Providing a solid platform for cooperation
It is a well-known fact that networking and internationalisation improve the opportunities and provide a critical mass for partnerships in projects, and through international cooperation institutions can also widen their educational offer and enhance the development of new areas such as sustainable development. Higher education networks can also provide their partners with opportunities for activities such as common seminars and courses, competence development and institutional change. In addition, networks function as platforms for individual contacts at all levels, students as well as researchers and teachers. One example in our region is the Baltic University Programme (BUP, www.balticuniv.uu.se, www.bup.fi), a network which in addition to common projects, also supports the introduction of sustainability in education, research, and management, and where researchers, teachers, and students cooperate at the macro-regional level. The Baltic Sea region, internationalisation, research and development of education for sustainable development have been the guiding principles of the BUP network. The BUP network has more than 200 member institutions of higher education, of which more than 20 are situated in Finland. Some years ago the Finnish Baltic-21 network (universities of applied science) joined the BUP, bringing in an important number of institutions and expertise. The BUP also cooperates in projects with cities and other stakeholders in the Baltic Sea Region.
The long-term goals are set at the BUP Rectors’ Conferences, and the implementation of these goals is the responsibility of the international board and the secretariat situated at Uppsala University, Sweden, together with the national centres. The BUP is currently a Flagship project under the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region to support enhanced university cooperation in the region. The BUP is an open network, and participation is free, but voluntary contributions are welcome.
The students´ perspective
Having an international network as BUP is extremely beneficial from student’s point of view, taking advantage of the current advancement in the communication field makes exchanging information and latest researches effortless. Yearly over 8000 students are being engaged in the courses that the network has to offer in the field of environment and sustainability for undergraduate and master’s levels. Beside the traditional courses BUP offers different kinds of events for students in favour of their mobility and internationalisation.
Summer courses are organized across the region involving students coming from all around the network’s partner universities to learn more about topics which are relevant to the Baltic Sea region. Conferences are also organised for students, and a special training for PhD students is offered since 2013. In a participant’s own words “The conference for PhD students was perfectly organized… Individual consultations with the experts enabled us to learn the opinion of people not directly related to the subject of our thesis. This made it possible to look at the work from a different perspective and gave an opportunity to enrich and improve it. Friendly atmosphere during the meeting and additional attractions made this one of the most interesting conferences in which I have participated”. And recently BUP introduced the PhD prize, the first three prizes were given at the BUP Rectors’ Conference in October 2014.
SAIL (Sustainability Applied in International Learning) is one of the most unique courses BUP organises every summer. Where students and teachers go on-board of the Polish cruise STS Fryderyk Chopin for 14 days passing by different ports across the Baltic Sea to learn more about sustainability and develop skills which they can’t learn in any class room. During the sailing period lectures & group work takes place, presentation for on-board discussions are prepared by students. At the same time the students work as crew on board with shifts both day and night. This is why the course is also known to be physically challenging: it tests individual limits, contests prejudices, strengthens personalities, and improves personal abilities.
BUP students also take part in the Annual forum of EU strategy for Baltic Sea region. During the previous forums students had a meeting with the European Commissioner for Regional Policy and participated in a plenary panel discussion where they could express their opinions regarding the region with all the politicians participating in the forum. An invitation has already been sent form the Commission to BUP students to participate in the next Annual forum.
Having the youth participating in different kinds of events have a huge impact over their level of academic knowledge and also add a great international experience which is essential to handle the future of our common Baltic Sea region.
Acting together in the Baltic Sea region
The common efforts of the BUP network started in 1991, and now we can summarize that during more than 20 years different activities and projects have covered the whole Baltic Sea region on topics such as sustainability, water management, the Baltic Sea environment, the cultures and societies in the region, urban development, environmental management systems, and sustainable agriculture. Two of the most recent projects are in the areas of sustainable agriculture and maritime planning. In these projects the BUP has acted as a platform for cooperation between higher education and authorities and companies in the countries of the Baltic Sea region.
In fact, the “BUP-region” involves all countries which are part of the water scape, or drainage area, of the Baltic Sea. This means that also countries, such as Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia and Czech Republic are included, although they are not situated along the coastline of the Baltic Sea itself, but water runs from these countries to the Baltic Sea. We estimate that in altogether 14 countries, more than 1500 researchers and about 120 000 students have until now participated in the common projects, courses, seminars, and conferences.
The Baltic Sea regional approach and the teaching and learning methods and technologies that were introduced have been identified as strong, unifying components. Sustainability being a new and challenging topic in higher education also has brought up the need for competence development among university teachers in the region. Understanding sustainable development usually demands both a multi-disciplinary and an international approach in projects as well as in education. Consequently, the use of learning methods should support both learning for and learning about sustainability. This was one of the reasons behind widening the offer of competence development for teachers in higher education, and so from 2013 BUP also teachers at higher education institutions have an opportunity to learn from and with each other in the course “SAIL for teachers”, on board the sail training ship.
During the last years one could observe that new partnerships and thematic groups are being formed within the network, according to expertise and institutional needs. One such current area of interest is energy. This is one more advantage offered to the partners of a large and open network like the BUP, which can help members to quickly and effectively find partners to new projects.
Paula Lindroos, Director, Baltic University Programme, Åbo Akademi University, email@example.com
Ahmed Mansour, Student, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Member of the International Board of the Baltic University Programme