Higher educational institutions play an extremely relevant role in today’s society as they contribute to economic growth’s increase, in innovation, in the nation’s development or simply by improving the well-being. According to 2017 Eurostat’s Educational attainment statistics, in Europe there were 19.8 million tertiary education students, 60% of which were signed for bachelor degrees. As years go on, these numbers will continue to grow simultaneously with the growing demand for highly skilled, effective and creative graduates.
Nevertheless, after the outbreak of COVID19 and the worldwide lockdown of March 2020, students across the globe have been challenged with the online classes and studies, a confrontation which bothered many. After what can now be considered one of the most difficult semesters, it is possible we all face a new and rather uneasy semester of reopening. A semester where it is each state’s and each university’s duty to dictate their own rules, as long as they abide by the necessary Covid precautions.
October is considered to be the starting month for most of European University courses and many of the rules are still not known yet.
Let’s analyse, from the table below, the European scale for 2017 which indicates the countries with the most University students in a ranking from nations with the highest percentile of students to nations with the lowest.
In Germany, for example, there are around 3.1 million students who partake in tertiary education, they retain the highest percentile in Europe, which stands at 15.6% on the EU-28 total. The post-Covid situation has seen a decrease in the admissions into university courses and new stricter visa regulations for international students, who are being threatened with deportation if their universities are only offering online courses in this winter semester. International student, applying for Visas, now need to show proof that their studies cannot be completed abroad. Nevertheless, Germany is in the midst of providing scholarships and financial support for students who may have lost their jobs during the pandemic.
Although for the majority lessons continue to take place online; The University of Berlin, starting from October 1st, has decided to switch back to actually attending classes and courses, they are calling it a ‘Presence operation under pandemic circumstances, deeming it important and essential for first-year students.
Most other Universities have taken a slightly different route, having chosen a hybrid version of classes; a mixture of classroom and digital lectures which will come into effect starting on October 26th, the guidelines for this procedure state “limited spacial capacities” with estimated 200 seats for 1654 students and 30 seats for 200 students. Although this seems like a reasonable alternative for the use of University spaces, problems regarding dormitories and rented houses arose; due to the situation, accommodation has almost vanished becoming either very rare to encounter or far too expensive.
In France, the percentile of EU students is 12.8%. Due to Covid-19 and after careful deliberation, the government did allow the reopening of the Universities and campuses that closed March 16th of this year. The reopening and the welcoming of international students are both permitted, however, with restrictions and requirements to be made that follow the Public Health protocols. The universities will reopen with in class lectures, the reason why all the protocols need to include physical distance maintenance, with masks to be worn at all times, with a 10-15 minutes aeration twice a day and with a daily deep cleaning of all the facilities.
Alongside the in campus learning there have been established 600 online and hybrid degree programmes to assist all those unable to be physically in the University. The students themselves decide which option fits them best, according to available university courses. International students are allowed to come to France and study, independently of the country they’re coming from, as long as they register all the information and will be in close contact with the administration.
In the United Kingdom, 12.3% of EU students are registered in the Universities systems. Most of the lessons have been efficiently switched to online learning, the reason why they expect to reopen in the best possible way. The new hybrid model of teaching that best maximise learning as well as supporting everyone equally hs been put in place along with a very detailed guideline that has been provided to all the students, staff and university components in order to set out clear lines as a precaution. All international students are required to possess a passenger locator on their arrival in the UK after a possible period of self-isolation. Activities that are not able to maintain social distancing are prohibited and there has been a temporary suspension of student movements. Student support and counselling comes as one of the main pillars to minimise the negative impacts that the coronavirus has had until now.
In Spain, where a 10.2% of EU students live, most universities already reopened and are functional in the mixed model. Teaching conditions are being adapted to all the upcoming ministerial news on the public health’s situation. As transport, shops and services are in full operation, the universities also look forward and aren’t too far behind.
Italy has around 9.3% of all the European students. Italian Universities, after the coronavirus outbreak, were all required to follow and adapt to the continuously changing legislation. For now, courses and lectures will start again following mainly a hybrid model which will prioritise freshmen students to have their lessons in presence, protecting and safeguarding both staff and students, but also giving those first-year students some sense of University life. Extraordinary graduation sessions are being held to celebrate those who could not finish their studies during the pandemic outbreak, this is being granted without additional payments. International students overall are welcome even if the courses are held online granting the continuation of the studies. Moreover, libraries and study rooms have reopened with strict restriction, access possible only after previous registration, with mandatory mask use and no temperature checks.
In Poland, around 7.8% of EU students attend the University, here the Coronavirus outbreak caused many issues. Students are requested to follow all the public health protocols as most of the lessons would be held in presence but always having the hybrid model as a recourse. Restrictions are reserved for students coming from countries flagged as a red or yellow zone.
The Netherlands has an estimated 4.4% of EU students. They have recently allowed campuses to reopen, practical teaching to take place and exams to be administered. Again the “hybrid model” is the preferred one in order to grant safety and to avoid students travelling during rush hours. Albeit, only 20% of the students will be allowed to enter the building, which will bring a few negative consequences, like the crazy hours in which the lessons are being requested to be done: from 3pm to 8pm and the increasing fines to those who do not follow the protocols which can have an effect on the students.
In Malta, Universities can be found everywhere, and they attract numerous students which amount to 1.0% of the EU total number of students. The government is planning to reopen all campuses and universities in October as long as there won’t be different instructions. Borders for international students are effective again but mostly for European students.
It is estimated that approximately only 20% of EU students will have the opportunity to go back to their campuses and follow lectures in presence. This decision of mostly hybrid lectures also guarantees prevention of public transportation to become too crowded and thus reduces students’ exposure to the virus moreover avoiding the concentration of large numbers of people in university spaces.
Eurostat. 2020. Educational Attainment Statistics. https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Educational_attainment_statistics#Level_of_educational_attainment_by_age.