Students planning to go abroad on exchange still facing uncertainty

Right now, most of the world has been classified red or orange, which means travelling is highly discouraged because of the coronavirus. Image: Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Everybody is hoping things will go back to normal in higher education in the next academic year. But, since that's not guaranteed, many Dutch universities have decided to approve exchange programmes conditionally. That is the case of Utrecht University, which is greenlighting exchanges provided that the student's country of choice is coded green or yellow at the time of the exchange.

Green means that no restrictions apply, while yellow means that travellers should remain ‘vigilant’. There are also orange and red travel advisories. Currently, almost the entire world map is coded orange, which means only necessary travel is allowed. There are also a number of red countries, for which all travel has been suspended.

The University of Twente has opted for a similar approach, giving its students (and programmes) the go-ahead to prepare for exchanges in September, as long as they take into account that there might still be restrictions. Meanwhile, the Delft University of Technology is limiting its exchanges to the European Union.

But this conditional approval may mean that the institutions may risk wasting time and resources. It remains to be seen. That's why some institutions, like the University of Amsterdam, have decided to cancel their exchange programmes once more, rather than waiting to see how the pandemic will develop this summer. This way, students who were hoping to go abroad this year have plenty of time to figure out something else to do.

UvA students were not pleased. They are now protesting the cancellation, demanding to know why their university is choosing to scrap exchanges when other institutions are allowing their students to go abroad.

But most institutions are still undecided, as is the case of the Codarts University for the Arts and the Ede Christian University of Applied Sciences, which have not yet made a definitive decision. VU Amsterdam will base its decision on the travel advisories on June 1st for exchanges outside Europe and July 1st for exchanges within Europe, which includes Turkey.

But what about the students themselves? Do they get a say? “We do believe that student participation councils should have the right to advise on this, but it’s a grey area”, says Dahran Çoban, chair of Dutch National Student Association ISO. “The law is open to interpretation.” This gives institutions leeway to approach the matter as they see fit.

As scrapping exchanges altogether is a drastic decision, Çoban believes administrators should involve the students in the decision regardless, even if there’s no formal requirement to do so.