Meeting of Erasmus students in Poland. Photo Erasmus Network / Flickr

Many Erasmus students still on exchange, but at home


How are exchange students doing in a corona-infested Europe? According to a survey by the Erasmus Student Network, a quarter of exchanges had already been cancelled by the end of March. But a lot of classes did continue online.

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Universities and universities of applied sciences in Europe are working hard to keep their classes going, but the corona crisis has changed everything this year. The virus is also throwing a spanner in the works on exchanges.

This has come to light in the new research report 'Student exchanges in times of crisis'. In mid-March, the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) conducted a survey among 21,930 exchange students, including 326 Dutch citizens. The respondents had mainly travelled to Spain (3,978), Portugal (2,433) and Germany (2,309). The Netherlands hosted 468 students.

The response to the survey, which could be filled out for about two weeks, showed that more and more exchange students returned home in March. They encountered all kinds of practical problems abroad. They could not travel or had little access to English-language information on local corona measures. Some students even had difficulty accessing food or sanitary products, or suddenly had no place to stay anymore.

At the end of March, 40 percent of the exchange students were back home. Of the Dutch respondents, 70 percent had already returned by then, the ESN says. The survey is a snapshot, though; by now the percentages are probably even higher.

At the same time, two thirds of the respondents indicated that their exchange would continue for the time being, for example because they could switch to online education. So some students returned to their home country, but continued to take courses at their host university.

For at least a quarter of the respondents, the exchange adventure was over by the end of March, according to the survey. This could be because they themselves decided to end it, or because their university or government made them do so.

Students wonder what all this means for their Erasmus scholarship. For many respondents of the ESN survey (65 percent) this was still unclear at the end of March. Only a quarter knew for sure that the scholarship would be retained in whole or in part.

The corona crisis has created an exceptional situation, as stated on the Erasmus+ website. Exchange students who can continue their studies or internships online may therefore keep their scholarship. It does not matter if they do this from the Netherlands or from the host country. For exchanges that have previously been discontinued, the institution determines what happens to the scholarship, "in a consistent and policy-oriented manner".

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Governing party D66 asked for attention for Dutch students abroad last month. The party wanted to know if they would be compensated for a possible study delay.

Students will be confronted with all kinds of issues as a result of breaking off their exchange, answered Minister Van Engelshoven. If they run into financial problems, they can increase their loans from DUO.

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