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Finland: Mobility gradually restarts

According to Finnish higher education institutions’ estimates, almost 2,300 students are leaving for international student exchanges or traineeships this autumn, whereas this time last year, only slightly over 700 exchanges ultimately went ahead. While this is a significant difference, it must be kept in mind, the number of outgoing students is still only about one half of the normal pre-pandemic levels.  

Furthermore, the number of incoming students arriving in Finland is significantly higher than that of outgoing students: around 4,850 students are expected to arrive in Finland, whereas in the autumn semester of 2020, this was 2,150. The reported figures are estimates that may still change due to the COVID-19 situation. 
In autumn 2020, roughly one out of three higher education institutions canceled all student mobility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the forthcoming autumn semester, however, their policies will take a much more positive stance on mobility. Several higher education institutions reported that only longer exchange periods of several months will go ahead in the autumn semester.  
While incoming exchange students will outnumber outgoing ones by a considerable margin in autumn, 11 higher education institutions have imposed restrictions on incoming students. For example, these institutions intend to limit the number of students they receive or only receive double-degree, postgraduate students, or students from the EU countries.  

 Staff mobility is restarting 

Teacher and staff mobility in higher education institutions came to a complete halt at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic almost 18 months ago. Now, this has changed as Higher education institutions estimate that during the autumn semester, staff exchange numbers may amount to 180 outgoing and 105 incoming teachers and staff members. Some virtual mobility of teachers and other staff has taken place during the pandemic, and this practice is also expected to continue in the autumn semester.  

Distance learning has put a strain on international degree students 

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on international degree students at Finnish higher education institutions. Many international students were forced to postpone their studies due to travel restrictions or had to opt for distance learning. 

While distance learning has been technically effective for students studying in Finland, obvious impacts on student well-being have been observed.  
It has also been noted that international students’ distance learning while based in their home countries has been fraught with challenges. They include poor or, especially in conflict zones, non-existent internet connections and problems caused by time differences. It has also been observed that these students are less committed to their studies than those studying remotely in Finland. 

In the autumn semester, higher education institutions intend to opt for a hybrid model in the organisation of studies and provide both distance learning and on-site teaching. 

This article is based on the findings of a survey addressed by the Finnish National Agency for Education to higher education institutions in early June, to which all 37 Finnish higher education institutions responded.