Impact of COVID-19 on higher education student mobility in Finland
During the spring semester 2020 the Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI) collected statistical information on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on international student mobility within higher education to/from Finland. The information collection took place in March-May, with nearly all Finnish higher education institutions (13 universities and 23 universities of applied sciences) responding to the inquiry.
Many Finnish students continued their interrupted exchange studies virtually in Finland
According to the statistical information collected, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the spring term outgoing student mobilities as follows (total of 4176 students):
The situation varies greatly between higher education institutions (HEI). In some HEIs as many as 90 % of mobile students interrupted their mobility and returned to Finland. In some others only 20 – 30 % of students returned home with certainty. Some HEIs invited their students to return home but the final decision was left to individual students.
The students who decided to stay in the host country based their decision on, for example, perceived sense of security in the host country, and financial matters (rent in the host country already paid for full semester and no accommodation awaiting in Finland).
It appears that a majority of those students who interrupted their mobility due to the pandemic have been able to continue their studies through online learning.
At least 30 % of the incoming students continued their exchange in Finland
According to the statistical information collected, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the spring term incoming student mobilities as follows (total of 4917 students):
All Finnish HEIs quickly switched to online teaching and learning in mid-March 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Online studies have also been offered to incoming exchange students who returned to their home countries.
Virtual mobility is an option but will not replace physical mobility
According to information collected by the Finnish Erasmus+ National Agency in June 2020, nearly 1/3 of the Finnish higher education institutions (11 HEIs: 3 universities, 8 universities of applied sciences) have decided to cancel all outgoing and incoming student mobility for the autumn semester due to the uncertainty the COVID-19 outbreak is still causing around the world. 25 higher education institutions (10 universities, 15 UAS) are preparing to implement both outgoing and incoming student mobility if the circumstances permit. However, almost all the HEIs estimate to have less student mobility in the academic year 2020/21 compared to normal.
Key mobility funding programs, such as Erasmus +, Nordplus and FIRST +, recommend the higher education institutions to implement blended or virtual mobilities in the autumn semester 2020 if physical mobility is not possible due to exceptional circumstances.
15 HEIs out of 36 report that they have plans to replace physical student mobility with virtual mobility in the autumn when physical mobility is not possible. Two HEIs have no plans to implement any virtual mobility; 17 HEIs say that they will take decisions on virtual mobility at a later stage.
It seems that despite the HEIs' willingness to support virtual mobility arrangements and despite successful online learning in the spring semester 2020, there is not enough time to plan for a large scale virtual mobility in the autumn semester 2020. The Finnish HEIs estimate that in the academic year 2020/21 only 5 % of the outgoing Erasmus+ student mobility for studies would be virtual.