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25.11.2021 | School of Business

Student exchange during the pandemic

Students who wanted to study at a university abroad for one or two semesters had significantly fewer opportunities in the first half of 2020 due to the Corona virus. However, in the autumn semester 2021, it was possible to travel again on a larger scale. And now the students' desire to travel seems to have grown.

A record number of 440 students took part in a "Virtual International Afternoon" on 22 October at the FHNW School of Business, where they could find out about a semester abroad. The virtual format was first implemented the previous year in order to offer students at the Basel, Brugg-Windisch and Olten campuses first-hand information online. Previously, this had been face-to-face events for everyone at the Olten campus. 


Online events have the advantage of being accessible without travelling, which seemed to motivate even more students to attend. In addition to online presentations, there was also access to the International Office's online platform - with information on more than 190 partner universities around the world. At the same time, both current incoming students and former outgoing students were invited. They exchanged views with interested future exchange students about their experiences abroad, the country and its people, cultural differences including culture shock, and life at their partner university in a different educational system. Now the students of the FHNW School of Business are in the process of researching partner universities abroad that are open to them, as well as suitable modules and accommodation, so that they can register for a semester abroad. 

Interest in a semester abroad is still unbroken

The pandemic never completely stopped student exchanges, but it did reduce them by about half in the first half of 2020. It was very hard for those students whose dream destinations were made impossible by border closures and entry bans. Of course, many partner universities (also) switched to online teaching, but this also made travelling abroad less attractive. Why spend a semester in a strange room in a strange city when online courses can be taken comfortably and without risk from home? Many students then decided not to spend a semester abroad or contacted the International Office and the programme directors to inquire about postponing their experience abroad.

The number of incoming students who come to Switzerland for one or two semesters at a summer school also fell sharply in 2020, but interest and opportunities have returned in the current year. In the autumn semester of 2021, just under 50 students arrived again, and the registration figures for the coming spring semester are even higher. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority came from European countries in 2021, as travel restrictions within the continent were significantly lower. For 2022, however, the number of applicants from non-European countries is also increasing again.

Many students finally want to travel again, gain experience at another university, make friends across borders and build an international network. This need is unbroken, there is no decline.

Sabine Künzi, Head of the International Office

This means that demand is expected to increase significantly in the coming year. 2022 could even be a record year for a semester abroad. It remains to be seen whether those who have shown interest will apply. In previous years, about half of the interested students actually did so.