Universities diverge on openness to Erasmus students’ arrival

Most institutions say they will take Erasmus+ students in the autumn, with Swiss universities universally open, while the UK and Netherlands are more closed

August 3, 2020
Open door

There are big variations across Europe in terms of openness to exchange students arriving in the next academic year, new data have revealed, with a sizeable minority of Dutch and UK universities shutting their doors, while Swiss universities are universally open.

Observers believe the differences could be down to how hard countries have been hit by coronavirus − and how important Erasmus+ students are to national university systems.

The European University Foundation (EUF) helped collect data from close to 1,200 institutions across Europe on whether they would physically accept Erasmus+ students in the autumn, and if international students could follow their courses online instead.

Overall, 61.4 per cent said they would accept exchange students, 8.5 per cent said they would not, and the rest were still unsure.

“To be honest, we were bracing for something that feels worse,” said João Bacelar, executive manager of the EUF, a group of public universities that promotes student mobility.

Still, despite relatively encouraging top-line results, no universities in contact with the EUF were expecting business as usual in terms of exchange student numbers. “I think everyone will get a bit of a knock,” he said.

All 22 Swiss institutions that replied to the survey said they would take exchange students from the autumn.

“Switzerland knows that international students are a key driver for excellence and competitiveness” and have been working hard to adapt their campuses, said Amanda Crameri, head of the higher education sector at Movetia, Switzerland’s exchange and mobility agency.

Movetia is one of the organisations that helped develop the Erasmus+ Covid-19 Mobility Status tool, which collected the data.

With one in four students in Switzerland coming from outside the country, exchange is “in the DNA of the Swiss higher education system”, she said.

The country’s openness is also likely down to relatively low levels of coronavirus, she said, adding that “it would be rather different if we had a second wave”.

The data also showed that more than three-quarters of German institutions were set to open their doors to exchange students in the autumn, while in Portugal, 69.4 per cent of respondents said they would accept exchange students.

In some countries harder hit by the virus, universities appeared more cautious. In Spain (58.4), France (58.2) and Italy (56), the percentages welcoming Erasmus students were lower. In Poland, the figure was 54.9 per cent.

Just a quarter of universities in the Netherlands have said they will accept students, and a third have said they will not.

UK institutions are also relatively reluctant to open up; just over half said they were open to exchange students, but more than a quarter will stay closed – though the UK data is based on relatively few responses.

In Turkey, more than half of institutions that responded were yet to decide.

Asked whether they were offering online courses, 36.5 per cent of all institutions said they were and 8.5 per cent were not, leaving the majority still undecided.

This means that European universities seem less willing to offer fully online alternatives to exchange students than to receive them on campus − results that Mr Bacelar described as “counter-intuitive to some extent”.

“I wouldn’t call it reluctance, but it’s actually a concern about quality [of online courses],” he said.

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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