Current events

How can virtual mobility help democratize the internationalization of education?

  Foto: UOC

Foto: UOC

Helena Loaiza
The UOC has forged virtual mobility programmes with several universities from around the world in order to build professionals' and citizens' global and social skills.

The current state of worldwide uncertainty has catapulted distance learning to the forefront of the campaign to help thousands of students continue their studies following the closure of their schools, universities and education centres. The Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), the first 100% online university in the world, has created a range of activities and resources to help facilitate the unforeseen move to online teaching, enhance the acquisition of professional skills and provide education to society worldwide.

Virtual mobilities are a way of exchanging international educational experiences, giving university students at both on-site and online universities the chance to take online courses at other universities. This not only encourages them discover new online environments and exchange experiences with other students and professors, it also reinforces their knowledge and IT skills.

Since 2016, virtual mobility programmes have allowed thousands of students from different universities around the world to study in the UOC's classrooms, where they have faced new challenges, met students from different countries and acquired new skills by studying online.

The director of International Projects from Globalization and Cooperation at the UOC, Carme Anguera, presented this initiative at CINDA's latest meeting on their University Exchange Programme. Her goal was to share the experience and lessons learned with other universities that make up this international network and explore the possibility of extending it to other institutions.


Promoting virtual mobility

Óscar Roque Vergara is studying a master's degree in Industrial Engineering (on-site) at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP). He was the first student to take a virtual mobility course through the University Exchange Programme (PIU) at the Interuniversity Centre for Development (CINDA), which comprises more than 30 Ibero-American universities. Óscar provided some insight: "My experience was really enriching, not only because I learned a lot from the course I'd been looking for on knowledge management, and which the UOC was offering via their innovative online system, but also because I was able to meet people from other countries."

Teaching and learning methods are diversifying and educational models need to adapt to new student profiles, including students who, for whatever reason, aren't able to go on a traditional exchange. This gives virtual mobility the potential to become the most popular learning modality for employees, parents or other people whose personal situations make it difficult for them to travel to other countries. Óscar said: "It's an alternative to on-site teaching and depends on each students' desires and personal situation. The learning resources seemed flexible, in other words, they could be adapted depending on each student's preferences. I also found the content to be up-to-date and relevant to today's organizations."

According to CINDA coordinator Soledad Aravena, the challenge for universities that take part in the exchange programme will be to increase their offer of mobility experiences and to make sure people know they are available. "The UOC is a pioneering institution, given that all its academic activity happens online, which evidently gives them an advantage for offering these programmes," she said.

These kinds of exchange open the door to enriching experiences in other countries or institutions that can help enhance students' knowledge and skills, complementing their education thus far and promoting learning as part of a global society, which is an essential step in becoming a well-rounded professional. Virtual mobility, said Óscar, "has bolstered my knowledge and reshaped my approach to leadership. I have also gained a very important skill for this knowledge era, which is managing knowledge in a strategic way".

Virtual learning environments have become particularly pertinent in recent weeks due to the contingency generated by COVID-19. "This emergency has heavily reduced international travel and we can't be sure how long this situation will last," warned Aravena, who went on to say: "In the face of such uncertainty, this option offers all of us the chance to 'move around' and access other opportunities that, despite our physical limitations, open the door to new academic experiences that will enrich our learning. I think this crisis has highlighted the real value of virtual mobility, in a context where the virtual world is taking a central role in supporting the continuation of academic activity."


Educating global citizens

One of the goals included in Goal 4 of the United Nations' 2030 Agenda is to ensure all men and women have access to specialist, professional and quality higher education, including university teaching. Guided by this principle, the UOC has incorporated these goals into its own strategy with the aim of improving the access and scope of higher education thanks to quality online teaching, including the acquisition of global skills by means of virtual mobility experiences.

The UOC has now welcomed over 1,400 students from numerous Latin American higher education institutions to its Campus thanks to the virtual mobility initiative: students from the University of Talca and Duoc UC in Chile, or the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, as well as students from UNIMINUTO in Colombia. All of them have had the chance to take on this international experience in the virtual classrooms, which has allowed these students from a diverse range of disciplines to engage online in globally connected education.

UOC experts

Óscar Roque Vergara

Estudiante Maestría de Ingeniería Industrial