Session highlights

The future workplace will be focused on sustainability, accessibility and diversity. We need to provide global learning opportunities that are affordable and accessible.” Rana Latif, Director of Strategic Development and Marketing, Faculty of Communication and Design, Ryerson University

  • Will institutions continue to offer Virtual Exchange when the pandemic is over? In a poll conducted in a session on Virtual Exchange, 100% of respondents said they would. That is certainly true of Ryerson University, which evolved its VE offering to include a part-time option following discussions with students. Ryerson University’s Rana Latif said the university decided to review its model for delivering VE at the start of the pandemic, and engaged both students and international partners to explore “bold” ideas.
  • Global learning opportunities need to be more accessible, less expensive and save on carbon footprint. Students also need to gain the 21st century skills of digital collaboration, cross-cultural communication and critical thinking to become the change-makers of tomorrow. This will only happen if we are able to find innovative ways to embed virtual global learning opportunities such as VE in our pedagogy.
  • Alia Gilbrecht, Director of Debate at An-Najah National University in Palestinian Territory, said the pandemic only “intensified” the existing needs for VE locally, but that VE provided the opportunity to deliver “creative, out-of-the-box strategies”. For example, switching to cross cultural dialogue allowed debate students to engage in self-reflection and explore perspectives in a safe, respectful space. 80% subsequently reported improved critical thinking skills, while 75% reported better cross-cultural communication skills.
  • Dr Tanja Reiffenrath of the University of Göttingen noted that VE helped the ENLIGHT network develop local solutions to global problems. ENLIGHT is made up of nine research-intensive universities from nine European countries. She pointed out that, with 5% of Higher Education institutions involved in European Universities networks, a dissemination strategy was vital to ensure other institutions in Europe and beyond could benefit from experiences and developments.
  • In a post session interview, Rana advises using future workplace and employment trends as a blueprint for educational models you create today. "Learning environments need to simulate the future workplace environment, to equip our students to become the shakers and movers of tomorrow. Today's global classrooms need to be centered around the principles of sustainability, inclusion, and collaboration. Other strategies to consider include running pilots that allow the students to be the co-creators of the learning experience."
  • Alia goes on to explain that it is critical to make virtual exchange a priority in educational planning.  "The common framework of thinking of VE as a potential replacement to in-person exchange should be shifted towards a focus on how VE pedagogy can be standardized for integration across our classrooms.  VE is and can continue to play a vital role in expanding equitable access to the many global competencies and 21st century skills critical to success within the global economy. The value of planning for VE with a strategy to track the results of the program is critical, regardless of how big or small, formal or informal the program is. Whether it's simple pre and post surveys and/or interviews with participants or a full monitoring and evaluation component to your project with an external consultant, gathering quantitative and/or qualitative information is not only useful for improving future cycles of the program, but also increasing buy-in from decision making stakeholders and donors by demonstrating how and why VE is so critical to the educational needs of students in the 21st century and meeting the sustainable development goals." 
  • She adds "Utilizing at least some components of a gender analysis or gender transformative approach in your virtual exchange and educational program design is something that can be integrated into the planning, implementation, and follow up of VE and any educational program regardless of the subject matter or content."  

Session summary

The shift to emergency remote online teaching due to the first and second waves of the pandemic has constituted a gigantic leap for digital teaching and learning. In the international higher education sector, interest in virtual exchange (VE) has been surging; at times not for the "right" reasons, as these formats have oftentimes been framed as making-up for a temporary need to "stay put" and a way of offering local students international experiences and international students access to courses until mobility is possible again.

As we prepare to "build back better" and reflect on the opportunities and drawbacks of the digital, we also emerge from these crisis semesters empowered by the experience that virtual collaboration across borders, meaningful and productive connections in virtual spaces are viable.  Reimagining international higher education after Covid-19 will undoubtedly entail bringing the best of two worlds together; the physical encounter in the classroom and the flexibility and autonomy of digital teaching and learning, the experience to travel for both short-term and long-term stays abroad and the seamless border-crossing in the virtual realm. 

In the current period of transition, the question is;

  1. how to make the VE initiative more attractive and
  2. how to scale them up to make these formats sustainable is key for strategy building and(or connecting Internationalisation at Home and mobility. 

TOPIC 1: How can we successfully re-imagine, the traditional thinking around VE programming as a replacement for in-person exchange towards a focus on how higher education can integrate VE pedagogy within standardized course curricula?
TOPIC 2: What makes a successful virtual international semester exchange? What strategies can inform sustainable virtual transatlantic collaboration?
TOPIC 3: What is the impact of virtual exchange as a measure of European Universities on the European Higher Education Area and how can universities from other parts of the world and in other higher education areas benefit from this experience? 

After this workshop, participants will be able to

  • identify blockers and enablers in the process of scaling up virtual exchange initiatives and making VE a sustainable element of an HEI's strategic approach to internationalisation.
  • will understand what impact digital supported learning can have on international education for his/her institutions 
  • will know what kind of digital expertise teachers and students need
  • will understand the role that European University networks play in the development of digitally supported teaching and learning in the European Higher Education Area Target group: students, teachers, administrators, university managers, and policy makers.


  • Chair: Prof. Mark Goodwin, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Global Engagement), Exeter University, UK
  • Alia Gilbrecht, Director of Debate, International Projects Manager, An-Najah National University, Palestinian Territory
  • Rana Latif, Director, Strategic Development & Marketing, Faculty of Communication and Design, Ryerson University, Canada
  • Dr. Tanja Reiffenrath, Internationalisation of the Curricula, University of Göttingen, Germany