Virtual Mobility in Higher Education
Before and since Covid 19
In Higher Education virtual activities started already years before the Covid 19 health crisis, when new teaching models were developed through virtual campuses. International physical mobilities and virtual exchanges have both been considered as complementary learning scenarios to acquire international and intercultural competences. The Covid-19 crisis of 2020/2021 changed this situation when physical mobility became impossible or very limited. Seen by some students as an opportunity to successfully complete the semester, by others as an unattractive alternative to physical mobility, the offer of virtual mobilities was increased by more than 60% of higher education institutions around the world during the pandemic (IAU global survey report May 2020).
Virtual Student Mobilities (VSM)
With the increase in the virtual offer of the universities, the question also arises as to which of these activities can be described as a form of mobility. If it is only a matter of enrolling in a distance course at a university of another country, one does not necessarily gain the international and intercultural competences that can be attributed to the experience of physical mobility. It should not only be about acquiring knowledge, but also about improving intercultural understanding so that this experience can be counted as international. As is the focus of virtual exchanges, there should be real and rich cross-border collaboration with students from different cultures and backgrounds.
The following examples show how this objective of internationalising university students through virtual mobility is implemented.
Erasmus + Virtual Exchange (EVE)
In 2018, the Erasmus + Virtual Exchange (EVE) platform has developed intercultural exchanges on a virtual basis between young people from Europe and the southern Mediterranean. It was a flagship project aiming to expand the reach and scope of the Erasmus+ programme via virtual exchange. More than 20,000 participants of 40 nationalities have been able to dialogue and work together on a variety of topics, both within and outside the framework of their studies. Facilitators have been trained in small online group sessions on the necessary dialogue facilitation tools, the use of technology, and conflict resolution skills to guide and deepen cross-cultural conversations. The project finished in 2020, it proposed different models of Virtual exchange activities, some open for young people, others were designed to be integrated as part of existing courses or activities offered by universities, schools or youth organisations.
Erwan, a 21-year-old political science student, describes his experience on the Bordeaux University website: “I was a bit sceptical at first, as I am not a big fan of phone or video calls. However, after a class or two, you start to make friends with the other students, and it becomes quite natural to connect with them. The Erasmus + virtual exchange is great for your CV, a fantastic opportunity to reflect on political issues and an international asset for your social life.”
UNITA Universitas Montium is an alliance of six universities (France (2), Portugal, Italy, Romania, Spain), supported by the European University Initiative, launched in November 2020. The project consists of bringing together six universities located in partly rural, mountainous and cross-border regions, all of which speak a Romance language. Thanks to this inter-university campus, UNITA students will live in a multilingual environment and will be able to build flexible curricula across the Alliance’s universities based on increased mobility, both physical and virtual, thanks to new digital tools and spaces.