The pandemic: a predicament for international and exchange students

- in Nyheter

As expected, the pandemic has affected the number of incoming and outgoing students to Lund University. But instead of staying home, more are exploring Europe.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected the intake of international and exchange students at Swedish universities. In comparison to the autumn of last year, 63 percent fewer exchange students arrived in Sweden this year, according to a survey by SVT. The number of Swedish outgoing students has fallen by 75 percent this autumn compared to 2019. While Lund University’s numbers are not as grim as elsewhere in Sweden, a significant drop of around two thirds took place this year for outgoing students.

Richard Stenelo, Lund University’s International Director and Deputy Executive Director, cites the cancellation of exchange programmes with universities from the United States, Australia and New Zealand as the primary reason behind this drop.

“It’s not up to the students”, he says. “Partner universities decide if they receive students or not. In a normal year, about a third of Lund University’s exchange students go within Europe and two thirds go outside of Europe. This year, essentially all exchange students went within Europe. The rest were cancelled.”

For example, the UK has now surpassed the US as the most popular country for outgoing exchange students, according to Centrala Studiestödsnämnden (CSN), who cites the pandemic and the recent domestic turmoil in the US as possible reasons for the decrease.

Besides the pandemic, another predicament for travellers is the recent changes to Kammarkollegiet’s insurance policies for outgoing exchange students. Kammarkollegiet is a Swedish public agency providing insurance for students in higher education, including injury insurance, among many others. All students registered at Swedish universities are insured, even when they go abroad on exchange. However, policymakers have recently decided that if the foreign ministry issues a travel warning to a country—which has increased significantly during the pandemic—this insurance no longer applies.

The situation surrounding the pandemic has raised questions about universities’ ability to attract students. Elsewhere in the world, students are forced to stay in their accommodation blocks in quarantine due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Students in Sweden are comparatively fortunate, with few restrictions and hybrid learning taking place across most institutions.

Lundagård has interviewed exchange and international students alike about their experiences coming to Sweden during the pandemic. Dana, an exchange student from South Korea studying Chemistry, is very positive about her experience moving to Sweden and was not deterred by the ongoing pandemic.

Kadin, a second-year mathematics student from the United States, moved to Lund this autumn—even though his courses were online—because of the time difference. “I decided that I wanted to be in an environment where I could actually focus on my studies. I felt very disconnected”. Waking up at 5 AM to attend lectures was not conducive to his learning.

Francesca, who studies a Master’s in Medical Science with a major in Audiology, moved to Sweden specifically because of the programme. Her parents were concerned about the COVID-19 situation here, but Francesca was determined, a pandemic was not going to stop her. “This is my opportunity. I’ll just use a mask when needed.”