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SA unis aim to restart overseas student exchanges in 2022


South Australian universities expect that they can resume overseas student exchanges as soon as next year, as the sector continues to grapple with the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Students have been grounded in South Australia since the start of last year, with all study trips on hold until Australia reopens its borders to exchange students from overseas.

The University of Adelaide last month opened applications for students to study overseas from the beginning of next year, but will review travel restrictions in July to determine if the exchanges can go ahead.

Meanwhile, the University of South Australia and Flinders University “expect” their inbound and outbound exchange programs will resume in 2022, but applications are yet to open.

Over 1600 Adelaide University students travelled overseas on exchange or as part of a study tour in 2019 before the pandemic hit.

Adelaide University Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Jacqueline Lo said exchanges had a “transformative impact” on students’ outlook, career and development.

“Students often tell us that studying overseas was one of the most valuable opportunities they had while studying at the University of Adelaide and we are very fortunate to have partnerships with some of the most prestigious universities in the world,” Lo said.

“We can’t predict the future but we want to ensure that we are well placed should the situation in 2022 allow for these opportunities.”

Lo said that because an exchange involved swapping a local student with an overseas student from a partnering university, applications needed to open far in advance.

“This balancing of students is one of the reasons the application process needs to occur so far in advance: we can’t offer a place to one of our students until we know the partner has a student to send to us,” she said.

“The student exchange application process is a lengthy one – it takes almost a year from the initial application to the student beginning their semester or year abroad.”

Flinders University has told students and staff that exchanges are “not likely” to be possible during 2021, but it is yet to set a firm date for when its “Learn Without Borders” program will recommence.

The university’s Vice-President and International Pro Vice-Chancellor Sebastian Raneskold said during COVID-19, some students participated in virtual exchanges with overseas universities to “connect students with people from different places, backgrounds and cultures, helping to forge the relationships that might lead to opportunities in the future”.

“We recognise that it could be some time before we receive advice from the federal government in relation to international travel, and as a result we don’t think it will be possible for exchanges to occur this year,” he said.

“This is of course very  disappointing for many students, but necessary in the current circumstances.”

Raneskold said Flinders University “hoped” that it could start sending and receiving students “some time in 2022”, with the timing contingent on the successful rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations and the Federal Government’s advice on international travel.

“We also have to consider the circumstances in the host country, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our students, regardless of the border closure situation,” he said.

“We are liaising informally with other Australian universities who are adopting similar approaches to Flinders in promoting virtual exchange or international online study experiences, until we hear more from the Australian Government.”

The University of South Australia has been running virtual exchange programs since the middle of last year.

It believes the virtual programs will replace a “significant portion” of usual exchange opportunities for domestic students while Australia’s borders remain closed.

“UniSA is not expecting to resume its inbound or outbound exchange programs until 2022 – or when it is safe to do so,” International Pro Vice-Chancellor Gabrielle Rolan said.

The Federal Government is yet to set a timeframe for when it will reopen Australia’s border, with the reopening likely to be contingent on the successful rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Meanwhile, the South Australian Government is still working on plans to bring up to 300 international students back to Adelaide, after the trial was stalled in November during the Parafield cluster. 

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