According to Martine Wierenga, head of the International Office at Erasmus University Rotterdam, a high number of students is interested in going on an exchange this year. “Quite comparable to normal years,” says Wierenga. “Last year wasn’t normal, so we can’t compare it to that very well. If you compare it to 2019, we have a similar amount of outgoing and incoming exchange students. For certain faculties there are even more, such as at the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioral Science.”
“The situation is still very uncertain at this moment,” Wierenga said. “The students are still waiting. The travel advice of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs needs to be yellow or green to start with, and they’re not sure if the partner university they want to go to will cancel the programme. So they don’t know yet whether they should apply for visa, for example, or to book their housing. You have to start all the preparations at a certain moment, but if you’re not sure about the situation, these are very difficult decisions to make.”
The current situation regarding international exchanges depends almost completely on external factors. All the international offices can do is to ’constantly monitor the relevant websites and keep the students updated as best as they can’ with information from government websites, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as from partner universities.
Certain corona measures on a national level may also be of influence. “In some cases, it’s not up to the partner universities. Certain countries just close,” Wierenga explains. For example, Australia has closed its border to all travelers, including exchange students. The same applies to incoming exchange students who applied for Erasmus University. Some of them are not allowed to travel abroad yet, either.
Exchange programmes at Erasmus University are coordinated by each faculty respectively, which are also in charge of direct communication with students. All the students have been recommended to have a plan B from the start, and the alternatives available vary from faculty to faculty.
For instance, at the Erasmus University College (EUC) and the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication, students are offered exchange at an alternative university in Europe, as the borders in Europe are more likely to open up in the current situation. And if students decide to cancel their exchange altogether, they can do a minor at EUR or another university within the Netherlands. EUC students can, for example, choose a national exchange between Dutch university colleges. No Rotterdam students chose this option, but the programme is benefiting incoming exchange students from Tilburg and Twente.
To facilitate incoming exchange students who might not make it to the Netherlands, most faculties provide hybrid education, combining online classes and offline activities on campus, where corona measures still apply. Some faculties decided to offer the exchange programme fully online, because, for example, they couldn’t find a lecture hall big enough. Once allowed, they will offer group work, social events and activities on campus for exchange students.
Some students, whose host universities have cancelled exchange, have chosen to go abroad as ‘free movers’ to a university abroad. This option has been existing long before the corona crisis but has now gained in popularity. Free movers do need to pay tuition fee to their chosen host universities, as they are not part of exchange agreements which are coordinated and supported by the EUR international offices.
With own risk
“Students who decide to go on exchange abroad need to be aware of the fact that it’s at their own risk. Even when the travel advice is green or yellow when they leave, the situation in a country can change very quickly, and it will be their own responsibility to deal with any costs resulting from such a change,” says Wierenga.
“It is clearly stated on the EUR website,” Wierenga continues, that “the university won’t pay for repatriation or support students financially if the situation changes once they’re abroad, and they need to leave to the country they’re in. That’s why all students going abroad are asked to confirm that they know that they are responsible for these costs themselves.”