12 Feb 2021

New report: 2020–2021 student exchange mobility with non-EHEA partners



Keeping up with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on international higher education is a challenging task in Europe, as it is elsewhere in the world. To aid in our understanding of this still-unfolding situation, the EAIE has undertaken to produce Snapshot report on exchange mobility 2020/2021, a three-part, data-driven series on the current state of exchange mobility. Today marks the launch of Part 2: ‘Mobility with non-European Higher Education Partners’.  

To produce this series of reports, the EAIE sought input from higher education institutions across the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) via an online survey in October and November 2020. The primary goal was to gather details about how inbound and outbound exchange student numbers – within the EHEA as well as with non-EHEA partners – were looking at the start of the current academic year, as opposed to a ‘typical’ academic year. Respondents were also asked to forecast how they expected student mobility flows to look in early 2021. As in the case of student exchange within the EHEA, the picture generated for student exchange flows with non-EHEA partners this year is sobering, though underpinned with some optimism.

In a word? ‘Decreases’

For several decades – although certainly with occasional blips in the face of economic slowdowns or geopolitical disturbances – international student mobility has been a ‘growth industry’ in Europe. To no one’s surprise, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned that trend on its head this year. Consistent with what we reported on intra-EHEA student exchange mobility in Snapshot report on exchange mobility 2020/2021: Part 1 on this subject, exchange mobility involving non-EHEA partners also shows drop-offs in both incoming and outbound flows for around half of all respondents.

Exchange mobility involving non-EHEA partners shows drop-offs in both incoming and outbound flows for around half of all survey respondents

With some variations (which, of course, need to be taken with a grain of salt in light of differences in respondent numbers across various categories of analysis), these decreases are seen across all four of the institutional types and all five of the major regions of Europe that we used to frame the survey results.

Some room for optimism?

The data also points to some stability and optimism, however. For example, in keeping with our EHEA-focused results, strong percentages of respondents reported no change in the 2020/2021 exchange student flows with their non-EHEA partners for the full academic year or semester 1. In addition, though less optimistic about non-EHEA prospects for student exchange than for EHEA flows, many respondents signalled their belief that semester 2 mobility with non-EHEA partners would proceed.

Many respondents signalled their belief that semester 2 mobility with non-EHEA partners would proceed

Interestingly, among those expecting to see semester 2 mobility with non-EHEA partners this year, many more respondents expected to see no change in comparison to a ‘typical’ semester 2 than expected to see decreases in those numbers.

You have questions. We have some answers – and also many questions

The data compiled by the EAIE offers some interesting perspectives on exchange mobility with non-EHEA partners for this remarkable academic year – but it also raises many questions and requires important caveats. With more than 400 respondents across 41 countries, our survey offers a window on a wide range of experiences across Europe, but of course not all countries or regions can be considered fully represented. Meanwhile, the data collected in October and November clearly represent a specific moment in time at the start of this academic year.

The fast-moving nature of events over the last year has kept us all in a constant state of flux as circumstances have continued to shift. Importantly, our data offer a picture of dynamics at a macro level across Europe, but they do not fully unpack what all of these developments mean for individual countries, institutions, programmes or people. There is much to consider as we both reflect on what we have been through and consider where the current road through pandemic response and recovery is leading us.

EAIE members can click the button below to download the full report for free, and non-members can view Snapshot report on exchange mobility 2020/2021: Part 1 for a preview of what the data is telling us about the current state of exchange mobility.