The Pandemic has hit the world, disrupting the lives of millions of students, changing their prevalent behaviors, creating new foundations for learning and affecting them to varying degrees. International mobility is one of the areas that has been significantly affected in this way by the current pandemic.
There is no doubt that universities will emerge from this crisis many times stronger. The changes are quite profound, as COVID-19 will not be able to halt the digital revolution, which will have a significant impact on universities in the crisis. The impact of the pandemic is particularly strong in the European Union, which has contributed to the internationalization of higher education. The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic severely affected higher education as universities closed their premises and countries shut their borders in response to lockdown measures. In addition, students lost other benefits of international mobility, such as international internships, access to the labor market and networking. At the same time, the future rate of student mobility depends on the measures and policies that national governments will adopt in the near future - Is international student travel restricted? Are the factors favoring international mobility deteriorating?
In the spring semester of 2020, almost all Estonian higher education institutions will offer less study mobility to international students than usual. At the same time, at least half of Estonian higher education institutions plan to organize study mobility virtually. We must realize that virtual mobility is an opportunity, but it does not replace physical presence or provide the necessary real work experience. This is especially true for the Smagrinet project, where learning mobility and internships are crucial.
Although virtual learning offers new approaches, the need for face-to-face learning, teaching and collaboration does not disappear. Online internships provide an opportunity to acquire knowledge but do not replace interpersonal communication and competence acquisition experience, which can only be acquired if you are in a different environment and interact directly with people from different backgrounds. It is important that face-to-face contact as a result of physical mobility resumes as soon as the health situation allows. We also need to understand that students use international mobility to meet great people, have inspiring conversations with interns, collaborate with researchers and companies, and experience the social life of campus.
According to the collected information, almost all of Estonian higher education institutions have decided to cancel all study trips of foreign students by the autumn semester 2020 due to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 outbreak worldwide. It is expected that the level of study mobility will return by the spring semester of 2021. As Smagrinet internships in Estonia are located in vital service providers and important high-tech industries, access to these companies is significantly limited in the conditions of the coronavirus. The same conditions have been set for internships outside Estonia, which are located at international energy groups. Therefore, we need to conduct the Smagrinet internships in an intensified manner in the spring and autumn semester of 2021 when the COVID-19 pandemic has crossed the ridge of its spread.
Although there is still a heated debate as to whether the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to an end to the internationalization of higher education, it is clear that the pandemic has had a profound impact on European higher education, especially international student mobility. The pandemic significantly reduces student’s international internship experience due to travel restrictions and health and safety considerations.
Therefore, in the Smagrinet project, we must adapt to the conditions of the pandemic and forcefully offer the internships provided in the curriculum when the coronavirus allows it. At the same time, we hope that a vaccine will be developed soon and that our curricula for the digitization of energy systems will be fully implemented in the near future.
Let's be healthy!
Anyone coming from a foreign country where the infection rate is 16 or more must usually spend two weeks in self-isolation. The educational institution should be informed of the need for self-isolation and it should be agreed that distance learning will be followed. Educational institutions have the right to require students coming from countries with an elevated infection risk to follow distance learning.
Coronavirus tests at the border and the repeated test seven days later to reduce the length of self-isolation are intended to help people return to work more quickly. Students may also be tested at the border, but a negative result in the first test does not give the right to return to the educational institution immediately. If the result of a second test taken at least seven days after the first is also negative, this is considered equivalent to the two-week period of self-isolation.
People who can reduce their period of self-isolation by taking a test are:
- People who have Estonian citizenship, an Estonian residence permit or the right to reside in Estonia, and people whose permanent residence is listed as being in Estonia in the population register;
- Citizens of European Union countries and countries on the joint European Union list.
The reduction in self-isolation granted by testing does not apply to people who have come to work or study from a country that is not on the European Union's joint list of third countries. Citizens of those countries must still spend two weeks complying with the restrictions on freedom of movement and abide by any other requirements set for students or workers.
For more on the testing see the website of the Health Board.
Up-to-date information on countries and on restrictions of movement for those arriving in Estonia can be found on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.