03 november 2020

Webinar ‘Digitalisation of student mobility’: physical mobility cannot be replaced, but virtual mobility helps students gain international skills in exceptional times

Mariëlle van Heumen

Mariëlle van Heumen


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How do you acquire international competences in a digital international classroom or during a virtual internship? This was the main question asked during the webinar “Digitalisation of student mobility: gaining international competences in times of corona through virtual and blended mobility" organised by Neth-ER and Nuffic. Concluding, it was clear that physical mobility cannot simply be replaced by virtual mobility. However, virtual and blended mobility do provide an alternative in current times when physical mobility is severely limited.

Webinar ‘Digitalisation of student mobility’: physical mobility cannot be replaced, but virtual mobility helps students gain international skills in exceptional times

Student mobility in corona times  

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, student mobility has found itself in a difficult position where travel is severely hampered and valuable international experience has to be gained mostly online. But what is necessary to make virtual or blended mobility succeed? How do we engage students in virtual mobility? And how can virtual and blended mobility be deployed to best support physical mobility? Neth-ER and Nuffic welcomed Anne Rosier, researcher at Nuffic for an introduction of the international competence model, followed by a discussion with four students who are doing a virtual exchange or internship. Chrystalla Petridou, Policy Assistant to the director for Innovation, International Cooperation and Sports, presented the Commission’s newly adopted Digital Education Action Plan (DEAP) and its connections to student mobility.

Learning in a virtual classroom

There is no one size fits all solution for online learning, said Yigit Kirca, physics student at the University of Groningen. Yigit emphasised that virtual learning is not easy for everyone and support should be given on an individual basis. Although the switch to online learning can be challenging, he notes that it has increased his adaptability to new situations and it encourages him to be more efficient. “Also in a world without corona, a situation with hybrid education would still be preferable to give students the option to be on or off campus” he adds, highlighting an increased call for flexibility in education. Pham Vu Hoang, international communications student at Hanze Hogeschool, pointed out the communication difficulties that arise in virtual learning. Technical difficulties and the lack of body language in virtual settings hamper communication, not to speak of the lack of networking opportunities with fellow students. To address these challenges, he and his fellow students look for creative solutions and work together in small groups.

Virtual internships: communication is key

Tychô Kort, student at Hogeschool Zuyd, did a virtual internship at the Nuffic-NESO office in South Africa and stresses the importance of professional learning experience. He encouraged students to always opt for an internship, even if they are now virtual. Students however have to be aware that the experience is not exactly the same, comparing a virtual internship to “standing outside the club, but listening to the music anyway.” Sylvie van Hugten, student at Nimeto Utrecht, went on an internship at an interior design company in Spain, but was forced to move back to the Netherlands when the corona crisis hit and continue a different internship online. She advises both students and schools to have a clear set of learning goals that can be accomplished through a virtual internship beforehand, as well as ensuring clear communication between the students, their schools and the internship providers.

Inclusiveness, cooperation and skills in the new DEAP

Chystalla Petridou presented the role of the newly adopted DEAP in the acceleration of digital education caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The DEAP is not new, but the current context has increased the need for reinforced EU support to ensure high-quality and inclusive digital education. Focussing on inclusiveness, cooperation and skills, Petridou stated that there will be more attention for digital readiness and enhancing digital skills and competences for both learners and educators. Furthermore, stronger coordination and cooperation will be ensured with the launch of the European Digital Education hub, aimed at linking regional and national initiatives. She added that flagship initiatives such as the European Universities Initiative and Centres of Vocational Excellence will also have a leading role in the digital transformation of education. Taking everything into account, while virtual formats can be truly beneficial in terms of competences development (the example of Erasmus+ Virtual Exchanges was provided), physical learning mobility is and will remain the essence of the Erasmus+ programme.