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More universities scrap international exchange plans

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The number of Covid-19 infections continues to increase worldwide. Several higher education institutions, including Utrecht University, have already cancelled their exchange programmes for the spring semester as a precaution. Others are still weighing up their options.

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Thanks to the pandemic, the prospect of spending a few carefree months in a sunny, faraway country has now become a pipe dream for many students. Many exchange programmes were either cancelled last spring or continued online.

Now that countries across the world are struggling to contain a second wave of the virus, plans for the second semester are also being redrawn. Leiden University and the University of Amsterdam have both cancelled their exchange programmes as a precaution. The same goes for the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, which is no longer offering its students outbound programmes for that period.

Utrecht University is another one who shelved its exchange plans. “Whether or not to continue the exchange has an effect on accommodation, side jobs, booking airline tickets, etc.” the university explains on its website. “However, we do not know what the situation will look like in the spring and therefore consider the level of uncertainty too high.”

Nail-biting wait
Some institutions have been less clear-cut in their response. For example, Radboud University Nijmegen has decided not to “facilitate physical study exchanges” in the second semester, but it will grant exceptions “in specific cases”. One condition is that the rate of Covid infection in the country of destination must be relatively low from November 1st up to and including the departure date (i.e. the country must be ‘code green’ or ‘code yellow’ on the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ travel advice website.) That could mean a nail-biting wait for students who are keen to travel.

November will also be a tense month for students elsewhere in the Netherlands. Rotterdam’s University of Applied Sciences states on its website that it will wait until next month to decide on study trips abroad in 2021, while TU Delft’s news platform Cursor reports that the board of Eindhoven University of Technology will reach a decision on second-semester exchanges by mid-November.

Other institutions are still awaiting developments. For students in Twente and Wageningen for example, exchanges next semester may still be on the cards for the time being, provided the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regards the country of destination as relatively safe (code green or code yellow).

Alternatives
In the meantime, all institutions are hard at work to come up with meaningful alternatives for students who have to stay at home. Leiden, for example, is looking at ways of expanding the range of electives on offer.

Universities and universities of applied sciences are also looking into digital options, says a spokesperson for Europe’s Erasmus+ programme. These might take the form of ‘virtual mobility’ (online exchange from home) or ‘blended mobility’. The latter means that students will initially be taught online and have the opportunity to go abroad once travel restrictions have been lifted.

Well-intentioned though these initiatives may be, an online exchange hardly compares with immersing yourself in the whirl of student life of a foreign city. How are students supposed to acquire ‘international competences’ in a digital classroom? Nuffic, the Dutch organisation for internationalisation in education, will hold a webinar on that very subject next week.

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