Pandemics blocked borders, but not Erasmus+
Due to pandemics of a new coronavirus the student dormitories were closed, borders as well and studying was moved to on-line space. How did it affect Erasmus+ programme and students at their international mobilities? We talked to Mr. Oliver Vavro from Rectorate´s Office of European projects and Erasmus+. about an uneasy situation, but also about important measures of the university and of the European Commission.
By: CU Public Relations Office
Slovak and international students already submitted their applications for Erasmus+ programme for this semester in the academic year 2018/19. At that time surely nobody could know that pandemics of such extend would appear in Europe and that countries would close their borders one by one. Some cautious students had already cancelled their mobilities back in January and February, before the COVID-19 pandemics. Others travelled and started their studies at foreign university. A total of 96 students from 19 countries came to CU during the summer semester. They were accommodated in the dormitories, they attended the first lectures and step by step explored Bratislava.
On 9th On March 2020, the university's leadership decided that students must leave the dormitories to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Even though the decision was only valid for the Slovak students, some international students decided to act. "They took some most necessary things and left home, thinking that after two weeks (the period for which the physical learning at CU was originally interrupted) they will be able to return. However, in the meantime the borders were closed," describes Mr. Oliver Vavro, who is responsible for some part of the agenda of Erasmus+ Mobility programme. Then the repatriation of Slovak students who for safety reasons did not want to stay abroad, started. CU coordinators of Erasmus+ have been intensely communicating and providing the latest information to all Slovak and international students. "It was a very challenging time, because we were waiting for the decision of the European Commission. It was the Commission that had to decide whether the full amount of scholarship granted to students would be given to them, despite the fact that students left the destination of their study mobility, while continuing the distance learning form from their homes, or if students would have to return an aliquot of the scholarship granted to them before travelling," reveals Oliver, who regularly communicated with students by e-mail, but also through video calls, trying to calm them down. „Office for European projects and Erasmus+ (OEPaE+ RUK) made, after consulting the situation with Vice-Deans of CU´s faculties, a supportive step: Already on March 17 we decided to waive the penalty for bringing less ECTS credits than student should bring according to the signed Learning Agreement,” Oliver adds.
On April 1 the long waiting decision from the European Commission arrived. The news were all good.
- Students are given the full amount of the grant awarded even though they have already left the designated country, provided that they continue to study on-line from Slovakia at a foreign university. "By this gesture of goodwill the European Commission gave for the first time in the history of Erasmus+ a green light to virtual mobility," added Oliver.
- There was a claim for reimbursement of the costs of repatriation. Slovak students who used repatriation and continue their on-line studies at a foreign university from Slovakia, but also those who for objective reasons could not continue in studying at the recipient university, (e.g. students of medical faculties) can apply for reimbursement of travel costs and for residing in the state quarantine.
- Students who cancelled their mobility prior to travel are entitled to reimbursement of travel costs already incurred (ticket, train ticket, etc.).
OEPaE+ RUK immediately informed students, developed manuals and updated the website. "We spent hours creating comprehensive and understandable manuals that serve the students as a guide or some sort of guidance on the administrative termination of mobility. The manual counts with multiple scenarios and is helpful to all Erasmus+ students in various situations," Oliver explains. All financial matters linked to the Erasmus+ were redirected from faculties to the UK Rectorate, where they were solved individually.
At this time, mobility is made on-line. Students connect to their first on-line exams in the history of Erasmus+. Eighty three of our students decided to stay abroad and complete the semester there, the rest do their mobility on-line from Slovakia. Sixty international students from the Erasmus+ programme remained in the dormitory at Mlynska dolina. Only seventeen students opted for earlier termination of mobility. "A few days ago we submitted the European Charter for Higher Education (ECHE). Together with the Erasmus Policy Statement (EPS), this is a strategic document allowing us to participate in the Erasmus+ programme in the next programme period between 2021 and 2027. We also prepare an official university position on the implementation of the mobility in the forthcoming winter semester 2020/2021. " For current information, please visit the website of the Rectorate´s Office for European projects and Erasmus+.