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ACA members report continued challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic

On Friday, 12 March, ACA convened a meeting of the Covid-19 Impact Thematic Peer Group (TPG). This TPG is a forum for ACA members which meets regularly to share the current state of affairs in their countries about the pandemic and exchange creative ideas for cooperative solutions to related challenges.The TPG is the chaired by ACA’s President, Ulrich Grothus .

The most recent meeting began with a tour-de-table of colleagues describing the current situation in their respective countries, both of public health conditions and of the impact on international higher education.  In the majority of countries, the health situation is worsening.  Numbers of positive cases are going up and stricter lockdowns are being imposed.  In all cases, higher education teaching remains under pandemic restrictions with limited capacities and/or online learning.  Also in all cases, the volume of staff mobility has plummeted.  The case is more mixed as far as student mobility is concerned, with some colleagues reporting a high demand for international mobility and others reporting that demand is level or falling.  The tour-de-table revealed that many organisations depend on steady numbers of mobility participants for their budgets, with some reporting budget cuts as a result of reduced mobility.  Organising offline exchanges has proved to be a significant challenge for many higher education institutions, as has finding ways to stage secure examinations.  Finally, it emerged from the discussion that many ACA members find there to be an urgent need to clearly define ‘virtual mobility’ as vague definitions impact organisations in a myriad of ways.

Ulrich Grothus invited members of the TPG to provide feedback regarding his “Think Piece” article titled “Internationalization and international academic mobility post-Covid19” which formed the final instalment of the 2020 ACA ‘Think Piece’ series on the impact of Covid-19.  This article was launched in mid-March and you can find the text here and on the ACA website on the publications page.

The meeting concluded with a discussion about the plans for the transition to the Erasmus+ 2021-2027 programme in the continued pandemic context. Ulrich Grothus voiced that there are concerns about the timing of the call and the budgets available for the new novelties encompassed in the expected 2021 Work Programme document.  Many members find the delay in the release of the call presents a major challenge for completing high-quality applications before very tight deadlines in May, especially with staff working remotely amidst the pandemic.  Members shared their optimism about the positive development of the new horizontal priorities emerging in the new Erasmus+ programme, but also voiced concern that these priorities place more responsibility at the national level to define approaches and identify feasible solutions.

The next meeting of the ACA Covid-19 Impact TPG is planned to take place in late April.