The Malta Independent 14 July 2020, Tuesday

Covid-19 - Erasmus programme extended by 12 months

Karl Azzopardi Monday, 22 June 2020, 09:30 Last update: about 21 days ago

As an adaptive measure to the Covid-19 pandemic, the European Union Programmes Agency (EUPA) has extended the duration of on-going Erasmus+ Programme projects by a maximum of 12 months, a spokesperson for the agency told The Malta Independent.

During this time of year, the Erasmus + Programme would usually be in full swing as students from all over Europe who applied to spend a period of their studies in a different university in Europe would be eagerly awaiting the day they would set off on this memorable adventure once the summer break draws to a close.

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However, due to the extraordinary circumstances that the Covid-19 situation brought about, the agency has had to make some changes for ongoing projects as well as upcoming ones, seeing that students and universities alike are still cautious of the situation despite the majority of EU member states heading towards recovery. In fact, some universities are still mulling over the possibility of opening their doors for next year’s mobility, a spokesperson for University of Malta (one of the two institutions in Malta that host the programme) told this newsroom.

 

Covid-19 impact on the Erasmus+ Programme and resolutions

The EUPA explained that participants had to either cancel, suspend or postpone their mobility.

The percentage of students who opted to remain in the host country was much lower than those who returned to Malta. Some of the returning students continued their mobility experience through online means, while others were not offered this possibility or had decided to not undergo a virtual mobility.

Participants who either cancelled or suspended their mobility were, and are still, allowed to file a request to the EUPA to invoke the force majeure clause. The agency received more than 70 requests so far and it is expected to receive more in the coming months.

In the meantime, the agency has extended the duration of on-going projects by a maximum of 12 months to allow for more mobilities to be realised and, therefore, make up for those mobilities which had to be either suspended or cancelled.

The University of Malta (UM) took a decision early on and quickly moved towards online teaching and lecturing, allowing students who were in Malta to decide whether to leave and follow classes virtually from their home country or else stay in Malta.

“Students were allowed the freedom to take their own decision while still being able to complete their modules of studies which they had registered for”, the UM spokesperson explained. “The same level of freedom of choice was provided to all UM students who were abroad and they were assured that the UM would recognise the study programme they had started following at the host institution.”

The UM is currently processing countless requests for financial support claims that will be presented to the EUPA. At the same time the UM has carried out the selection, endorsement and nomination process involving over 600 students who had submitted an application last February to participate in the programme during the coming academic year. 

 

Airports reopening

Asked how the reopening of Malta’s airport in July will affect the programme, the EUPA spokesperson said that this is good news as students might be interested to either continue where they left or start a new mobility experience.

Nonetheless, this may not be as easy as one could imagine because students may still fear to travel unless there is a vaccine available and accessible.

“The European Commission is encouraging universities, schools and Vocational Education Training (VET) providers to offer online learning and virtual mobilities instead of on-campus or physical mobility to ensure the health and safety of E+ participants. However, we understand that not all educational institutions are yet prepared to offer alternative means to physical mobility,” they added.

The UM also views the reopening as positive news but shares the same concern as the EUPA, especially seeing that there are no connections yet to the UK, Italy and several other countries that are very popular among local students.

“In the current scenario the number of opportunities is shrinking. Universities are being forced to take some very hard decisions including the outright cancellation of the outgoing and incoming mobility,” the UM spokesperson said.

The UM is continuing to track the situation in different countries and keeping a log of all the cancellations or other changes that it receives so that students are notified and alternatives are provided where possible.

Students are free to opt out of the programme at any point and they are being advised not to place non-refundable bookings at this time so that they will not incur charges. The UM spokesperson explained that apart from the risk, costs of flights could become prohibitive and although UM students receive the highest level of grant in view of the fact that Malta is classified as an outer most region in terms of distance, the grant might still not cover the actual cost.

“Mobility might take a different shape this year and foregone in some cases in view of the increasing number of closures, particularly in those countries that have been hardest hit and universities where the first semester starts very early. We hope that circumstances will permit for some mobility to take place where it is safe and reasonable for this to be carried out.”

 

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