Concerns among students: will they be able to go on international exchange next year?
This academic year, Radboud University cancelled all exchanges with foreign universities. Students are concerned that even in September they won't be able to go abroad. ‘I would be incredibly disappointed if it doesn't go through.’
Economics student Koen Smeets (23) hopes to study at Beijing University for half a year starting in September. He thinks it would be a great opportunity to get to know a new culture and to study at a top university. ‘I am looking forward to it tremendously.’ Lisa Bakker (21, Communication Sciences) says much the same about her plans to go to Gothenburg next year in February. ‘I’m really keen to go, but I don’t know whether I’ll be allowed to. That’s definitely something that bothers me.’
The reason is of course the Coronavirus. All exchanges had to be halted due to the pandemic this academic year. Many countries do not have the virus under control. Furthermore, some destinations have implemented travel bans or residency restrictions.
Only if the situation improves will Radboud University be willing to allow exchanges next academic year, according to the head of International Mobility, Rob van Leeuwen. ‘We look at the travel advisories of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Only if this is green or yellow do we think it safe to allow exchanges.’ At the moment, almost all countries are at orange (travel only when necessary), or even red (all travel is discouraged).
Spain most popular
Information from International Mobility indicates that 717 students have registered for an exchange abroad in the next academic year. This number is comparable with other years. The ratio between European and non-European destinations has also remained about the same. The most popular destinations are Spain (107), the United Kingdom (89), Canada (53), the United States (52) and Italy (50).
For students who want to go abroad in the first semester, there is a race against the clock. They can only hope for a yellow travel advisory. For the first semester of next academic year, the University will assess on 1 May (for exchanges outside Europe) and on 15 June (for exchanges within Europe) whether an exchange is possible. The International Mobility team is closely monitoring development, according to Van Leeuwen. ‘We expect that more and more will become possible this year, but when precisely is uncertain. If we see or expect an improvement on the assessment date, but the code is still orange, we will look into further possibilities.’
But even if Radboud University gives students permission, it is still uncertain whether students can start packing their luggage. Partner universities can spoil things by cancelling exchanges, for example because they think the situation in the Netherlands around the virus is not under control. ‘Inbound and outbound students often go hand in hand,’ Van Leeuwen explains. ‘If one side decides to keep students at home, then most of the time both parties cancel.’
This situation has caused uncertainty in students dreaming of a stay abroad. They already have to arrange many practical matters, such as finding a room and booking tickets. Besides this, now they have to think of a plan B. Economics student Smeets says he does not yet have an alternative if he can’t go to China. With the levelheadedness of someone who has lived through a year of lockdown, he says: ‘I’ll see about that then.’
Communication Sciences student Bakker would be incredibly disappointed if her exchange is cancelled. Because she wants to go to Sweden so badly, she is considering whether to go even if all the lectures are digital. ‘But naturally I’d rather go on a regular exchange. I am hopeful that it will be possible again in February.’
Next academic year, 717 students have registered to go on an exchange abroad (see box). Van Leeuwen finds it hard to predict how many will actually be able to travel. ‘Sadly, I do not have a crystal ball. Hopefully, as many as possible, because I do hope that Lisa, Koen and all others students can experience an exchange abroad for a semester.’