The agreement between the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture and the higher education institutions for the period 2013–2016 contains a section of internationalisation to ensure high quality. According to the agreement, higher education institutions should create international strategic partnerships to strengthen their focal areas. In addition, the joint supply of education including joint and double degrees and the collaboration in research and development are essential elements in international collaboration.
The creation of the strategic network
Higher education institutions typically have a large number of international agreements, which create insufficient collaboration and unnecessary bureaucracy among partners. To avoid these difficulties, HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht searched the best partner and found Turku University of Applied Sciences in 2008. The top management of these institutions prepared the plans to create the strategic network, defined the required features of the potential higher education institutions and began to search suitable partners for the network.
The partnership criteria included that the institutions should be universities of applied sciences, which have applied research and development that serve professional education and support regional development. The institutions should have similar fields of education to enable student and staff exchange, joint educational programmes and collaboration in research and development. The promotion of innovations also had an important role in emphasising the external impact of the institutions.
International trade was an important motivation for the geographical coverage of the network. Europe is an important market for the export companies of the countries where the institutions of the strategic network are located. For example, the share of the export of the Finnish gross domestic product is nearly 40% and the share of Europe of the export is about 55%. The universities of applied sciences want to support international trade and other international activities. Another motivation for the European partnership was the funding from European Union for student and staff exchange and research and development projects. Based on these factors, the strategic network supports the European economic and social cohesion in the common market.
The strategic network provides a trustworthy learning environment for students who want to strengthen their international competences (Kettunen, 2015a). Trust was considered an important factor in the strategic network because it lowers the unnecessary transaction costs (Kettunen, 2015b). It was agreed in the first discussions that the network should not be too large to support trustworthy collaboration and create benefits for the members of the network. Trust is important when the members prepare the bids of research and development projects, carry out projects and disseminate results. Institutional trust was promoted by the general agreement between members. The formal association was established according to the Dutch legislation.
The European strategic network
The general agreement of CARPE was signed by four European universities of applied sciences at the first CARPE Conference in November 2011. Manchester Metropolitan University joined the network next year, soon after the Conference. The CARPE network includes the following members:
- HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht
- Turku University of Applied Sciences
- Polytechnic University of Valencia
- Hamburg University of Applied Sciences
- Manchester Metropolitan University.
CARPE is not a closed network restricted only to activities between members. It is not reasonable to limit the collaboration between the predetermined partners, because the development needs of customers may require partners outside the network. Therefore the network welcomes other partners for research and development projects whenever it is reasonable for the aims of the projects. Similarly, the member institutions of CARPE have student and staff exchange with other institutions outside the strategic network whenever it is considered valuable.
Figure 1 describes the geographical coverage of the CARPE network on the European map. The network has spread over Western Europe and it is biased in this respect. There are plans to extend the coverage to Eastern Europe. The Steering Committee of CARPE accepted the University of Debrecen as an associate member in November 2014 and it has a good possibility to become a full member if it can maintain the high activity level in the network.
The governance of the network
The governance of the CARPE network is stipulated in the CARPE Statutes so that there are full members and associate members. The first five institutions are full members. The new members can be considered for associate members if they have enough activities including staff and student exchange and research and development projects. If the activity level remains high or increases, the associate members can be considered for full members. The convergence criteria have been planned to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy and maintain the high level of trust between the partners.
Figure 2 describes the Steering Committee of CARPE in 2014. It is the highest decision making body of the network. It is represented by the heads of the institutions and supported by the support group which prepares the agenda of the meetings. The steering committee meets twice a year. The spring meeting is held in Brussels and autumn meeting in one of the member institutions. The Steering Committee evaluates the progress made and takes new steps for improvement of activities. It has also set various groups to prepare further development.
Objectives and results of the network
The objectives of the CARPE network were aligned with the motivation to establish the network. Higher education institutions support the economic and social development in Europe. The objectives of the network are the following:
- Exchange and collaboration in European research programmes
- Development of joint study programmes
- Exchange of students and staff
- Establishment of a strong European reputation.
The CARPE network has increased the activity of the partner institutions in the European research programmes. The web site of the CARPE network (www.carpenetwork.org) includes a large number of research and educational projects. The general principle is that the CARPE partners first contact the other CARPE partners when they prepare new project bids. That is not always possible, because the workloads of the teachers and other staff at the partner institutions are full. Then other partners outside CARPE can be sought for the projects.
The development of joint study programmes has taken its first steps. The objectives of the degree programmes at the home and host institutions have to be evaluated before the agreement of joint degrees. Additional challenges are the pedagogical regulations and structures of education, which are different in the countries of CARPE partners. Networking emphasises the need of the flexible structures of curricula.
The exchange of students and staff has been active. The Turku University of Applied Sciences arranged the third biennale CARPE Conference in Turku in May 2015. The theme of the conference was Towards Successful European Societies: The Social and Economic Significance of Universities of Applied Sciences. Altogether 225 members from the partner institutions participated in the conference.
CARPE has achieved the strong European reputation, because it is the first strategic network of its kind among the universities of applied sciences. The activities and results of CARPE network have been presented in international conferences. The reputation has reached Brussels, because CARPE Steering Committee has its spring meeting is in Brussels, where its meets the experts of European Commission.
CARPE has connected education and research and provided services to small and medium-sized enterprises and other organisations. The strategic network has promoted economic and social progress through the strengthening of economic and social cohesion of Europe. The institutions of the network strengthen the capabilities that are needed in the European common market.
Juha Kettunen, Chancellor, DSc(Econ), PhD, DSc(Tech), Turku University of Applied Sciences, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kettunen, J. 2015a. Learning and teaching in the European strategic network, The Online Journal of Quality in Higher Education, 2(2), 57-64. http://www.tojqih.net/pdf/v02i02/v02i02-06.pdf.
Kettunen, J. 2015b. The strategic network of higher education institutions, Business Education & Accreditation, 7(1), 87-95. http://www.theibfr.com/beasample.htm.