Majority of student exchanges cancelled also during spring term

Current issues Higher education Coronavirus Internationalisation
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, higher education institutions have also had to cancel the majority of the student exchanges planned for the spring term. Especially the number of outgoing students from Finland remains lower than anticipated. On the other hand, virtual mobility has started to increase when a growing number of students complete their exchange studies remotely from their home country.
Students in the university library lobby

The information is from a survey in which the Finnish National Agency for Education collected information on the implementation of international mobility in the spring term 2021 from higher education institutions (HEIs). The survey was conducted at the beginning of February and all of the HEIs responded to it. Similar surveys have been conducted to monitor the situation in HEIs since last summer.

Over two thirds of exchanges of Finnish students have been cancelled

Percentage of physical, virtual, blended and cancelled or postponed incoming and outgoing mobilities in higher education in spring 2021

Based on the survey, it seems that slightly over 1,300 higher education students from Finland will go on student exchange or complete a traineeship abroad during the spring term. However, a great majority of the exchanges have had to be cancelled and the number of cancellations may still rise as the spring term will not begin until March or April in some of the destination countries. At the moment, the number of known cancelled or postponed exchanges is already 3,100.

The number of incoming students has remained higher than the number of outgoing students: 2,800 foreign exchange students are studying at Finnish HEIs during the spring term. However, the exchanges of many students who were due to come to Finland have also been cancelled.

The number of exchange students in the spring is slightly higher than in the autumn term, when 800 outgoing students from Finland went on exchange and 2,300 incoming students came here from abroad.

The deterioration of the epidemic situation and the threat of the spread of the virus variant have made some HEIs stop sending or receiving exchange students altogether. Eleven of the HEIs reported that they had stopped receiving exchange students and 7 HEIs had stopped both sending and receiving them. However, those students whose exchange had already started have been able to continue their exchange as normal. Nineteen Finnish HEIs have decided to continue organising exchange studies if the restrictions allow it.

Number of virtual exchanges has grown from the autumn term

According to the survey, 400 foreign students are completing their exchange studies in a Finnish HEI remotely from their home country this spring. Correspondingly, 100 Finnish students are completing their exchange virtually. In addition, 60 foreign and 50 Finnish students have decided on so-called blended mobility, in which part of the exchange is completed in the student’s home country and part of it in the destination country, if the coronavirus situation allows it.

Virtual student mobility has begun to rise clearly during the coronavirus pandemic as there were 116 foreign and 23 Finnish virtual exchange students at Finnish HEIs in the autumn term.

During the pandemic, international mobility of teachers and other staff has come to a complete stop as HEIs have travel restrictions that prevent all non-essential travel abroad. According to the survey, virtual mobility of teachers and staff takes place at HEIs and international exchange weeks are organised virtually. However, compiling statistics on them is difficult because teachers’ virtual teaching periods at partner HEIs are organised at the level of departments and degree programmes and information on them is not necessarily collected at the level of the entire HEI. The HEIs that responded to the survey were aware of 80 virtual teacher or staff exchanges from Finland to other countries and of 150 exchanges to Finland. The actual numbers are estimated to be significantly higher. 

Optimistic about student exchanges in the next academic year

HEIs are optimistic about the implementation of international mobility in the academic year 2021–2022. 

At the beginning of this year, application processes for the next academic year's student exchanges have been organised almost normally: only a few places have so far been cancelled for the autumn term.  In some of the HEIs, student exchanges that have been cancelled because of coronavirus have been postponed directly to the next academic year, while some other HEIs have advised students to reapply. Interest in exchange studies has not declined among students. Although in some HEIs, the number of students who have applied for an exchange place has been slightly lower than before, it has increased significantly in one HEI.

Information on incoming exchange students to Finland will not be obtained from the partner HEIs until later in the spring. 

Final decisions on the implementation of exchanges in the next academic year will be made later once the situation with regard to the coronavirus epidemic becomes clearer. Students who have been selected for exchanges are advised to prepare for possible impacts of the coronavirus situation on their exchange and should also prepare for cancellations. The coronavirus situation will also affect incoming students.

At the beginning of February, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) recommended suspending short-term exchanges until further notice. Student exchanges at HEIs are mainly long-term mobility periods lasting a whole term or academic year and as a rule, traineeships also last several months. According to THL’s recommendations, it is still possible to implement them as long as all travel and quarantine restrictions in the countries of origin and destination are complied with.