Can Finland capitalise on its educational reputation?

Since University World News reported on the Finnish prioritisation of exporting higher education in 2015, there has been an expansion drive.

The government has offered a supporting hand, sharing the responsibility for the programme between three ministries. New organisational support structures have been established nationally, regionally and at universities and universities of applied sciences, often in collaboration with each other.

At a time of layoffs of staff at universities due to economic cutbacks, initiatives towards new educational export projects have been supported and staffed with experts.

In 2014, the turnover of Finnish education exports (education technology, learning resources and consultancy) was about €260 million (US$311 million). The government programme has since 2015 set a target to increase the turnover by 40% to €350 million (US$418 million) by the end of 2018.

Among the successes are the University of Turku and its company, ‘Finland University’, which has sold its research-based anti-bullying educational programme, KiVa Koulu – which some argue is the world’s most effective research and intervention programme on the issue – to 17 countries, including Belgium, Chile, Estonia, Hungry, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, and recently to the Basque region in Spain and to schools in France, according to Yle, the Swedish language newsletter of the Finnish Broadcasting Company.

Finland University has research-based projects in Southeast Asia, China and Oman. These projects provide employment for teaching and research personnel and other experts in the partner universities.

Since 2015 the Ministry of Education and Culture has been promoting education export activities and monitoring changes needed in legislation.

The Minister of Education Sanni Grahn-Laasonen receives frequent information on current challenges and successes as education export is one part of her portfolio. The ministry has dedicated one full-time person since 2015, Head of Development Jouni Kangasniemi, to follow up and boost progress and activities.

In August last year the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of Economic Affairs appointed Marianne Huusko to oversee education export.

Huusko is working with the Team Finland network promoting the success of Finnish education and Finnish companies around the world, especially to support the cooperation between education providers and the Finnish embassies abroad on education exports.

Tuition fees for MSc and BSc degree programmes in languages other than Finnish or Swedish were introduced for non-European Union/European Economic Area students from last month and new scholarship schemes are now available for talented students.

At the beginning of June this year, the Finnish National Agency for Education, or EDUFI, was commissioned to boost Finnish education export companies for growth.

The new growth programme – Education Finland – will support businesses, higher education institutions and other education and training providers in expanding their services in the international market.

“Finland is in a good position to become a leader in education export,” EDUFI Director General Olli-Pekka Heinonen said. “To succeed, we need consistent work to develop a model for education export that is best suited and unique to us, different from our competitors. This is where Education Finland comes in.”

He said the Finnish education system is highly regarded worldwide and there is demand for Finland’s education expertise.

A Ministry of Education and Culture report on promoting internationalism in higher education and research 2017-25 proposed seven points of action:
  • • Strengthening of science and leading-edge research to increase its international attraction;
  • • Bolstering international clusters of competence;
  • • Marketing Finnish education services;
  • • Simplifying procedures for studying and working in Finland to facilitate entry;
  • • Making Finnish messages on the internationality of Finnish education heard in international discussions;
  • • Representing Finnish higher education and research in selected countries;
  • • Inviting Finnish expatriates with higher education and alumni of Finnish higher education institutions to join networks.
"We live in a world where competition for jobs, experts, investments and companies is getting fiercer across borders,” Grahn-Laasonen said when launching the strategy. “This is why Finland, too, needs to be more – and more – international.”

Universities follow-up

Finnish universities have increasingly entered into collaboration with businesses or set up companies working on educational exports.

The University of Helsinki has created the company HY+; Aalto University has Aalto EE, the University of Turku and two other universities, the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Tampere, have created Finland University, and University of Jyväskylä has EduCluster Finland. All have web-pages inviting interested partners to come to Finland.

The opportunities regarding education export appear limitless. Examples of fields of education in which Finnish expertise is highly valued internationally and can form the basis of educational export activities worldwide include:
  • • Educational consulting services
  • • Content production, such as books and learning materials
  • • Continuing (supplementary) education
  • • Curriculum planning
  • • E-learning
  • • Early childhood education
  • • Educational methods
  • • Education administration
  • • Education technologies, such as modern learning environments, learning games, social media and wireless solutions
  • • Learning facilities, furnishing, equipment and security
  • • Research and evaluation in the field of education
  • • Seminars, conferences and other learning events
  • • Special learners
  • • Student catering
  • • Student health care
  • • Teacher training.
Kalervo Väänänen, rector of the University of Turku, said Finland University is currently negotiating with several start-ups in Finland and abroad to produce and sell educational technology.

“It is Finnish know-how that can be exported, for instance with regard to computer games and apps,” he said. “I am convinced that in the future this will be a significant source of income for Finnish universities.”

Finland University provides commissioned academic degree programmes and short courses, advisory services and learning programmes to institutional clients (universities, government ministries and authorities, foundations, companies).

Through Finland University, the University of Tampere is exporting an international masters degree programme in teacher training to the northernmost province of Aceh in Indonesia, funded by the Sukma Foundation.

The programme is designed to rebuild culture and education in the Aceh province after the 2004 tsunami catastrophe where an estimated 2,500 teachers lost their lives. In spring this year 33 teachers came for a month to Finland, where the idea of creating trust in the teacher was central.

The University of Oulu, on the shores of the Baltic in northern Finland, has been successful in many areas including biosciences and health, information technology, cultural identity and interaction and environment, natural resources and materials.

Almost every faculty and department at the University of Oulu is involved in educational export involving a number of countries such as Armenia, the United Arab Emirates, China, Hungary, Indonesia, Russia and Thailand.

EduCluster Finland Ltd offers competence-building towards educational excellence. Its main markets are the Persian Gulf area, East Asia and South America and it has branch offices in Doha, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and in Shanghai, China. In 2015, more than 150 people worked in the company’s international operations.

Aalto EE works with large and medium-sized organisations, mainly large Finnish companies or multinational companies based in Finland or the Nordic countries, but also international and multinational companies based in Asia and operating globally.

Aalto EE and Aalto PRO – Aalto University Professional Development – together run close to 100 customised programmes every year.

One example is the six-day €6,500 tuition fee Diploma in Innovation in Education programme that Aalto EE co-organised with the HY+ Centre for Continuing Education. It looks at measuring and knowing “how much practices are changing within classrooms and educational organisations, how teachers develop and use their pedagogical resources, and to what extent change can be linked to improvements”.

The University of Helsinki’s Centre for Continuing Education HY+ has provided services for organisations and individuals in Finland and abroad for three decades. Its services range from educational reform and organisational development programmes to individually delivered professional competence development.

EduExcellence Ltd, a joint company of three major universities of applied sciences in the Helsinki metropolitan area, exports services ranging from specific study programmes to consulting services in vocational teacher training, hospitality, tourism and restaurant management, social services and wellness management, healthcare management and safety and security.

Building on a global brand?

In March 2017 the Ministry of Education and Culture published an Action Plan Report for Global Education Brand Finland – written by William Doyle, a lecturer in media and education at the University of Eastern Finland, who is also an award-winning and bestselling author and TV producer in the US – with the additional pledge that “in Finland you will be served in English”.

The aim is to promote Finland as the “home of high-quality education” and “give all students the skills needed to succeed in an open, global world and to form genuinely international higher education and research communities”.

Based on three years of consultations with Finnish and global experts, Doyle provides a set of recommendations on how to build on Finland’s reputation and market its expertise to help the country fulfil its potential as “the world’s education superpower” through education export and exchange.

However, he warns that the world will not flock to Finland on its own. “It needs to issue a compelling invitation, with a powerful marketing story – based on imagination and evidence.”

And he laments a “glaring case of missed opportunity” when the World Economic Forum’s number one ranking for Finland’s education system came and went in late 2016 with very little impact.

“Finland should make such news a cause for global attention, celebration and brand publicity,” he said. “The good news is, as the author of this report and many other ‘education pilgrims’ can attest, Finland delivers on the dream once you connect with it.”

In this year’s World Economic Forum ranking of the quality of education systems, Finland came third.