Each year thousands of Flemish students travel abroad to do part of their studies in a foreign country or do an internship within the Erasmus framework. For today’s generation of students studying abroad is all part and parcel of being a student. A stay abroad also provides many new experiences that will stand students in good stead during their career.
But the pandemic has led to a collapse in the number of students studying abroad. At UCLL (University Colleges Leuven Limburg) only half the number of students that planned to study abroad are now doing so. A big fall in numbers is also recorded at Hasselt University, while at PXL, the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hasselt, only 100 students will travel, while the figure is usually 300.
PXL’s Kristien Bauwens identifies several reasons why students are reluctant: “Some looked for a place and didn’t find one. Moreover, many lessons are only given online. It’s also more difficult to rent digs and book travel when you don’t know exactly what your internship will look like”.
Many students also hear colleges are unwilling to accept foreign students this academic year.
The number of foreign students arriving in Flanders too has imploded. Universities and colleges are all seeing fewer foreign students.
Brexit too forms an added complication. The UK government has pulled England out of the Erasmus exchange project, but devolved administrations in Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh are examining whether they can still remain in the EU exchange project. Next academic year will be the last Flemish students can apply for places across the UK.
“The project’s been extended for one year” says Ms Bauwens. “Our students can study in the UK or do an internship for up to one year, but after that things don’t look good.”