Who would have thought that mobility abroad could one day be done remotely? In the midst of a health crisis, higher education institutions are considering alternatives to maintain international exchanges.
It is a new type of stay that higher education establishments may offer more to their students. Still little known, hybrid mobility (a clever mix of physical mobility and virtual mobility) is about to develop. In any case, this is what the IGSR (General Inspection of Education, Sport and Research) estimates in its report that measures the impact of the health crisis on international mobility published last September. Hybrid mobility has many advantages for institutions and students… until it becomes an alternative that makes sense.
A device that will last
March 2020: The epidemic is in full swing, containment is coming, and borders are closing. Schools are putting everything into practice to interfere as little as possible with the smooth running of the end of the school year. In engineering and business schools, international mobility quickly becomes a topic that must be taken up again. Stays abroad are, in fact, often needed to complete your degree.
As the IGSR indicates, the grande écoles thus find alternatives to “ensure the acquisition of skills” and “maintain training opportunities abroad”. Hybrid mobility is slowly developing and gaining momentum at the start of the 2020 school year, while the health situation is still far from stabilised.
Thus, students begin to attend distance courses in establishments located hundreds or thousands of kilometers from France. Initially virtual mobility that can be accompanied, if conditions allow, by physical mobility later on. Since then, the CGE (Conference des Grandes Écoles) and CDEFI (Conference of Directors of French Engineering Schools) have created working groups to facilitate and improve this hybridization. IGSR notes an “intensity of ongoing discussions and exchanges on hybrid mobility”, discussions that “bring about substantial transformations in the coming years”.
Remove obstacles to go abroad
The Erasmus+ program also bets on this hybrid mobility, whose project was already being prepared before the health crisis in a logic of social inclusion. At the beginning of the 2020 academic year, the French Agency Erasmus+ is therefore officially creating this new mobility that potentially concerns all students, regardless of their situation. A framework is fixed: hybrid mobility must necessarily contain virtual and physical mobility to be validated. Mobility duration and periods are more flexible and scholarships continue to be paid during physical mobility.
As the IGSR points out, this hybridization is an opportunity to “rethink and enrich” international exchanges. As the Erasmus+ program also intended, it is also a good way to remove obstacles to traveling abroad. Starting with virtual mobility can raise awareness and open perspectives for students who thought they were incapable or had no financial means.
This device is already used in elementary 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 it allows a first step towards mobility.
Universities reluctant to change
The Grandes Écoles and universities, therefore, have every interest in taking advantage of it as well, albeit timidly. The business and engineering schools questioned by the IGSR say they are “optimistic” about the implementation of these hybrid mobilities. They still need to review the organization of exchange programs with partner establishments.
On the other hand, on the side of the universities, the subject does not reach a consensus. The IGSR states: “Internationalization at home is not a concept adopted by university teams” who instead envision a return to normal. According to the universities, “the numbers and the financial means are not the same” as the Grandes Écoles, which also makes this implementation difficult.
However, all actors agree on one point: virtual mobility cannot replace physical mobility. The two can be complementary and each has its advantages. Hybrid mobility could therefore be offered to you more and more often, at least in the Grandes Ecoles.