Sign up

Have some pie!

Virtual exchange “maturing” but challenges remain

Funding, connectivity and capacity building remain challenges for international virtual exchange projects, particularly in non-Western contexts. 

Alia Gilbrecht, director of virtual exchange at An-Najah National University. Photo: IVEC.

Institutional representatives discussed the changing landscape of collaborative online international learning

During the International Virtual Exchange Conference, which took place virtually and in-person in São Paulo this week, academics and institutional representatives discussed the changing landscape of collaborative online international learning since the pandemic. 

“For some institutions, COIL was just a temporary pivot, it really wasn’t the long term commitment,” said Jon Rubin, director at COIL Connect For Virtual Exchange. 

He said the sector is entering a stage when “when the amazing growth of the recent period will flatten somewhat” but that interest in virtual exchange remains strong.  

“It’s really a sign of a field maturing”

“To me, this isn’t a negative sign, it’s really a sign of a field maturing,” he added. 

Speakers discussed how institutions in different contexts are embedding virtual exchange into their programs, including in Colombia and Palestine. 

Sandra Julieth Valencia Escobar, international relations coordinator at Colombia’s Catholic University of Manizales, said, “Virtual exchanges and COIL have been part of a new door that has opened for us to share with the rest of the world.

“It is part of a roadmap that we have developed for our students and teachers in which they can develop capacity for global performance,” she said. 

But she flagged the challenges facing some institutions like hers across Latin America, including the lack of wider strategies around internationalisation, the opportunities for staff capacity building and the cost and logistics of virtual exchange.

“Depending on the place where you are from, sometimes connectivity is not easy,” she said. “Having technological tools for everybody is not possible.” 

Alia Gilbrecht, director of virtual exchange at An-Najah National University in the West Bank, said online exchanges had helped reduce the “isolation” of the students there. 

“We do not have control over our borders which is very important to be aware of when it comes to international education,” she said, explaining that the university cannot obtain international visas for visiting staff or students and has little control over resources, including telecommunications. 

She said virtual exchange had therefore been attractive to students at An-Najah since the institution implemented its first program in 2017. 

Panellists also discussed language barriers and how this feeds into decolonisation work, with some calling for English to no longer be seen as the default language for virtual exchange. 

Samia Chasi, manager at the International Education Association of South Africa, suggested virtual exchange should be used “as a tool towards more equitable and inclusive higher education and internationalisation”. 

“That means creating greater access and participation for underrepresented and marginalised individuals and institutions alike,” she said. “And that’s not just about creating opportunities for them to participate in international exchanges, but also actively to remove barriers.”

Related articles

Still looking? Find by category:

Add your comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Disclaimer: All user contributions posted on this site are those of the user ONLY and NOT those of The PIE Ltd or its associated trademarks, websites and services. The PIE Ltd does not necessarily endorse, support, sanction, encourage, verify or agree with any comments, opinions or statements or other content provided by users.

To receive The PIE Weekly with our top stories and insights, and other updates from us, please