By Molly Pipe, Deputy News Editor and Filiz Emily Gurer, News Editor
Some partner Universities have found themselves with no option but to withdraw from exchange programs as a result of the pandemic.
A total of 51 Universities have so far cancelled their study abroad arrangements with Bristol University, whilst many students have also opted to withdraw from plans, following the significant strain coronavirus has placed on international travel.
The move affects both incoming and outgoing students for the first semester of the 2020/21 academic year, with institutions hoping to resume exchanges for semester two.
Study abroad exchanges rely on two institutions both agreeing to accept overseas students and send their own students to the partner University. If one institution pulls out, the placement cannot go ahead. Bristol University has so far maintained its commitment to agreed exchanges.
TU Delft in the Netherlands is one such University that has had to cancel its exchange program, having ‘made the difficult decision now because there is still a lot of uncertainty about the health situation, travel restrictions and the provision of physical and online education’.
‘This means we cannot guarantee that exchange students will have an intercultural experience on our campus or abroad in the first semester of 2020-2021,’ they added.
‘We realize this is a great disappointment for students. However, the health and safety of all students is paramount and in these unpredictable times this felt like the best decision that could be made in [student’s] best interests.’
Meanwhile, 17% of Bristol students with study abroad plans have chosen to withdraw from them, according to data provided by Bristol University’s Global Opportunities team.
Rakul Kollslid, a politics and international relations student, is among this group, having planned to study at Sciences Po in France. Now she will be staying in Bristol, as the combination of blended and online teaching that her partner institution will be offering this autumn was ‘not the experience I wanted from my study abroad.’
In addition, 14% of students on study abroad programs are now opting for an alternative, either by studying online for at least TB1 or hoping to go abroad at a future point.
69% of students are planning to carry out their placements abroad when it is safe to do so.
The University of Bristol have said that despite the challenging circumstances, it is ‘committed to supporting students who wish to study abroad to continue to do so where this is safe and where the exchange University continues to welcome them and can offer an appropriate academic experience.
They added: ‘Many of our partners, particularly those outside of Europe, have cancelled their study abroad programmes, which will limit available opportunities.
‘We also recognise that given the uncertainty studying abroad may no longer be desirable for all of our students and so we are providing a range of virtual mobility opportunities as well. We remain open to welcoming students from our study abroad partners to Bristol.’
Gabriel Starkey was due to study music at the University of California Santa Cruz, but his exchange was called off by the institution, leaving him feeling ‘very disappointed’.
‘[It’s] an opportunity I worked hard for,’ he told Epigram, ‘and probably won’t get again. It’s clear however that these are unprecedented circumstances and there is little that could’ve been done to prevent it.
‘I do also feel somewhat safer not travelling.’
For those students left without an exchange, many have faced difficulties finding private accommodation, by trying to find a place to live in Bristol when spaces have already been taken.
The University ensured all affected students were eligible to apply for student housing.
Incoming travel restrictions specific to different countries have also prompted cancellations.
In Australia, for example, only citizens, residents and close relatives are permitted to travel into the country. As a result, all Australian partners have cancelled in-person exchanges with Bristol. Dutch and Singaporean Universities have done the same.
The pandemic has affected study abroad students in other ways with Universities such as Queensland University of Technology in Australia have moved teaching online.
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