Connecting 200 professionals
Every summer a group of 30 colleagues from abroad come to Helsinki Metropolia UAS to join a so-called “International Non-Teaching Staff Training Week”. This “Staff Week” (for short) is an intensive five-day training programme designed for administrative staff from partner institutions from all over the world. The programme was launched in June 2010, building on the strategy and the values of Metropolia: high quality, community spirit, transparency and expertise. The purpose of the Staff Week is to network and share experiences and best practices regarding one’s own work among the international colleagues and the hosts at Metropolia.
The annual Staff Week is a joint effort of the administration of Metropolia, and it brings together different service units. The hosting units vary from year to year, but there are approximately 30 people involved in the organisation of each Week. In June 2015, the programme was prepared with the administrative units in communication and marketing, IT, HR, strategy, alumni relations and student affairs, with the international office in charge of the general preparations. When counting all of the participants and Metropolia hosts, the five Weeks hosted so far have connected over 200 professionals from a hundred higher education institutions (in 28 different countries on four continents), making an important impact on the internationalisation of the administrative staff.
Metropolia invites international participants with several administrative backgrounds to join each Staff Week. The whole group is together for three days, attending lectures and workshops relevant to all types of administrative participants, and for two days the group is divided into parallel, unit-specific modules with their Metropolia counterparts. The common programme has three main components: a general introduction to Metropolia and its support services, strategically highlighting the strengths and special features of the host institution. Furthermore, the programme includes an introduction to Helsinki and the Finnish culture to help the visitors adjust to the local surroundings and to get an idea of the Finnish values and way of living. The introductory parts have been well received, and contribute to the image of the institution and the host city as an exchange destination. Each Metropolia Staff Week carries an overall theme, which guides the selection of topics, presenters and case studies included in the common programme. To conclude the Week, a guest speaker is invited to address the overall theme and to challenge the participants to reflect on the topic.
The core of the programme, however, is the two unit-specific days, where the participants benchmark each other and one of the service units of Metropolia administration. The participants in the same administrative function gather in a smaller group to share and compare their everyday work: e.g. the challenges they face in their job and the different approaches and solutions they’ve used to tackle those challenges. These customized workshops provide the opportunity to gain field-specific knowledge of multiple higher education institutions’ everyday practices that are not usually visible on the public forums.
Discussions with the international colleagues on the trends of the field are regarded as a unique opportunity by the Metropolia hosts, and therefore as highly motivating. Gaining perspective and new approaches to common problems are mentioned as one of the benefits of the discussions. Equally important for the hosts is to gain a sense of affirmation that they are on the right track with developing their functions, as the guests find many of their current practices interesting. The encouragement gained through the hosting experience has increased the motivation for internationalisation, and the majority of the Metropolia hosts have shown interest in also going out on a staff exchange.
Meeting partners face-to-face can strengthen ties and intensify current cooperation. In some cases the discussion started on a Staff Week has generated an additional visit, in order to benchmark some practices or functionalities in further detail. Although the immediate benefits of hosting a Staff Week are often harder to measure, the network created on the Week serves as a foundation for further development projects.
Both the international participants and the Metropolia hosts have provided encouraging feedback about the training programme:
A participant in 2014: It was an amazing week, full of useful information that will help to my personal development at work. It gave me new ideas!
A participant in 2013: The daily contents were very useful to increase and develop new practices at home institutions.
A host in 2014: The most giving part of the week was the feeling that I can communicate in a foreign language with people who have different cultural backgrounds. On the other hand, the institutions struggle with same challenges, which united us.
A host in 2013: It was surprising how much there was to discuss together. It felt good to notice that we have good practices to – show and share with others as well!
There is a growing interest in participating in the Metropolia Staff Week programme, and in fact for the past two years quite a few applicants have needed to be rejected in order to keep the group size small enough (in comparison with the current concept and working methods) as well as to assure the best possible job match among the participants and hosts.
As the increasing number of applications suggests, the awareness of the training weeks of non-teaching staff is growing and there is more of both the supply and the demand. The European Commission has provided European higher education institutions (HEIs) with Erasmus funding for non-teaching staff training periods abroad since 2007, and the popularity has been rising steadily during all these eight years. The latest statistics by the European Commission state that during the academic year 2012–2013 over 16 500 staff training periods took place, with an increase of approximately 25% over the previous academic year. 59% of all these Erasmus-funded periods were undertaken by the non-teaching staff, but the statistics do not distinguish how many of these periods took place on a Staff Week. (European Commission, 2014, p.12).
The Finnish HEIs are active with staff mobility. At the Finnish International Educators’ Days in Tampere in May 2014 the workshop D8 focused on sharing experiences on hosting Staff Weeks, and only among the participants of this workshop 19 different HEIs announced that they already have organized Staff Weeks. Hosting Staff Weeks programmes allows the number of mobility periods to grow in a cost-efficient way, and in many Finnish UASs the concept has an established role in expanding internationalisation to all of the institution.
Jenni Leinonen, Bachelor of Hospitality Management, Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, firstname.lastname@example.org
European Commission. 2014. “Erasmus – Facts, Figures & Trends. The European Union support for student and staff exchanges and university cooperation in 2012–2013,” Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, (accessed Sep 13, 2015), available athttp://ec.europa.eu/education/library/statistics/ay-12-13/facts-figures_en.pdf.