Who would have thought that mobility abroad could one day be done remotely? In the midst of a health crisis, higher education establishments are considering alternatives to maintain international exchanges.
It is a new kind of stay that higher education establishments will perhaps offer more to their students. Still little known, hybrid mobility (a clever mix of physical mobility and virtual mobility) is set to develop. In any case, this is what the IGESR (General Inspectorate for Education, Sport and Research) estimates in its report measuring the impact of the health crisis on international mobility published last September. Hybrid mobility has many advantages for establishments and students alike… until it becomes an alternative that makes sense.
A device that will last
Back in March 2020: the epidemic is in full swing, containment is coming and the borders are closing. Schools are putting everything in place to disrupt the smooth running of the end of the school year as little as possible. In engineering and business schools, international mobility very quickly becomes a subject that must be taken up. Stays abroad are, in fact, often required to complete your degree.
As the IGESR indicates, the grandes écoles therefore find alternatives to “guarantee the acquisition of skills” and “maintain training opportunities abroad”. Hybrid mobility is developing little by little and gaining momentum at the start of the 2020 school year while the health situation is still far from being stabilized.
Thus, students are beginning to follow distance learning courses in establishments located hundreds or thousands of kilometers from France. Initially virtual mobility which can be accompanied, if conditions permit, by physical mobility afterwards. Since then, the CGE (Conference of Grandes Ecoles) and the CDEFI (Conference of Directors of French Engineering Schools) have created working groups to facilitate and improve this hybridization. The IGESR notes an “intensity of ongoing discussions and exchanges on hybrid mobility”, discussions “bearing substantial transformations in the coming years”.
Remove the obstacles to going abroad
The Erasmus+ program is also banking on this hybrid mobility, the project of which was already in preparation before the health crisis in a logic of social inclusion. At the start of the 2020 academic year, the French Erasmus+ Agency is therefore officially setting up this new mobility which potentially concerns all students regardless of their situation. A framework is fixed: hybrid mobility must necessarily contain virtual and physical mobility to be validated. Duration and periods of mobility are more flexible and scholarships continue to be paid during physical mobility.
As the IGESR points out, this hybridization is an opportunity to “rethink and enrich” international exchanges. As the Erasmus+ program also wanted, it is also a good way to remove the obstacles to going abroad. Starting with virtual mobility can raise awareness and open up perspectives for students who thought they were not capable or did not have the financial means.
This device is already used in primary schools, colleges and high schools thanks to eTwinning. It is more of an exchange between classes where students share projects and exchange throughout the year at a distance before meeting in the country. The tool is also still relatively unknown but allows a first step towards mobility.
Universities reluctant to change
The Grandes Ecoles and universities therefore have every interest in also seizing it, even if this is still timid. The business and engineering schools questioned by the IGESR say they are “optimistic” about the implementation of these hybrid mobility. They still have to review the organization of exchange programs with their partner establishments.
On the other hand, on the side of the universities, the subject does not make consensus. The IGESR affirms it: “Internationalization at home is not a concept embraced by college teams” who instead envision a return to normal. According to the universities, “the numbers and the financial means are not the same” as in the Grandes Ecoles, which also hinders this implementation.
However, all the actors agree on one point: virtual mobility cannot replace physical mobility. The two can be complementary and each have their advantages. Hybrid mobility could therefore be offered to you more and more often, at least in the Grandes Ecoles.