The UM’s criteria are clear: the colour code of a country must not be red. In addition, students may only travel to an orange-coded country if the exchange programme or work placement mostly takes place on campus. Courses that are entirely online must always be done from Maastricht (or the home country of the student).
The first semester started off reasonably well. In August and the beginning of September, most of Europe had code yellow, with regional COVID-19 hotbeds here and there. Restaurants received guests in the evenings in France and Italy, museums and theatres were open, and universities welcomed students inside their buildings. That has all drastically changed this autumn. “Our students are always free to return home, whether the country is yellow or orange,” says Martin Paul. “They can also remain, but only after consultation with the partner university and their faculty’s IRO [International Relations Office, ed.]. In the considerations, the local R value also plays a role, so whether it is safe.”
As many as 263 Maastricht students are on an exchange or work placement abroad at the moment; 94 per cent of them are in the European Union. That is about 30 per cent of the group that ‘normally’ goes abroad from the UM, Paul estimates. A number of students who are staying outside the European borders, are from the Faculty of Health Medicine and Life sciences – there is a double degree programme in Japan. At the bottom of this article, there is the story of Aimée Ploumen, a master’s student at the School of Business and Economics, who is studying in Rome at the moment.
In the whole of the Netherlands, Maastricht is the university with the most Erasmus+ grants, a European Commission subsidy programme. Erasmus+ has the advantage that it works with a force majeure (circumstances beyond one’s control) clause. A safety net that enables the Executive Board to take the risk of allowing the exchange to take place, Paul explains. Students are actually compensated if they have to return home in a rush because, for example, the guest university can no longer guarantee their safety or shuts the campus doors.
Not on an exchange
But what about students who have to stay in Maastricht? How can they gain their ECTS credits? An online exchange programme with the partner university is possible, it says on the UM website. The student can also participate in a UM-wide minor. Furthermore, they can take elective blocks at their own faculty.
Center for European Studies
Incoming exchange students are welcome in Maastricht, but are also subject to conditions, says Paul. “It takes place on a limited scale. They must, at any rate, self-isolate for ten days after arrival.”
Maastricht University’s Center for European Studies (CES) is good for hundreds of American students who do programmes here. But because of COVID-19, American partner universities are keeping their students in the US, so it is relatively quiet here. Six hundred US students cannot come to the UM this academic year, says Raimond Coumans, head of CES and Maastricht Summer School. “A considerable drain. But we are developing online alternatives for January and spring.” Because employees cannot promote the university programmes in the United States, expenses are reduced. In addition, CES employees are stepping up to help in other departments and faculties.
Lastly: what about YUFE? This is the Young Universities for the Future of Europe alliance, which is chaired by UM President Martin Paul. The first hundred YUFE students started in September with a so-called YUFE Introduction Offer (a maximum of two online subjects and an online YUFE activity, such as a language course, read Dora Christodoulou’s story below).
Mobility and education are the focus of this ambitious plan by the ten participating universities (and four non-academic partners), but there is not a lot of mobility at the moment. In an ideal world, YUFE students would take subjects at their home university as well as a number of elective subjects at one of the other partner institutes. In order to integrate well and become acquainted with the culture, YUFE students are encouraged to live in the guest country and possibly even do voluntary work.
Paul: “Travelling is unfortunately very difficult. And online is of course not as much fun as actually being there, but we do have a virtual campus where you do become emersed in the other country’s culture. You meet with fellow students and become acquainted with the education system of the foreign university online. It is also an enrichment as far as content is concerned. Take the University of Essex in Great Britain. There they will have a different view of ‘Europe’, European identity and Brexit than for example in Antwerp or Madrid.”