Covid19: problems and opportunities of student mobility
Servizio relazioni internazionali e mobilità
19 Aprile 2021
This is the title of the speech given by the Head of the International Relations and Study Abroad service on the occasion of the first Townhall (read the news at https://www.usi.ch/en/feeds/15495) "USI and the third Covid-19 semester: the challenges and how to face them" that was held online on Wednesday, 24 February.
It is quite evident that Covid-19 has hampered the plans of exchange students from USI and around the world but, after one year, it is also possible to identify some opportunities. Fortunately, the negative forecasts of the first hour turned out not to be as bad as we initially thought.
First of all, mobility, in general, has held up in terms of numbers (we hosted fewer incoming students but sent out more outgoing students compared to the previous years). Being in Switzerland made a big difference: thanks to the Swiss mobility programme we were able to relocate a number of USI students whose initial plan was disrupted due to Covid.
The new context gave us the chance to familiarize ourselves both with new types of mobility (and this is important as blended mobility will be introduced in the new Erasmus programme) and new technologies: for example, we offered recorded information sessions with Panopto and individual advisory meetings with MS Teams.
Finally, if we look into the future we can confirm that the desire to carry out an international experience is even stronger. Of course, a coin is double-sided:
the International programme was scaled down as it was not possible for exchange students to travel to universities outside Europe. We all experienced uncertainty in our daily job. In fact, rules and procedures changed frequently causing an increase in communication and administrative load (we have exchanged a huge amount of messages with students, colleagues and authorities). Students experienced new types of problems related to their exchange: lack of transportation to return home, accommodation difficulties (e.g. early cancellation of the lease contract), even challenges in and accessing basic needs such as food and sanitary products. As a result, students sometimes incurred in unforeseen expenses.
The last major problem concerned the intrinsic added value of such an experience, namely the acquisition of intercultural skills that could not be guaranteed, a “hot topic” that is currently being discussed.
In conclusion, we can consider ourselves satisfied with the efforts and results obtained. We have learned new ways of operating, improved our skills and gained new awareness.