Mobility numbers in steep decline during recent years
At the end of summer, the National Board of Education and YLE informed that prior to corona Finnish academy students already had participated much less to long student exchanges than before. After the peak year 2016, having nearly 10 500 students, a steadily steep decline resulted in 7 500 goers by 2019. Mainly due to corona, the number has crashed during the last two years, and in 2021 there were less than 3 000 exchange students.
Several reasons have been perceived behind the decrease of foreign mobilities before the pandemic. These reasons can be divided into three groups:
1. The monetary investment of universities
- Tough economic situation of universities and personnel cuts
- The lack of clear support for foreign exchanges from university administration or the ministry
- The focus of universities lies elsewhere: tuition fees, education export…
- The finance model does not reward foreign exchanges
2. The challenges of students for participating in an exchange period
- The pressure to graduate fast
- Challenges of working and income
- Other available means for improving one’s skills -Student demographic: 1/3 of new students over 24-year-olds, 16 % with families, over half have jobs
3. The value of the exchange period has not been recognized
- The foreign exchange does not have a clear spot in the degree
- The exchange does not fit into the degree, prolongs the studies
- Not enough counseling regarding internationalization
Means for increasing mobility numbers
Nevertheless, the popularity of participating in exchange programs shows signs of revival. The crash, however, was so rough that the number of mobilities hardly reverts to that prior to corona during this session. At the Autumn days for the international affairs of universities (Kv-syyspäivät), held in Oulu, people pondered means for increasing mobilities and internationalization. Suggestions that gained substantial support included monetary support, making the exchange period mandatory, and increasing information, counseling, and marketing. There were also a few suggestions regarding the experiences of those who had already participated in an exchange.
The experiences of students as part of the solution
Students who have completed an exchange possess valuable firsthand information to be shared for those considering going abroad. Experiences of successful exchange periods support those who are about to participate in an exchange, and they make it easier to ponder about one’s own motivations. The veterans can advise about the local university and living. These include, among others, course selections, teaching styles, living conditions, and public transport. Experiences regarding foreign culture are also beneficial since they help the new students to avoid culture shock.
The feedback that is gathered from the exchanges in general also supports the sending university. For instance, international coordinators can use it to develop internal processes and counseling services. The feedback may offer information about the level of education of the partner organization or about a potential need to modify the exchange agreements made with partners. Officers may benefit from exchange experiences by paying more attention to essential pre-exchange arrangements that students need to make and by improving the finance systems of mobilities.
SoleMove collects and transfers student experiences and supports international mobility
Technically advanced and reliable international mobility management system, SoleMove, contains a feedback feature, which encourages students to share their thoughts and feelings. The feedback that is collected with SoleMove can conveniently be shared, reported, and utilized in the organization’s marketing. Users of the system can focus on their tasks without needing to worry about any loss of data. SoleMove helps university personnel to take care of those going abroad and those coming to Finland and their needs.
To apply for an exchange program, one fills in the application form in SoleMove. The system also offers support during one’s stay at the destination. Adding documents, diplomas, and other necessary files is easy. A fully electronic system facilitates communication between personnel and students.
All in all, SoleMove supports and enhances mobility in many ways. As stated, the system can be used to collect feedback from exchanges and to show it to others. The inquiries can be modified freely, and they can be targeted based on different exchange programs or based on incoming and outgoing students. Officers can edit and publish (if granted permission) collected feedback. Second, the application process from receiving the application to its handling and decision making has been made as easy as possible. Third, SoleMove lists exchange destinations to outgoing and incoming students, promoting their content.
YLE: Opiskelijavaihtojen määrä romahti koronavuosien aikana – ilmastokriisi ja sota Euroopassa mietityttävät opiskelijoita. 22.8.2022. https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-12586878
Opetushallitus: Onko kiinnostus kasainvälisyyteen vähentynyt? Esimerkkinä laskevat liikkuvuusluvut. Keskustelu haasteista ja näkökulmista. Korkeakoulujen kansainvälisten asioiden syyspäivät. Oulu 16.–17.8.2022. https://www.oph.fi/sites/default/files/documents/Onko%20kiinnostus%20kansainv%C3%A4lisyyteen%20v%C3%A4hentynyt%20-%20Esimerkkin%C3%A4%20laskevat%20liikkuvuusluvut.pdf
G. Aresi & G. Samsa: Assessing student motivations to study abroad. EAIE blog 2019. https://www.eaie.org/blog/assessing-student-motivations-study-abroad.html
A. Perez Encinas & J. Escriva: Understanding the international student experience. EAIE blog 2015. https://www.eaie.org/blog/understanding-the-international-student-experience.html
The text is written by Customer Success Manager Niilo Lahti. In terms of his researcher background, Niilo has practiced internationalization in many academic conferences. During his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family, exercising, and roleplaying. Niilo is also an enthusiastic Dream Theater fan.