Belgian universities, which have been in constant contact with their students at Italian universities, are willing to pay their repatriation costs, but few of the students have applied to return home, the institutions told Belga news agency on Thursday.
Italy decided on Wednesday to close all schools and universities until 15 March in a bid to stem the spread of the novel Coronavirus (Covid-19). Schools and universities in the three worst-affected regions, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and Venice, had already been closed 10 days before.
The Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) said it had already been in contact with its students in Italy since the start of the epidemic and was evaluating the situation on a case-by-case basis. UCL has 40 students doing exchange programme (Erasmus) courses in Italy, including 30 in the north of the country. “If they wish to return, the university does everything to bring them back to Belgium,” UCL spokesperson Isabelle Decoster said. “Some came back for the Carnival holidays and did not go back. Like those still in Italy, they are taking online courses mounted by the universities. We’ve noticed that these courses are functioning well.”
The University of Mons had 13 students on the Erasmus programme in Italy and one wished to return home from the University of Bologna. UMons seeks to make sure it complies with the recommendations issued by the Health and Foreign Affairs departments, its communications officer, Valery Sainghislain stressed. “No unnecessary risks will be taken with our students’ health.” Early returns will not have any negative effect on students’ academic careers and solutions will be sought within their faculties or schools.
The Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB), for its part, has advised students wishing to leave Italy to contact their faculties to prepare for the continuation of their programmes. ULB has had about 20 students in the worst affected regions in Italy since the epidemic broke out but has not received any application for repatriation. The university has set up a special committee to monitor the evolution of the situation.
The University of Liege has advised the 28 students it has in Italy doing Erasmus courses or internships to follow the instructions issued by their host universities. In recent weeks, two students asked to interrupt their programmes. “We are continually in contact with them since the start of the epidemic,” spokesman Didier Moreau said. “We are not now in the general conditions where we would compel students to come back,” he explained, referring to a requirement obliging students to return if classes are interrupted for four straight weeks, if there is no resumption date, and if there is social unrest.
The University of Namur has a single student studying in Bologna, in the Emilia-Romagna region.