As a follow-up on the release of the biggest research report on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on student exchanges in Europe, the Erasmus Student Network hosted a webinar on May 5th aimed at providing a deeper understanding of the research and giving space for a discussion with the stakeholders about the COVID-19 implications. For the webinar, ESN was joined by representatives of the European Parliament and the European Commission's Directorate-General for Education and Culture (DG EAC).

The webinar, which was due to high interest also live-streamed on Facebook, attracted 200 participants, with staff members from more than 40 Higher Education Institutions across Europe and beyond, Erasmus+ National Agencies and National Erasmus+ Offices, representatives from university networks and other European stakeholders, as well as ESN members across 42 European countries. 

A full recording of the webinar, as well as the speakers’ presentations, can be found at the end of the article. 

The President of the Erasmus Student Network, Kostis Giannidis, opened the webinar with a short overview of all the activities and initiatives put in place by the organisation since the start of the pandemic to support both students and mobility in Europe in general.

Rasmus Benke-Åberg, ESN’s Director and Wim Gabriels, ESN’s Policy Officer, who were the authors of the research report on the impact of COVID-19, gave an in-depth overview of the results and conclusions of the research, highlighting the struggles students faced, from the uncertainty surrounding what will happen to their mobility, difficulties with adapting to the online learning environment, to the effect the pandemic has had on their overall well-being and the feelings of isolation and discrimination they experienced. 

Milan Zver, MEP and Standing Rapporteur for the Erasmus+ implementation Report in the Culture and Education Committee of the European Parliament, looked back on the initial lack of information available to students in the wake of the pandemic, which as the survey reports left two-thirds of exchange students were not sure whether they will receive their Erasmus+ grant. But he also stressed he believes we are now on a good path in terms of fighting acute problems that arise from the COVID-19 crisis.

Vanessa Debiais-Sainton, Head of Higher Education Unit at DG EAC, highlighted the significance of the work of the student organisations in these times and thanked everyone who provided invaluable support to the international students. Presenting the European Commission’s response to the challenges on student mobility brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak, she once again stressed the importance of flexibility of all parties involved, in order to make sure that the students are protected and not penalised in any way because of the current situation, and that the students should receive full recognition of credits gained through the online learning. Speaking of the switch to online learning on a massive scale, she stated that the aim of the European Commission right now is to address the digital divide, making sure that all students have access to online learning opportunities but also to continue investing through the Erasmus programme in the training of teachers and lecturers to ensure high quality of digital learning.



The presentations were followed by a Q&A session, in which Debiais-Sainton on behalf of the Commission provided answers to the participants who were concerned about the future of mobility in the post-COVID-19 world, as well as blended mobility and virtual exchange, recognition of remote mobility, and the future budget of the programme.