Taina Vuorela & Johanna Aalto
The present study was undertaken to gain more insight into the future of the Master Programmes at Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS): their qualities, characteristics and societal importance. The approach in the present study is qualitative action research, the aim being to explore the views of 30 Laurea UAS Master students within a Project Management Programme (see also Aalto, Vuorela 2022).
The informant group acted as subjects and objects (see Cohen, Manion & Morrison 2017; Aalto 2022). The question that was used as a starting point for the study: What are the future development trends for Master level Degree Programmes by 2030?
The data was collected by means of LFA brainstorming (Logical Framework Approach; cf. Heinen & Rayamajhi 2001; Couillard, Garon & Riznik 2009), where a framework was jointly created for a vision on needed development. The process was carried out so that firstly the focus was on development needs and challenges related to the given question. The informants were instructed ‘go to the Dark Side’ and free-associate about possible problems concerning the topic.
The LFA process is transparent, as all the problems written individually on post-it notes are placed on the wall for participants to see. This enabled being inspired by others’ ideas. The process includes no criticism of others’ ideas; all issues are accepted and discussed. After saturation has been reached, the ideas are classified into groups and prioritized through voting.
Secondly, the process involves ‘going to the Bright Side’ and turning the problems into innovative solutions or positive states-of-affairs in the future. The solutions were also prioritized.
Results: challenges and propositions for the future
Interestingly, (1) digitalisation was considered to be both an asset and a challenge. It enables diverse contexts for studying, but this can have negative consequences from a social perspective: students are less of a community, the physical campus is of lesser importance, and generally the programme seems less holistic. Also, the pedagogical approach and current IT-solutions were felt to be somewhat lacking.
(2) Sustainability is not sufficiently part of Master-level educational content, especially that of social sustainability. Also, the Master Programmes were generally considered to be an integral part of consumerism-based society.
(3) The current pedagogical solutions do not cater adequately for competence-based curricula and individual study paths; instead, there is pressure to increase group size and focus on mass-produced MOOCs – due to the present funding model of the UAS (Ministry of Education and Culture 2021).
(4) Students find it challenging to find a healthy ‘study – work – life balance’. During the core studies (the first six months of a Master Programme) working and studying at the same time requires nearly ‘super-human’ qualities and leaves little time for recovery.
(5) When considering the impact of a UAS Master degree on employability of graduates, the informants claimed that employers still undervalue a UAS Master degree versus a Master-level degree from theoretical universities in Finland, even though it offers an equally valid path e. g. to doctoral studies – according to the EU Bologna process (European Higher Education Area 2018).
Sustainability is not sufficiently present in UAS Master-level education which is an integral part of consumerism-based society.
In order to respond to the identified challenges, improvement measures in UAS Master Programme content are proposed regarding sustainability know-how, innovation capabilities and generally a stronger internationalisation of the UAS Master’s degree.
The present study aimed to explore potential future trends of Master programmes of Finnish UAS education. The informants taking part in the qualitative study were first-year students of a Master Programme in Project Management at a Finnish UAS. The present findings are based on limited qualitative data and thus it is necessary to complement them with larger data set in other contexts.
The authors acknowledge the kind collaboration of the following institutions: Laurea University of Applied Sciences for granting the permission to carry out the research on its premises and in the context of Master Programme: Future-Oriented Project Management and University of Lleida, Catalonia for allowing the authors to conduct interviews with Doctoral Programme Management.
The authors acknowledge the kind collaboration of the Class of 2022 of the Laurea Master Programme in Future-Oriented Project Management, as well as that of Professor Enric Llurda for engaging in enlightening discussions on the PhD path in the context of the University of Lleida.
Taina Vuorela, PhD, Principal Lecturer, Laurea-ammattikorkeakoulu, taina.vuorela(at)laurea.fi.
Johanna Aalto, LL.D, Lecturer, Laurea-ammattikorkeakoulu, johanna.aalto(at)laurea.fi.
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