Professional staff: Ms. Shally Fan
Department: Office of Academic Links, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
The Covid-19 pandemic has profoundly affected physical exchange programmes. Many exchange programmes have been suspended and students are not able to travel abroad. Ms. Shally Fan, Director of the Academic Links and her team have launched the Virtual Student Exchange (VSE) programme within the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU), a network of 60 universities around the world. The programme aims to provide an opportunity for students to embark on an international exchange without the need to travel.
The VSE programme includes two core components, the first of which is academic courses while the other is co-curricular programmes. Participating universities under the APRU network offer courses in diverse disciplines and most of the courses are credit-bearing. In each study period, students can apply for two VSE courses based on their interests. Courses about local culture and global issues are usually popular among students. Apart from academic courses, students can also participate in different types of co-curricular programmes under the theme of culture, leadership, career and social. Through a wide variety of activities, such as virtual tours, online music jams and language lunches, students have the opportunities to interact with overseas peers. Webinars related to global learning and career development can also equip students with skills necessary for their future careers.
Until today, the programme has launched 4 seasons. Ms. Fan highlighted that the virtual exchange provides a new alternative for students who cannot go on physical exchange due to financial concerns, family commitment, or other reasons. Some students, who have already participated in physical exchange, would also be able to join the VSE programme to further extend their learning experience. When asked about challenges facing the VSE programme, she pointed out that time zones issues still prevailed and that it is essential to enhance the quality of online teaching. Moreover, as Ms. Fan recognised that physical exchange would be unlikely to be replaceable and that many countries have resumed physical exchange programmes, she and her team had to find a niche of the VSE programme and make it sustainable and competitive. In the future, Ms. Fan and her team will continue developing and maintaining such virtual learning opportunities for students at different levels.