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International student exchanges just as important after the pandemic

The pandemic has drastically changed the playing field for universities in many respects. We have all familiarised ourselves with various software apps for teaching, meetings and conferences online. This has worked well in many respects even though the enthusiasm that long prevailed has somewhat dissipated amidst an increased longing for in person meetings.

When it comes to international students and student exchanges, the picture is unclear. There are perceptions that we can make all exchanges online, often using sustainability aspects as the argument. It is possible to claim that this thinking is just as unrealistic as the thought that we could continue to think along exactly the same lines as before.

What examples of changes can we then predict?

We have seen a growing interest in long-distance travel for many years. The USA and not least Southeast Asia have been popular destinations. KTH’s international strategy, that predates the pandemic, includes the aim of increasing exchanges with our European partner universities. Many of these are extremely prestigious and an exchange within Europe is at least equally rewarding. In the future, travel within Europe will also increasingly be possible by train.

Within Unite!, our European university alliance, courses are already offered online within the energy area for our respective students. This is an excellent example of how via partnerships and technology, we can offer something more than we could as an individual university. This type of collaboration is often called a virtual exchange, a concept I feel is somewhat misleading. It is simply a new way of collaborating to give our students the best possible education.

Over the course of the year, we have also been able to organise several doctoral student summer schools online together with our partner universities. I am pleased to report that this has worked in practice. Unfortunately, it is not possible to recreate the personal relationships that can be built when you meet in person. Here, we will have to try to be creative in being able to combine in person and digital meetings, which is a big challenge.

Student exchanges will be as important as before the pandemic, but the watchword must be quality when implementing this, which means further developing both in person and digital meetings.