Summary: Against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic, this policy brief focuses on Virtual Exchange (VE), a methodology that can contribute to solving the current education and mobility challenges faced by South Mediterranean countries by enhancing the quality and inclusiveness of Higher Education, despite the severe limitations to international youth mobility. Virtual Exchanges are technology-enabled, facilitated people-to-people dialogues sustained over time, and characterized by the unique features of scalability and inclusivity, experiential learning, a community of trust, and a learner-led approach.
The recommendations introduced in the brief derive from the impact analysis of the Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange (EVE) initiative of the European Union, which clearly demonstrates how VE can effectively support the internationalization process of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), boosting “Internationalisation at Home” (IaH) opportunities, which are of the utmost importance for HEIs in South Mediterranean countries, and how it favors a regional balance in terms of North-South participation, far more than other forms of international exchange programs. Notably, evidence shows the high value of VE as a way to innovate the educational offer by integrating a new pedagogical approach which also allows for wide engagement and participation of young women.
The current pandemic started when EVE had already been piloting VE in the EU and in the Southern Mediterranean for almost two years. Owing to the needed and sudden shift to online teaching, it offered the opportunity for many more HEIs to experiment with the extraordinary value of VE as a sustainable, reciprocal, balanced, inclusive, and ecological tool whereby the main focus is on its innovative pedagogy. Based upon the EVE experience, the brief illustrates the most relevant findings and insights for the South Mediterranean, after a brief outline of the COVID-related challenges for HE and internationalization in the region, and conclusions will be drawn to support the argument that VE can be a great opportunity for Southern Mediterranean HEIs to face current challenges.
The recommendations provided are hence meant to enable policymakers to take the measures needed to finetune and streamline VE, as well as to allow HEIs on the two shores of the Mediterranean Sea to benefit most from VE as an innovative pedagogy enhancing cross-border collaboration among staff, a student’s proactive approach to learning, as well as a greener and eco-friendlier mobility option.