With the disruptive effect that COVID-19 has had on many different aspects of everyday life, ESN Malta has taken it upon itself to conduct research for the European Universities of the Seas (SEA-EU) Alliance in order to analyse and understand what impact COVID-19 has had on international student mobility, and how each university of the Alliance has responded to the COVID-19 emergency. SEA-EU aims to establish a distinctly international, pluri-ethnic, multilingual and interdisciplinary European University focused on marine and maritime disciplines. It consists of the University of Cádiz (Spain) as the lead partner, along with Université de Bretagne Occidentale in Brest (France), University of Kiel (Germany), University of Gdańsk (Poland), University of Split (Croatia) and the University of Malta (Malta).

During this academic year 2020/2021, SEA-EU accepted its first cohort of students, during which 99 students availed themselves of the opportunity to go on an Erasmus mobility exchange through this initiative. Since each university of the alliance operates differently from each other, ESN Malta wanted to investigate the experiences of international students at a SEA-EU University, the impact that COVID-19 has had on their mobility, the quality of lectures, and support measures. The survey collected 70 responses detailing international students' experiences. This report aims to raise awareness of how each of the SEA-EU universities met students' needs and aims to support each of the universities to collaborate closely in order to ensure that similar standards are kept throughout the entire alliance. 

Through this alliance, students enrolled at a university that is part of the SEA-EU Alliance are able to study at any other partner university through an Erasmus mobility. During this academic year the University of Cadiz, the University of Malta and the University of Split welcomed the most students, while Université de Bretagne Occidentale in Brest, the University of Gdansk, and the University of Cadiz sent out the most students. 

Some of the key findings of the report are the following: 

Awareness of Sea-EU

61.5% of respondents stated that they were not aware of the SEA-EU Alliance. The Alliance is still in its infancy and a number of planned outreach projects had to be cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic. In the few instances when students were aware of the SEA-EU initiative, this was because going on Erasmus through this initiative was the only option available. In a handful of cases, students were informed about SEA-EU by their home university. Furthermore, when asked why they chose SEA-EU, students cited encouragement by their home university and that going on Erasmus through SEA-EU was the only option available, as their main reason for selecting SEA-EU followed by relevance to studies. 

Positive Student Experience

While the number of students going on an Erasmus mobility has fallen, this report shows that those students that have proceeded with an Erasmus mobility have had overwhelmingly positive experiences. While the majority of university courses were being held online during this academic year, 95.5% of the student respondents reported that they were able to travel to their host county and follow their online lectures from there. they thus could enjoy the benefit of mobility and experiencing life in a different European country. 

When asked why they decided to travel to their host university country, the majority of the students replied that they chose to travel as the COVID-19 restrictions in their host country were more relaxed than their home country (58.6%); and that it felt safer to travel and live in the host country (44.8%). Although the COViD-19 pandemic has caused a major disruption to most people's lives, these students appeared to have nevertheless taken the decision to leave their country and travel because they wanted to get away from their home country and experience internationalisation. 

With regards to health crisis information provision and support measures, the majority of students (60.6%) stated that they were kept abreast with information on local COVID-19 related restrictions prior to and during their stay in their host country by the SEA-EU Universities and local student organisations and how the impact that these restrictions would have on their academic studies. Furthermore, students have declared that they were given adequate support when needed. This included psychological support, logistical support for quarantine purposes and medical support. The SEA-EU Universities have ensured that the student support which is readily available to domestic students is also made unavailable to international students. 

The majority of classes were held online, while some courses did offer blended options. With regards to the quality of lectures, again the majority of students reported overall positive satisfaction over the means and methods used to deliver lectures. The majority of respondents provided positive evaluations primarily for their host university’s use of digital learning tools and platforms (66.1%). This is followed by access to educational materials (60.7%), information provision on how to make use of online tools (57.1%), quality of learning activities (57.1%), interaction with lecturers during online activities (55.3%), and readiness to implement online activities (50%).

Domestic and International Student Interactions

Mixed feelings were reported by foreign exchange students with regards to the level of integration and interaction with the local students of the SEA-EU Universities, as the students were split over how satisfied they were with their interaction with local students. 28.6% of respondents provided a neutral answer, 30.4% said that their interactions with local students were negative, while 32.1% of international students remarked that they had an overall positive relationship with local domestic students. 

This survey report was overseen and authored by Luke Bonello Ghio. Data analysis by Esther Lau

The full report can be accessed by downloading the attachment below.