24 Mar 2020

New EAIE report on the impact of COVID-19



Several weeks ago, as the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak began to be felt in Europe, the EAIE launched a survey to assess the various impacts of the virus on international higher education. Based on more than 800 responses to this survey, today the EAIE is launching the report ‘Coping with COVID-19: International higher education in Europe'.

Since the advent of the Erasmus mobility programme over 30 years ago, it’s fair to say that international education in Europe has been in a healthy and sustained growth mode. We’ve seen a great deal of ‘more’ for many years: rising mobility numbers; expanding networks and partnerships; wider scope of engagement across countries, institutions and all manner of stakeholders; and, importantly, an ever-deepening understanding of the potential of internationalisation in higher education to contribute to the common good.

Today, however, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ‘common good’ around us appears more fragile than many of us could possibly ever have imagined – and international education as we have practiced it over the last three decades faces striking challenges. Indeed, given that our field focuses explicitly on fostering contact and has traditionally relied heavily on the physical movement of individuals across borders, our work is profoundly implicated in the cascading chain of COVID-19 related developments affecting societies around the world at the moment.

A data-driven discussion

Both in terms of the science of this global public health crisis, and its wider implications, data is crucial. Our community clearly knows and appreciates this, as hundreds of individuals responded to our call in February 2020 to participate in an EAIE survey designed to gain insight into the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. This kind of enthusiastic response in the midst of crisis speaks volumes about the importance international educators in Europe place on pooling their knowledge and experience and seeking common wisdom. And the input provided by the more than 800 respondents to the survey across nearly 40 countries indeed helps us move beyond impressions and anecdotes to a clearer understanding of what we are collectively experiencing as this historic moment unfolds.

Holding steady in the midst of uncertainty

Of course, the picture emerging from the EAIE COVID-19 survey exercise is as complicated as the European higher education landscape itself. However, some generalisations do apply broadly. Our survey has found that the effects on mobility are considered significant or very significant by a strong majority. Response plan implementation or development is in full swing. And concern for the treatment of particular classes of individuals – mostly from China and elsewhere in Asia, but also from Italy – is evident, but instances of reported discriminatory behaviour appear to be limited so far.

This report gives us a stronger indication of what our community needs and how we can collectively support one another

The tenor of responses is matter-of-fact but also critical. On the one hand, respondents report that work is moving forward, collaboration with stakeholders is apparent, and information is being shared through a range of channels. But, respondents also note that more support in a variety of areas would make a difference. For example, additional on-the-ground materials such as masks and hand sanitiser would be welcome. More expert input in the way of good health and hygiene practices would be appreciated. And the desire for better guidance from national-level authorities is widely cited.

Feeling our way forward

Of course, data is something of an elusive and moving target in this fast-developing situation. The realities of one month ago may seem a distant memory in face of the new information assailing us daily. Even still, establishing a baseline moment-in-time understanding of this watershed global event is an extremely useful exercise. From this foundation, we have a stronger indication of what our community needs and how we can collectively support one another. Down the line, we will also be able to measure developments in this situation against our reality in early 2020.

It’s important to note that there are already helpful materials available on the EAIE website, related to such topics as crisis management, Supporting students affected by coronavirus affected by the outbreak, and comprehensive How higher education institutions can respond to COVID-19 to the COVID-19 outbreak. We are also currently developing plans for a webinar series that will speak directly to key issues of interest, including sustaining an international office online, fostering individual and community well-being in challenging times, and looking beyond the immediate challenges toward longer-term planning and considerations. We will keep you posted as more resources are made available, and we also welcome your suggestions and ideas for ways to support the EAIE community more robustly at this critical time.

These are early days in a longer-term experience that will arguably affect our work over weeks and months to come. Keeping true to the spirit of the EAIE’s focus on responsible international higher education, we aim to continue sharing evidenced-based insights and valuable perspectives on evolving practice as we navigate these uncharted waters together.

Related topics