The T.I.M.E. Association has recently conducted a survey to report on latest developments in relation to the measures taken by its members. Created in 1989, T.I.M.E. brings together 57 scientific and technological universities worldwide from 23 countries, with the aim of training bilingual and bicultural engineers. Many international students are facing difficult circumstances. In this changing and uncertain health context, appropriate measures have been taken to guarantee the safety of students, to offer the best possible arrangements for their studies and sustain international education:
Distance learning – According to first reports on the results of 20th March, T.I.M.E. Members are proactively adapting to online provision as one of the ways of managing the disruption. China, which was impacted first by the corona virus, is providing a large proportion of its students with access to online learning opportunities. At Beihang University (China), “online classes were offered from February 24 as the semester was originally scheduled. While students are still not allowed to return to campus, their study plan for the semester could proceed without interruption.” Politecnico di Milano also responded with distance learning, not without significant effort. Enabling their 45,000 students to connect to the platform every day and attend classes according to the academic calendar is no easy feat. It requires adequate technological equipment, which not all universities possess. It is the same situation in Technical University of Denmark, where all students must stay home and continue their studies. Full effort is being put into getting the technical facilities for distance education up and running.
Communication is key. For example, in CentraleSupélec (France) “students are updated with the latest instructions through online tools posting practical information, answering their questions, organizing individual chats on their platform The student unions are also very active and helping out whenever they can.”
Adaptation – International offices are also facing tough challenges. In Romania, University Politehnica of Bucharest representatives of the international office have contacted their outgoing students in order to gain a clear picture of their situation, and to help them to return home safely, if they so desire. “Today, 8 % of outgoing students have returned home, the others expressed their clear intention to remain at partner universities.” In Canada, Polytechnique Montréal recommended that Canadian students and permanent residents on exchange or double-degree programs return to Canada. “In all cases, whether the student decides to stay in the country where he or she completes the exchange or to return to Canada, the credits acquired during the exchange will be recognized, as expected.”
Other measures also include:
- special funds for students and staff blocked abroad with no further possibility of return
- arrangements around semester commencement
- fee refund and deferral
- support regarding visa issues, accommodation and employment arrangements
- extension of application deadlines for Strategic Partnerships and Erasmus Charter for Higher Education by the European Commission.
Can we say that nothing will ever be the same again?
The current situation can appear overwhelming. Emergency measures will last for weeks or maybe even months. However, this is a crisis not the Apocalypse. Let’s take a step back and analyze some of the latest trends:
The world’s international student population reached 222 million in 2017. Half of these students come from Asia-Oceania. Between now and 2027, that number is expected to exceed 300 million. By comparison, the number of international students rose from 2 million to 5.3 million between 2000 and 2017. It is expected that this number will rise to 9 million by 2027. (Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, January 2020). English-speaking countries are among the largest hosts of international students, dominated by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Non-English-speaking countries such as France and Germany are also large hosts of international students.
While Western countries have long attracted many international students, other countries have also entered the market. A recent study led by Campus France showed that “certain countries have seen a large increase in international enrollments in their institutions of higher education. Notably, Russia, Canada, China, and Turkey posted increases of 11% to 23% per year over the five years under study (2012-2017). Argentina, Spain, and Poland have also seen strong growth in the number of students they host (up 17% to 30% in a year).
As far incoming mobility is concerned, the top sending countries are dominated by China, India, Germany, South Korea, Vietnam and France: “Chinese and Indian students remain by far the largest contingents seeking a degree abroad. Other Asian countries, such as Nepal (+30%) and Vietnam (+15%) also saw growth in outbound mobility between 2016 and 2017.”
And then, Coronavirus came.
Obviously, international enrollment will be impacted, but hopefully the damage will be temporary. It may be too soon to predict any longer-term implications of a shifting landscape. But, in the long run, borders will reopen. Student interest (personal growth, search for excellent education, and career benefits) in international education will continue.
A huge amount of work has been done by IT Departments and teachers in adapt their teaching online. It is remarkable how many have adapted to keep their teaching running. But, are students satisfied with an international distance learning experience? What about teachers? And finally, does remote learning meet students’ expectations, particularly those of international students?
Renewed optimism, however, is not without awareness.
There will be important lessons to be drawn. Confronting the crisis also means understanding its roots, and resisting any form of ideological drift – protectionism, xenophobia, fear. The coronavirus must not lead us to radically question the free movement of people and goods. This health crisis is occurring at a time when we need to find a new balance. Our mission is to get through it together. No one ever said it would be easy, but we will make it.
Gwenaëlle GUILLERME, Secretary General, T.I.M.E. Association