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Coronavirus and student exchanges

Updated on 25 March 2020 at 10:30 am

At the beginning of the year, an epidemic caused by the new coronavirus (COVID-19) began in China. The epidemic may influence the University of Helsinki (UH) students' exchange studies abroad. It is important to prepare for the spreading and the effects of the virus globally.

In this bulletin, the University of Helsinki's International Exchange Services shares important information for the students who are going for / are currently on exchange. The bulletin is updated whenever needed.

Exceptional situation at the University of Helsinki due to coronavirus

An exceptional situation has been declared at the University of Helsinki and University-specific decisions will enter into force on Monday, 16 March 2020 and remain in force at least until 31 May 2020.

  • The University of Helsinki has today (17.3.2020) decided to recommend that you would return from your exchange. As it is a recommendation, we cannot make you return to Finland. You need to estimate yourself the situation and decide whether you will discontinue your exchange and return back to Finland or whether you will continue your exchange at your exchange destination.  We ask you to estimate if you feel that the surrounding circumstances and your own situation allows it.  Always follow the instructions of your host university/country.
  • Study facilities at the University have been closed and therefore teaching is organised in alternative ways, for example online.
  • The University of Helsinki has denied work- or study-related trips abroad to the 31.5. This means that the University is not sending its students on exchange studies during this time. In addition, students returning from their exchange to Finland will not be able to return to the exchange destination during this period.

The Finnish government has decided on Monday, 16 March 2020 the following:

  • The government recommends that individuals who are out of the country should return immediately. It is not defined whether individuals who have moved abroad for a longer time should return or not.
  • Finnish and legal residents returning from abroad will face a mandatory two-week quarantine.
  • Authorities have set in motion preparations to close the country’s borders. Passenger traffic to Finland is to be suspended as soon as possible, with the exception of returning Finnish citizens and residents.

What do the students being on exchange have to do?

  • Follow the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland travel advice (only in Finnish) and act in accordance with the guidance. The travel advice does not alone require that you would have to discontinue your exchange or leave the area/country, but you should discuss and decide your situation with the International Exchange Services.
  • Follow the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare's coronavirus bulletin
  • Follow your host university's updates. Also, follow the instructions of your exchange country and host university.
  • The changes in everyday life due to the Coronavirus outbreak may cause worry and anxiety. The University of Helsinki has listed instances that can help you and give support in your worries caused by the situation: https://guide.student.helsinki.fi/en/news/look-after-your-mental-health-coronavirus-situation-read-about-supporting-services.
  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland's nettikonsuli responses to the question related to the safety abroad.
  • You can choose to discontinue your exchange by your own decision at anytime. The interruption of student exchange is considered based on the guidelines of the Finnish National Agency of Education and the University of Helsinki. Force majeure situations are taken into account.
  • If your exchange is interrupted, inform the International Exchange Services (studentexchange@helsinki.fi) and your host university as soon as possible.
  • If your exchange is interrupted or when it ends, submit your mandatory exchange documents to the International Exchange Services: https://guide.student.helsinki.fi/en/article/returning-home-instructions-returning-exchange-students
  • Due to the exceptional circumstances, it is also possible to return to Finland/home and continue your exchange studies by distant learning, if your host university allows it. Your host university decides whether distance studies completed from Finland are considered part of your stay in the Letter of Confirmation or not. If you do decide to return to Finland/home, ask your host university for instructions on returning home regarding for example housing and study right.
  • If you do not have housing in Finland, you can contact Unihome (sales@unihome.fi), and let them know about why you are looking for housing (i.e. your studies abroad were interrupted because of coronavirus) and how long you would need rental housing for. Unihome housing is available either until 31st May or approximately until 31st August. 
  • The primary way of preventing infections is to take care of good hand hygiene.
  • You can read about students' health care and well-being here: https://guide.student.helsinki.fi/en/health-care-and-well-being
  • Get a comprehensive travel insurance before buying the flight tickets and paying other expenses related to the exchange. When you get the travel insurance, check if it includes crisis support.
  • When you buy your flight tickets, get a cancellation/change cover.
  • When you are about to leave for exchange, file a travel notification.

Cancelling student exchange

= Student exchange is cancelled before it begins. The beginning date of an exchange period can be seen on the MobilityOnline portal.

The University of Helsinki cancels all student exchanges of which beginning date is between March 16 and May 31 2020. Also, if a host university informs that it does not organise teaching during the semester and/or that it does not welcome incoming exchange students, a student's exchange will be cancelled. Since it is difficult to predict the spreading and the effects of the coronavirus, the UH's International Exchange Services cannot unfortunately offer a compensatory exchange place to a student whose exchange is cancelled during the Spring Semester 2020 or during the Academic Year 2020-2021.

All cancellations are to be discussed and decided together with the host university, and it is possible that a student's exchange will be organised later, for example during the next semester. If an exchange grant has already been paid, the grant will be collected back normally. In Erasmus+ exchanges, the International Exchange Services follows the Erasmus+ guidelines of the Finnish National Agency of Education.

Discontinuing student exchange

= Student exchange is interrupted after it has already began.

If a student's exchange is interrupted due to the decision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland or the host university, while the student is already studying at a host university, the UH's International Exchange Services considers the discontinuation as a Force majeure situation. In that case, the student can keep the exchange grant and the International Exchange Services can help the student to prepare documents to the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (KELA), if needed.

  • In Erasmus+ and Nordplus exchanges, the International Exchange Services follows the guidelines of the Finnish National Agency for Education: Erasmus+ guidelines  and Nordplus guidelines.
  • In bilateral exchanges outside EU/EEA countries, the International Exchange Services follows its own guidelines according to which the exchange grant will not be collected back in a case of a Force majeure situation.

Based on the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare's pandemic definition, all student exchanges that are interrupted from March 12 2020 onwards are to be considered as Force majeure situations.

Outgoing student exchange in 2020-2021

  • You can apply to your exchange destination normally unless your exchange destination notifies otherwise. The University of Helsinki will nominate you as an exchange student to your host university.
  • If you need stamps or signatures to your application, you can send the documents to studentexchange@helsinki.fi to be signed.
  • In this exceptional situation, you should use the Transcript and Certificate of Student Status from Weboodi. During the exceptional situation, this instruction is valid for all exchange destinations.
  • You do not need a paper copy of your Transcript or Certificate of Student Status during the exceptional situation. International Exchange Services can agree on this with your exchange destination, if necessary.
  • It is possible that there will be changes in student exchange taking place in 2020-2021 due to coronavirus. Decisions about implementing student exchange in 2020-2021 will be made closer to the beginning of exchange.
  • Please read the instructions above carefully about, for example, your insurance before making any arrangements.

What do we know about the impact of the epidemic in student exchanges?

The epidemic may influence student exchanges for example in the following ways:

  • A host university has pauses in teaching
  • A host university does not organise teaching 
  • A host university stops teaching during the semester
  • In order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the host university or officials in the host country may impose a 14-day quarantine to symptomless students arriving from abroad or may change accommodation arrangements
  • In order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the host university or officials in the host country may cancel teaching or orientation by replacing it with online material and may follow the health of symptomless students daily by, for example, taking their temperature.
  • A student's exchange may also be affected by national decisions and regulations on immigration. It can be decided, for example, that one cannot travel to the country through an epidemic area.

Follow announcements and instructions from the University of Helsinki:

The health and safety of students and staff is the top priority for the University of Helsinki, and the university follows the situation day-to-day. The University of Helsinki has established a pandemic planning committee. You can follow the university's instructions on:

How and when to go to the hospital in the exchange destination?

If you are in your exchange destination and suffer from high fever, coughing, and shortness of breath, go to a hospital immediately. Contact your insurance company and consult which hospital you should go. If a coronavirus case is suspected, you can also follow your host university's instructions on the health care services. The hospital will determine the situation and make the decision on the follow-up measurements.

Break the virus cycle by washing your hands!

At the moment, seasonal influenza viruses and stomach bugs pose a greater risk to the health of University community members than the COVID-19 virus. There is a simple and inexpensive way to fight against the spread of all these diseases, which is to carefully wash your hands.

Wash your hands

  • When entering indoors
  • Before preparing or eating food
  • After using the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After touching the same surfaces as a person with a cold