Frustrated students anticipate new details on their year abroad

As the end of term approaches in Edinburgh, most students are harassing letting agents in search of the perfect flat for next year; their biggest worry is if pubs will be open when they return. For many 2nd years, however, there is an even bigger question mark hanging over the next year; where in the world they will be, and when on earth they will find out. With the pandemic still raging, bringing most countries to impose yet more travel bans, it is impossible to know what the next term will look like for those anticipating a chance to study abroad.

Edinburgh cancelled all study abroad and work placements for the beginning of this academic year, and many didn’t go ahead in the second semester either. The University has continued to offer year abroad places for next year, allocating them from late January. For those students who secured an offer, they are now being told that some, if not all, of the year may have to be abandoned. In most cases this is out of Edinburgh’s hands and due to decisions made by the host institutions or foreign governments.

Unsurprisingly advice from the University has been vague. Edinburgh Global is officially saying, “Due to the ongoing situation with Covid-19, some exchange partners are cancelling exchanges affecting the 2021/22 academic year.  This, coupled with continued and ever-changing travel restrictions, means that we cannot guarantee that 2021/22 study and work abroad activities will go ahead as planned.”

They have therefore advised students not to make any firm arrangements or financial commitments at this stage – effectively leaving students in an anxious limbo. Although this is unhelpful, it is all they can do at the moment, with the only alternative being to cancel them all. 

Many host institutions, for example all those in Australia, have already cancelled their first semester exchanges, leaving students here until at least Christmas. Some students have dropped out of their exchanges altogether, opting to stay in Edinburgh for the entirety of their third year rather than risk further uncertainty and confusion.

For language students, spending time abroad is a requirement of their degree and a very valuable opportunity. If some foreign universities cancel exchanges, and others do not, then those who do get to go abroad will have an unfair advantage. The university is struggling with how to impose a fair system across the board to mitigate this and maintain the high standard of a language degree.

For students of Chinese for example, mainland China currently has a ban on most foreign travel, including foreign students entering the country. Universities in Taiwan have the potential to offer places but they cannot accommodate every Chinese student, so places would be incredibly competitive. After weeks of misguided, confusing information from their professors – because no one really knows what will happen – students seem to be resigned to staying in Edinburgh until they can move to China to live or study. There is also still very little official University guidance on how assessment will take place in the third year. For students this is “an incredibly frustrating position, because no one can do anything about it.” Frustration is shared among students, but they also recognise that the university is trying to keep as many doors open as possible.

With the UK’s vaccination roll out racing ahead of many others it is easy to believe the end of the pandemic is in sight. But while the domestic situation may be improving the same is not the case across the globe. For example, as of the 25th march, the EU has only managed to vaccinate 14% of its population, compared to the UK’s 46%. Students going abroad are having to juggle Edinburgh’s guidance, information from their host institutions as well as UK and foreign governments’ travel advice. 

The frustrating reality for students hoping to go abroad next year is that it entirely depends on where you are going, and the situation is changing day-to-day. For now, we can only wait.

Image: Esteban Chiner via Flickr