Economic effects of COVID-19 slow down SUNY Oswego study-abroad programs

OSWEGO, N.Y. – As the COVID-19 pandemic slows down internationally, economic effects of the pandemic have continued to slow down the return of study-abroad programs.

Maggie Ovian, a project manager at CAPA The Global Education Network, said that the COVID-19 pandemic marked a shift in the number of study-abroad programs, as well as how these programs are developed and handled.

“In 2020, everything was shut down, and it was an emergency situation of getting all the students who were already abroad back home to their campuses,” Ovian said.

The development and ready availability of COVID-19 vaccinations domestically and internationally marked one of the main developments as international programs begin to travel, Ovian said.

“The vaccine really helped everything, in summer 2021, CAPA sent students abroad, not very many, but more than we had previously,” Ovian said.

According to CAPA’s student safety documentation,  all students must show documentation proving COVID-19 vaccination and all relevant booster vaccines prior to the course registration process. CAPA also advises that students remain current with all COVID-19 regulations in their location of study due to quickly-changing requirements and local ordinances, and suggests all students “thus be prepared for any eventuality” that may occur.

One complication in international travel, Ovian said, was the propensity for target countries to change their masking and travel policies rapidly, as well as fears that preventative policies will be lifted prematurely. 

“In the spring of 2021, we were in the middle of the Omicron variant, and countries were enforcing new restrictions right when students were about to leave, so there was lots of confusing information and entry testing to get into countries of study,” Ovian said.

The effects of COVID-19 on international travel not only affect students and faculty, Ovian said.

“There were a lot of organizations that shut down because they couldn’t survive the pandemic, and I think future study-abroad programs might be limited, and you might see fewer options,” Ovian said.

The lack of international travel from students, combined with economic burdens from the pandemic, Ovian said, have limited opportunities for future study-abroad courses, such as apartment owners selling apartments often rented by students during their studies.

According to Eurostat, the European Union’s official statistics compiler, overall hours spent in overnight tourism and travel accommodations dropped to its lowest level in more than 12 years. 

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, overall overnight accommodation hours dropped from more than 146 million to less than 10 million in April 2020. This overall drop in European tourism is attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, with tourists choosing not to travel due to health risks, as well as rising inflation as an economic result of COVID-19 recovery programs.

Ana Djukic-Cocks, an assistant professor of German at Oswego State University, said that the COVID-19 pandemic had previously impacted her international programs, and that students interested in study-abroad programs have been discouraged by the economic effects of COVID-19.

 “All my programs are in Europe, such as Germany, Austria, and once Greece, and it was frustrating once countries started closing their borders,” Djukic-Cocks said.

At the start of the pandemic, Djukic-Cocks’ programs were canceled, in part due to the danger of COVID-19 prior to the development of vaccines, but also for logistical reasons, Djukic-Cocks said.

“All these countries have different regulations, like lockdowns, and then there were protests, so that effected us, because we had to cancel our programs for spring 2020,” Djukic-Cocks said.

At the time, Dukic-Cocks said, it was unclear how long the pandemic would last, and that current international programs are still hesitant to return to Europe.

“Now we are slowly starting to return, and starting to begin planning for future study-abroad programs again,” Djukic-Cocks said.

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic has begun to improve in Europe, Djukic-Cocks said, she is unsure that study-abroad programs will return for summer 2022.

“Even though it has been approved, my Munich course has already been approved, there are new moments now,” Djukic-Cocks said.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed and canceled study-abroad programs in previous semesters, Djukic-Cocks said, she does not believe COVID-19 is the reason for students and universities to be hesitant to send students abroad.

“We are used to following the guidelines of the CDC and living under masks, but now with the war in Ukraine, and the influx of refugees all over Europe, and the inflation, I think the main concerns that students and their parents have are of a financial nature,” Djukic-Cocks said.

The conflict in Ukraine is not the primary effect of the rising price of travel, Djukic-Cocks said, but the increase in costs combined with those that have already risen due to the pandemic have made students more hesitant to sign up for study abroad programs.

“I don’t think they are so much as afraid of the pandemic anymore, because we know more, people have been vaccinated, and we all know the rules, so I think it is not pandemic that is the biggest hurdle, but everyone is afraid of how travel will affect their personal budget,” Djukic-Cocks said.

Despite the current impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on study-abroad programs, Djukic-Cocks is not worried about the future state of international education.

“I hope that students will choose to travel again, young people like to travel, and to get a sense of adventure, and we will be back, I’m sure,” Djukic-Cocks said.