented fully virtually during the pandemic, meaning that students have participated online from their home country, and some as blended mobility, which is a combination of virtual and physical mobility.


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