Edinburgh Global

Adapting Exchanges and Mobility in 2020

In these challenging times, with the current and expected impacts of coronavirus and Brexit affecting student and staff mobility, the SWAY team are making changes and adaptations that are putting the University of Edinburgh in a good position for the years ahead.

There are undoubtable challenges still to be faced as we transition into a new normal, but the team have been putting necessary modifications and controls in place to maintain quality services and ensure safety in response to the challenges that 2020 has brought, as well as continuing to develop and innovate for the longer-term. SWAY have worked with colleagues in Schools and Colleges to ensure students and staff have alternative opportunities to the traditional exchange options.

A study or work away activity is an integral part of the student experience. Demand for international opportunities increases every year, not only study abroad for credit but to volunteer, work and intern. We are working in partnership with Schools and Colleges, developing a strategy for overhauling study and work away activity in response to radical changes in the mobility and exchange environment due to Covid-19 and impact from Brexit. The strategy focuses on three priorities: sustainable partnerships post-Brexit; a diverse portfolio of mobilities and enhanced student experience. The underlying objective is to offer mobility for all.

Isabell Majewsky AndersonHead of Service, Study and Work Away

Suspension of mobility in Semester 1

As a consequence of the global coronavirus pandemic, most outbound physical mobility has been suspended during semester 1; exchanges, overseas work placements and field trips won’t go ahead, with a small number of essential exceptions. Activities due to start in Semester 2 are planned to go ahead; the situation is being monitored closely. This approach puts the health and safety of our students and staff first. It has also been key in driving forward innovative solutions and continued development of virtual mobility options.

Best practice for virtual mobility – NICE programme

The NICE programme is an established virtual learning exchange focussed on intercultural entrepreneurship. Although the 3-year European funding is due to end in December this year, the team is working to continue with a new stream of funding to deliver positive and valuable experiences for students.

The NICE cycle in 2020 will serve as an example of an exchange programme that is virtual from end to end and will offer experience and lessons to learn from as we look to expand our virtual exchange opportunities.

Randall ReinhardProjects Adviser, SWAY

In a survey of the student participants of the NICE programme, many reported that it has been a positive way to focus during the pandemic and an opportunity to build solidarity with their peer group, who are all in very similar situations. Some also commented that the virtual learning in the programme has helped them to prepare for the transition to more online classes in their upcoming studies. They also found that the interaction with their teams and having regular meetings has helped them stay motivated.

An anonymous participant said: “[The best thing about the exchange was] learning about communication and about myself, the way I work, the way I communicate; getting to know people from different backgrounds, working with them.”

Another anonymous participant said: “I loved that everyone in my team are from different nationalities and continents. This has helped me build communication skills in a multicultural environment. I have also learnt how to look for opportunities everywhere by seeking to provide better solutions to the problems people face and easing their burdens.”

There was also an opportunity to provide suggestions on ways to improve the programme that will inform development of this, and similar, programmes, for example, looking for solutions in scheduling when teams are split across multiple time zones. The SWAY team has acknowledged the issue and is developing a solution to remedy this particular challenge and share best practice.

NICE Virtual student conference 13-16 July

Although NICE was originally intended to be a blend of virtual and physical learning, the team have now created an entirely online exchange experience. The summer school component has been adapted into a virtual student conference. During 13 – 16 July students will be able to attend a range of workshops run by experts at the programme’s partner institutions, and other organisations, to deepen their intercultural communication and entrepreneurship skills.

Students will also take part in team pitches, presenting the global challenge solutions they have developed. The winning teams will be asked to deliver their solutions in front of a wider international audience of university staff members at a multiplier event to showcase the success of the NICE programme – the reach of these events has expanded to a much wider group of students and stakeholders, adding to their value, since moving online and removing some common barriers associated with time, travel and cost.

For the University to be involved in this is really exciting because, in these uncertain times, the interest in virtual exchange is increasing exponentially… While we are all no doubt eagerly awaiting the day when we can travel safely again, in the meantime we are continuing to provide our students with the necessary skills and knowledge for an increasingly international and virtual future.

Randall ReinhardProjects Adviser, SWAY

There’s natural apprehension for both students and staff around the effects of current challenges of ‘exchange’ in the traditional sense, but there are also aspirations, innovations, and a wealth of experience and feedback in the NICE project, and others, that Edinburgh is keen to explore; how we build and grow our virtual exchange opportunities and share best practice is more relevant than ever.


While the UK’s involvement in Erasmus+ post-Brexit is still undecided, it will be possible to fund Erasmus activities beyond the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December. The SWAY team have requested that the project lifetime of our most recent KA103 bid, currently covering up to May 2022, is extended for an extra year. We await confirmation from the British Council.

The British Council has already confirmed that it will be possible for some Erasmus+ mobility activities to be carried out remotely. If the mobility starts abroad and continues at home, the period covering the activity will be included in the funded period. If the mobility starts remotely at home and then continues in-country, the period covering the activity will not be included in the funded period (but will be covered by Erasmus), only the in-country part of the mobility will be included in the funded period.

International Credit Mobility (ICM)

The University has been awarded €1.5M in the most recent Erasmus+ ICM funding call. This is the largest ICM bid we have been awarded to date and will support staff and students to have an international experience in 18 countries outside of Europe over the next three years.

Staff Go Abroad

In the short-term international travel by staff on University business that is scheduled to take place before 31 July 2020 should be cancelled. The University will provide guidance for staff seeking to travel in light of the recent FCO advice changing. Until guidance is available staff are not advised to make any travel plans. Applications for Erasmus funding via the Go Abroad Staff programme are currently also suspended; this will be reviewed if and when travel advice changes.

Go Abroad for Staff has not only facilitated a huge range of individual teaching, research, learning and training activities abroad, but it’s also helped build key relationships between Edinburgh and many international institutions, and led to new partnerships and collaborations. In spite of the two-pronged challenges of Brexit and coronavirus - and, indeed, in response to the negative impacts of these - we will continue to support staff to broaden their horizons and to maintain their international outlook as soon as they can do so safely.

Lesley BalharryStaff Programmes Manager, SWAY

Edinburgh Global has launched a new sustainable travel policy with the goal of changing our behaviours and practices and actively committing to reduce our carbon footprint. The new travel approval process for our staff ensures that travel is necessary, that air travel for shorter journeys is avoided, and that for longer essential journeys a carbon offset is in place relative to the distance travelled.

About SWAY

The Study & Work Away Service (SWAY) was formed after work with the Service Excellence programme to create a single service to manage global opportunities for study and work away for students and staff at the University.

Find out more about SWAY