Mrs Bulelwa Moikwatlhai

Mrs Bulelwa Moikwatlhai, Officer: Internationalisation at home and inbound student mobility

Virtual mobilities at the University of the Free State

When the global COVID-19 pandemic hit our shores, the University of the Free State (UFS) had to send its exchange students home before the borders closed, and no one knew what would happen next. The country went through a hard lockdown, forcing all universities to limit access to campuses and creating the need for universities to adapt to new strategies to continue operations. The Office for International Affairs (OIA) at the UFS, therefore, adopted a new initiative – virtual mobility. Virtual mobility refers to the use of technology to facilitate the participation of a student in studies for credit at a higher education institution in another country for a limited time, without physically leaving home. This mobility became essential for the UFS, because the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of all physical mobilities for the time being.

In the second semester of 2020 and the first semester of 2021, virtual mobility was implemented with the Science PO Bordeaux University in France, where one student participated in studies at the UFS through virtual means. This pilot programme was in collaboration with the Department of Political Science in the Faculty of the Humanities.

A programme that started with only one student, is now in its third semester running, hosting six exchange students virtually during the second semester of 2021. These students hail from France, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands. They are hosted by the UFS Faculty of the Humanities and the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, respectively.

The growth of the programme has helped to strengthen the good working relationship of the UFS Office for International Affairs with its strategic partners; it also helped to build an appetite for participation by internal stakeholders, as well as other international partners. To round off the support to students and to ensure that they receive ongoing support during their time at the UFS, each exchange student was assigned and introduced to their ambassador (local student) from the I@H Umoja Buddy Programme. These ambassadors will communicate with the exchange students at least twice a week, acting as an extension of the office by assisting with any questions these students may have and being that first friend at the UFS. Equally, as part of our internationalisation at home strategy, our exchange students will share their culture and language with our local students (ambassadors) to help ensure that they get an international experience during their time at the UFS without leaving home.

This is an exciting programme for the UFS; it is a great opportunity that keeps growing every semester and that fosters great collaboration, both internally and externally. Although it may have started as a response, this initiative has made great strides in helping to ensure that the UFS is still able to enhance its students’ international and intercultural competencies during such trying times. Equally, we are still able to reach our internationalisation goals as outlined in the internationalisation strategy 2018-2022.

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