The Covid-19 pandemic has brought exchanges to an abrupt halt. Blended and virtual mobility alternatives were quickly put in place, but according to a survey conducted by Movetia among swiss higher education institutions, the students prefer physical mobility, even though distance learning is required. Despite a significant and foreseeable drop in mobility, the outlook is encouraging, because if the pandemic had not occurred, there would have been a considerable increase.


Stays abroad have continued unabated since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. When everything came to an abrupt halt in the spring of 2020, blended and virtual mobility alternatives were quickly provided*. Movetia, the national agency in charge of promoting mobility and exchanges, wanted to measure the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. A survey of Swiss tertiary-level institutions on mobility in Europe was carried out this spring as part of the Swiss-European Mobility Programme (SEMP).

 

Options available, despite the pandemic

Blended and virtual mobility were very popular during the spring semester of 2020, as most students had already started their exchange. They preferred this alternative to an outright cancellation of their stay. Considering the exceptional circumstances, the mobility of outgoing students decreased by only 4% and those arriving in Switzerland by 3%. Internships, for their part, suffered more substantial decreases, respectively -18% for outgoing exchanges and -22% for those to be carried out in Switzerland, the organisation of blended or virtual mobility being more complicated for internships than for courses.

Physical mobility still the preferred option, now and in the future

Subsequently, in the autumn 2020 and spring 2021 semesters, the vast majority of students registered for mobility travelled to the host country to attend courses (88% going abroad and 91% coming to Switzerland), despite the continuation of distance learning in most countries. Virtual or blended mobility formats seem less attractive. Less than 10% of students chose this option.

Although alternatives were quickly implemented, the mobility of Swiss students travelling abroad since the beginning of the pandemic has decreased by 38% since the beginning of 2020. The number of foreign students coming to Switzerland, on the other hand, has only decreased by 14%. This is due to the considerable efforts made by Swiss institutions to remain open and the fact that restrictive measures were less severe. Switzerland has thus remained an attractive country for mobility. 

Finally, if the Covid-19 pandemic had never happened, an additional 35% of students participating in the SEMP 2020/2021 programme would have gone abroad for mobility, and an additional 18% would have come to Switzerland. Despite the pandemic, the interest in experiences abroad is undiminished. On the other hand, while exchanges normally develop important intercultural and social skills as well as critical and networked thinking, it is undeniable that this extraordinary situation has revealed new skills, also sought after by employers, such as stress tolerance, flexibility, self-management or resilience. Everyone, without exception, wants to get back to normal, ideally this semester, in order to achieve a unique life experience in optimal conditions.

*In blended mobility, the courses are partly face-to-face and partly online, whereas in virtual mobility, the courses are purely online. The so-called "physical" mobility was the only mobility format before the pandemic.