Saturday January 16, 2021

Coronavirus throws Int´l students into complicated situation

Published : 03 Dec 2020, 00:58

  DF Report

Press Release Photo : Finnish National Agency for Education.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a considerable impact on international student mobility in higher education institutions (HEIs), said the Finnish National Agency for Education referring to a survey.

The most recent survey revealed that coronavirus has in many ways complicated not only the situation of exchange students but also the situation of foreign degree students in HEIs.

The survey was carried out at the end of October and the beginning of November, and responses were received from all of the 35 HEIs. The situation of foreign students studying a whole higher education degree in Finland was now assessed for the first time.

According to the HEIs, many new degree students from non-EU/EEA countries have experienced problems with applying for a residence permit as some Finnish diplomatic missions have been closed because of the coronavirus epidemic.

The statistics of the Finnish Immigration Service also shows that the number of students applying for a residence permit for studies has fallen because of coronavirus: only 1,700 applications for a first residence permit were submitted between June and August, while the number was 3,900 a year earlier.

During the academic year 2020–2021, new students have exceptionally been able to register as non-attending students if the coronavirus situation has prevented them from entering Finland.

According to the statistical service Vipunen, there have been a clearly lower number of students from the EU/EEA countries registering as attending students than previously.

In the open-ended questions of the survey, HEIs told about degree students’ difficulties related to entering Finland and the uncertainty caused by the situation. Some of the new students have started their studies as distance learning in their home country, some have arrived in Finland in the middle of the term and some have still not received a residence permit.

Distance learning in the home country has been complicated by network connections that do not always work and the time difference. Studying alone has been difficult for many as the student community around the student is missing. Integration has also been challenging for those physically studying in Finland as distance learning has reduced the number of social contacts.

There have also been challenges in terms of income, as the coronavirus epidemic in the spring destroyed work opportunities for many students. In this acute situation, some HEIs have reduced their tuition fees to help students.

The survey specified the number of student mobilities in the autumn term in more detail. There were approximately 800 outgoing higher education students from Finland and slightly over 2,300 incoming students, while before coronavirus, the number of outgoing students in autumn has been approximately 4,000 and the number of incoming students approximately 6,000.

Both Finnish and foreign HEIs have organised studies in the autumn term either as fully online or by using a hybrid model combining distance learning and contact teaching. Many exchange students have largely been studying from their student flats, so building social relationships has been more challenging.

HEIs see the situation in student mobility in the spring term as brighter than it was in the autumn: according to the current estimate, almost 3,000 outgoing Finnish students would be going on exchange or completing a traineeship abroad and slightly under 3,800 incoming students would be coming to Finland. The period abroad has been cancelled or postponed for 1,500 outgoing and 600 incoming students. While 11 HEIs cancelled their exchanges completely in the autumn, only one has done so for the spring term and two HEIs say they will not decide on their exchanges for the spring term until later.

In other words, HEIs have a strong intent to offer their students opportunities to build up international competence as part of their studies, and they closely monitor the development of the coronavirus situation.