Tuesday August 03, 2021

Covid-19 hampers varsity enrollment of int’l students

Published : 20 Jul 2021, 11:24

Updated : 21 Jul 2021, 01:02

  DF Report by Lisa Koenig

Foreign Students in Finland. DF File Photo.

Exchange and international degree students in Finnish universities keep facing problems amid the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

Although universities need to follow the same national guidelines in Covid-19 situation, they are free to decide some issues independently.

The University of Helsinki, unlike others, does not offer online exchanges for students but expects them to be present on campus.

Minna Koutaniemi, the head of International Exchange Services and Education Cooperation, says that there is still a big impact of Covid-19 pandemic on foreign students.

She says that Finnish authorities do not restrict the enrollment of exchange students but home universities of foreign students might.

“There are many universities, especially in North and South America, Oceania and Asia that have canceled all exchanges for the autumn semester. Students also reconsider their exchange because of vaccination or the pandemic,” Koutaniemi told the Daily Finland.

The University of Tampere has, meanwhile, decided to suspend incoming student mobility until the spring semester of 2022. Instead, there will be a limited selection of online courses for students nominated to come in person this autumn.

Tarja Nieminen from the International Mobility Services of Tampere University explained that onsite exchanges were already canceled for autumn 2020, but they welcomed exchange students who arrived mainly from Europe in the spring semester.

The total number of incoming exchange students in 2020 and 2021 remains at 300 a year, which is, as Nieminen says, about a third of the number in a normal situation.

“Being onsite is different as the impressions you get from walking down the streets or through the woods cannot really be replaced,” Nieminen said, adding that even though most students described remote exchanges as interesting and enriching.

At the University of Eastern Finland, the first exchange students arrived again in January 2021 after all exchanges were canceled before.

“After the first group had arrived, the university suspended exchanges again until the end of July 2021,” Erja Widgrén-Sallinen, head of Student Services and Admissions at the UEF, told the Daily Finland.

During the 2020-2021 academic year, most teachings at the UEF were organized remotely.

Even though the feedback to this has been positive, many students missed social interaction and looked forward to finally arriving in Finland, Widgrén-Sallinen said.

The university now plans to start the autumn semester without any restrictions, meaning that international student exchanges will be possible again.

The Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology has decided not to receive any exchange students in the autumn of 2021.

Maija Kuiri, the director for Study and International Affairs, said that students who were or still are unable to travel suffer a lot.

The pandemic was also a challenge for universities of applied sciences (polytechnic institutes) in Finland.

Sirpa Rutanen, communications and marketing specialist at the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, said that degree students from countries such as India or Sri Lanka might have hard times traveling to Finland as visa procedures are challenging in many countries.

“For example, our students from Sri Lanka would need to travel to India to apply for a visa and in the current situation, this is impossible,” Rutanen told the Daily Finland.

Anu Härkönen, the head of International Affairs at the Turku University of Applied Sciences, said that virtual exchanges were not popular at Turku AMK.

“Exchange students either postponed or canceled their exchange if they were not able to travel to Turku. Studying remotely from the home university might become more interesting in the long run, but at least our exchange students now seem to prefer studying in Turku even if it means studying remotely at the student flat here,” Härkönen said.

Johanna Auvinen, the senior advisor from the Turku AMK Admission Office, said that there are now not so many international applicants who finished the admissions process and enrolled.

“This may be an effect of the whole situation worldwide. For example, some of the applicant’s families do not want them to go abroad now,” Auvinen added.

The institutions, however, expect some positive developments at the beginning of the autumn semester.

The University of Helsinki plans to welcome more than 600 international students which is about 25 percent less than what the number was before the pandemic but significantly more than what it was during the last spring and autumn semesters.

The University of Eastern Finland expects, as Widgrén-Sallinen said, even a larger number of students than in normal times because many second-year international degree students have spent their first year studying remotely from their home countries.

The Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology also expects a record-breaking number of new international degree students in bachelor’s and master’s programs.

“We now have a 130 percent increase in the number of students enrolled attending in comparison with the figure of 2020,” Maija Kuiri said.