Impacts of intensive courses on internationalisation

The Finnish Center for International Mobility (CIMO) has just released a commissioned study on the impact of intensive courses on internationalisation. It looks not only at how these intensive study courses affect the international strategies of Finnish higher education institutions but also at how they advance education development policies.

Written by researchers Anna Martin and Miia Mäntyla of the University of Vaasa and supported by the European Commission, the report focuses on the impact of 223 publicly supported intensive courses arranged by eight Finnish universities and nine universities of applied sciences in the period 2007-11.

The report says that arranging intensive courses with the support of funding agencies demands a positive attitude by the organisers and precise planning. International courses are an instrument that may enhance international cooperation between higher education institutions for publications, projects, common teaching modules and joint degrees. If successful, they may become stepping stones for student and staff mobility, foster deeper collaboration and stimulate innovation in teaching methods.

Martin and Mäntyla acknowledge that outside funding is crucial for the development of intensive courses. Without such funding many intensive courses would never have come into being.

The study found the costs of arranging intensive courses varied considerably, from about €4,000 (US$5,300) for some of the courses supported by the Finnish-Russian Student and Teacher Exchange Programme up to €45,000 (US$60,000) for the Erasmus-supported courses.

“As the preparation of intensive courses is more labour-intensive than normal teaching, it is important that designing the course arises from a genuine need of all partners, not just the possibility of obtaining funding,” the authors write.

“It will provide better conditions for the successful implementation of the course and diversified long-term impact.”

One example of a North-South-South cooperation programme is Helsinki University’s Viikki Tropical Resources Institute (VITRI), which provides academic training and carries out research on forests and related natural resources in tropical and developing countries.

The ESUFI Forest project, partly funded by the CIMO North-South-South programme, sponsored an intensive course for 22 participants from four countries (Finland, Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia) on planted trees and forests for livelihoods and ecosystem services in Wondo Genet, Ethiopia in June 2012.

Hans de Wit, director of the Centre for Higher Education Internationalisation in Milan and professor of internationalisation at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, stresses the importance of this type of research and the impact of externally funded programmes on the development of internationalisation.

"There is a general inclination to assume that short, intensive courses have little use due to the limited emergence into the international experience,” he said.

“Studies such as the one by CIMO make clear that short, intensive courses have an impact as a learning experience both for partners and students and may lead to longer and more intense cooperation and exchange. But the sustainability of these programmes is strongly dependent on external subsidies, which is a danger.

"Institutions should learn from this report that intensive programmes are an important part of internationalisation and that they themselves should invest more in such programmes, while decreasing the dependence on external funding."