Poster Olena Rzhepishevska

Erasmus + program, a tool for sustainable development & internationalization in the Baltic Sea region; a case study of Ukrainian- Swedish student exchange

At the bottom of this page, please find the article version of this poster.

Poster Rzhepishevska
Poster Rzhepishevska


Universities play an important role in sustainable development of their regions and internationalization of young professionals (1-2). Erasmus + student exchange has been a useful tool for professional and personal development of students. Improved employability of participants is especially prominent for students from Southern Europe and Eastern (3). However, the socio-economic differences and the differences in university organization between European Union and Eastern European (post-Soviet) countries still exist. At post-Soviet Universities, generally, the governance is more centralized, curricula are more rigid and the teaching/research balance is strongly shifted to teaching comparing to many EU based Universities (4). The latter is explained historically, as in Soviet-block countries, research activity was often conducted at specialized research institutes while in Western and Northern European countries including Sweden, research activity was traditionally conducted at universities (5). Ukraine is one of the post-Soviet countries that participates in Erasmus + student Exchange: 2724 students from different fields of studies were exchanged to different EU universities during 2016-2018 (report Erasmus+, UA). Poland, Germany, and Spain were top 3 countries of exchange for Ukrainian students. Knowledge on how Ukrainian students are influenced by Erasmus + exchange to Sweden may help to expand participation of Ukrainian students in Erasmus + programs with Sweden, improve internationalization and contribute to cooperation between Sweden and Ukraine.

This study is based on an Erasmus + project were a group of Life Sciences Master and PhD students from Odessa National University (ONU), Ukraine was exchanged to Umeå University (UmU), Sweden during 2017 – 2018. We addressed following questions: how Erasmus+ exchange influenced their job/career development after exchange (i); which non-field specific skills and competences they wish to include as a part of university training (ii); their attitude to university environment, culture and climate in Sweden (iii) and level of stress experienced during their Erasmus studies comparing to their regular education program and the time after the studies (iv).

Figure 1
Figure 1 OPLS-DA Model highlighting the differences in answers between group I (grey) and Group III (yellow); A – the score plot of the model where each dot corresponds to one participant; B - loading plot; green arrow indicates The category attributed with Group I (Income)

Main method

Totally, nine Master/ PhD students were admitted to a 5 month course in Life Sciences at UmU. Of these, 9 participants responded to a standard “Erasmus After Mobility Questionnaire” immediately after the exchange, and 8 participants responded to a follow-up Questionnaire (1.5 years after the end of the program).

These responses were compared to responses of two other groups of students i.e. three groups of students were included in the study: Group I: Life Science Master and PhD students exchanged within Erasmus + program to Umeå University, Sweden during 2017 - 2018; Group II: Life Science Master Students studying Life Science subjects during spring term 2020 without Erasmus + exchange experience; Group III: Master and PhD students from divers fields and exchanged within Erasmus + program to diverse countries of European Union (Poland, Spain, Italy, UK and Germany) during 2017-2019;

The questionnaire was completed by participants under informed consent in the beginning of 2020. Questionnaire statements that required scoring were assessed according to the following scale: 1 -strongly disagree; 2 -disagree; 3 - somewhat disagree; 4 -somewhat agree; 5 -agree; 6 -strongly agree.

The answers to the questionnaire were coded and analyzed by orthogonal partial least squares discriminant analysis (OPLS- DA) (SIMCA, Sartorius); one-way Anova, T-test (GraphPad Prizm 8) and Excel (Microsoft). The strategy for analysis was as follows: answers available only for Group I and III and answers available for all three groups were subjected to OPLS-DA separately. As a result we obtained two OPLS-DA models. Supervised data analysis allowed fitting the answers in the multivariate models that highlighted categories with the strongest differences between groups. After this, these categories were separately examined with one-way Anova, T-test or plotted as average score values; stress levels were assesed along the time line of the studies. Only statistically valid findings are presented in this poster, insignificant differences in answers are omitted for conciseness.

Figure 2
Figure 2. Main differences in questionnaire answers between groups; red – group I, black – group II; purple - group III A – scoring statements “Participation in Erasmus + influenced my career positively” and “Participation in Erasmus + influenced my monthly income positively”; there was no significant difference in career scoring between groups; the difference in Income scoring between group I and group III was significant; T-test p=0.002; B – scoring of the statement “I felt stressed during this period of studies” – Group I were most stressed during preparation to Erasmus + exchange (Er preparation); for group III, the stress level was spiking during Bachelor studies and preparation to Erasmus exchange but ; C– Scores of the statement “In future I would like to work in Eastern Europe” ANOVA p= 0.008

Main results

Immediately after the exchange, every participant exchanged to UmU reported improvement in various skills e.g. their field-specific skills, their ability to adapt to new situations and to cooperate with people from other backgrounds and cultures. According to 1.5-year follow-up: 77% of ONU-UmU program participants were working in or further studying Life Sciences. More than 50% of all participants were living in Ukraine, 33% living in Sweden and 33% had documented participation (scientific publications) in Life Science projects between ONU and UmU.

Most ONU students exchanged to UmU, Sweden and to other universities/countries agreed that participation in Erasmus+ exchange influenced their career positively (Fig.2A), however, students exchanged to UmU were more likely to agreed that Erasmus+ exchange positively influenced their present monthly income comparing to students exchanged to other universities/countries (Fig. 1; Fig. 2A).

All Erasmus+ students including those exchanged to UmU, were generally positive about the university environment, culture and weather conditions in the host country. Students exchanged to UmU reported higher level of stress during preparation to Erasmus+ exchange comparing to students exchanged to other universities. Even students exchanged to other universities reported a peak of stress during preparation to Erasmus+ exchange but not during the exchange itself (Fig. 2B). It can partially be explained by the paperwork connected to Erasmus+ exchanges (communicated in the questionnaire, data not shown) however other factors are not excluded.

Erasmus participants and students that has never participated in Erasmus+ exchange were asked which parts of Europe they would prefer to work in. The only significant difference between groups was in the attitude to work in Eastern Europe: students that never participated in Erasmus+, were more willing to work in Eastern Europe. The students exchanged to UmU were least willing to do so (Fig. 2C).

Next, all three groups were asked which non-field specific skills (developed from Erasmus+ standard questionnaire) they would like to be taught at university (Table 1). The hypothesis was that students with Erasmus+ experience will emphasize those skills that were important for them in their Erasmus and post Erasmus exchange career. Interestingly, all students exchanged to Umeå supported teaching a skill of “How to plan and carry out my learning independently”. The students exchanged to other universities also prioritized this skill but the students that never been exchanged, gave low priority to this skill. “English language for work” was supported for teaching at the university by all groups, however, non- Erasamus students gave it a lower priority.

Table 1
Table 1. Answers to the statement: In my opinion, teaching following skills and courses should be included in every university program; A -How to find solutions in difficult or challenging contexts (problem-solving skills); B - How to plan and carry out my learning independently -ANOVA p=0.04; C - How to see the value of different cultures; D- How to think logically and draw conclusions (analytical skills); E - How to be able to adapt to and act in new situations; F- How to be able to cooperate with people from other backgrounds and cultures; G - How to develop an idea and put it into practice; H - How to plan and organize tasks and activities; I -How to think and analyze information critically; J - How to be confident and convinced of my abilities; K - How to be more open-minded and curious about new challenges; L - Climate change issues and sustainable development; M - European topics (cooperation within EU, culture & human rights); N - English language for work – advanced level; In the average score all types of answers were included: strongly agree; agree; somewhat agree; somewhat disagree; disagree and strongly disagree. For the percentage; only “agree” and “strongly agree” were included as “Yes” and only “disagree” and “strongly disagree” as “No”.

Main conclusion

Erasmus+ exchange has as a potential to contribute to internationalization of Ukrainian students through, for example, understanding of foreign language importance for work and preparedness to work in different parts of Europe. It can also contribute to sustainable development goal (SDG) 8 (decent work and economic growth) and SDG 10 (reducing inequalities) as many students remain in their main field of studies and report employment and improved career effects. In the Baltic region, it seems that student exchange with Ukraine through Erasmus + program can contribute to improved income of young professionals and increased scientific research cooperation between Ukraine and Sweden.

Even though our study is not large, it provides a useful insight in the potential and weaknesses of student exchange projects between regionally important universities in Ukraine and Sweden. The need for skills in independent learning in Ukrainian students should be further explored as it may reflect the level of preparedness to flexible curriculum, individualized approach and importance of self-studying in Swedish education. The analysis of the stress in Erasmus+ students and its influence on students’ performance in learning should be further addressed in larger groups.


Zinchenko O.1, Rakhimova O.2, Sjöqvist A.3, Gladkyi T.4, Kulinich S.5, Ahlinder Hagberg J.3, Rzhepishevska O.6

  1. Department of Microbiology, Virology & Biotechnology, Odessa National University, Ukraine 
  2. Department of Medical Biochemistry & Biophysics, Umea University, Sweden
  3. International Office, Umea, University, Sweden
  4. Department of Physiology, Odessa National University, Ukraine
  5. Center of Scientific & Educational Mobility, Institute of International Education, Odessa National University, Ukraine
  6. Department of Chemistry, Umeå University, Sweden


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