3/2015, In English, Kansainvälisyys, Tutkimus ja innovaatiot

Internationalisation of UASes needs an up-to-date approach


This review has its background in a joint development process of the authors during the UAS R&D Expert coaching program started early 2014 (funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland). These five experts from five different UASes brainstormed together and found different practices to share with others to implement internationalisation of education and RDI in their home organisations.

Strategic background

For Higher educational institutions (HEIs), international cooperation is a way to increase the quality of education and RDI work (Research, Development and Innovation). Through networking the students and staff members strengthen their personal knowhow, but also the organisational and regional intellectual capital, and create the knowledge basis to act in international working life. In Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences, the international activities have different focus points in all 24 organisations, but certain common activities can be listed:

  • Internationalisation of the education and the home internationalisation
  • International cooperation and networks
  • International exchange
  • Internationalisation of the region and working life through international RDI-projects.

Promotion of internationalisation requires cross-sectoral co-operation. Mobility of scientists, researchers, teachers and students, international networks and common scientific publications, as well as exploitation of the knowledge produced abroad are correlated strongly with the level of innovation and a new way of working.

Home internationalisation as a baseline

Different ways to internationalise studies do exist, but they are not used systematically. International activities can be carried out many ways, e.g. as student or personnel exchanges, teaching in foreign languages, involving students and teachers in international projects or arranging international seminars and international weeks. In addition to conventional ways of home internationalisation, digital tools bring new possibilities. For example, many shared e-learning study- and RDI-platforms exist and creation of MOOCs is a rising trend e.g. among EU project funding. One example of widely used special study platform is the Learning Management system LMS of the European Police Academy (CEPOL).

International joint and double degrees and joint curriculum development offer also tools for home internationalisation for both students and teachers. One example of this is Erasmus-funded ERDI module (Empowering Regional development and Innovation) launched already 10 years ago in four EU-member states and coordinated by Karelia UAS. A joint curriculum has been developed and the modules are carried out annually in one of the universities involved. Both teachers and students are participating from each university, and the cooperation is deepened also into common RDI actions. As another example of curriculum development, JAMK UAS has recently coordinated the launch of a 100% virtual coaching program (Soulbus-e-Coach) to improve the multicultural guidance skills of teachers and mentors as a part of EU funded Life Long Learning Programme (LLP) project.

Improving language competences and cultural knowhow plays the most significant role in internationalisation. In connection with student’s Individual Study Plan, the student could discover the most suitable path for internationalisation during studies. As a means in the exchange and identification of competences, the Europass system is used. Europass stationary directs the mapping and recording of the student’s competences and student can use the filled forms during the entire study time. The Europass documents are also beneficial documents to show the competences when seeking a job or applying for international internships.

Another example of home internationalisation is a strategic leadership program Executive MBA in Policing. The 80 ECTS programme is directed for middle- and upper-level managers of police units and is organised by three HEIs in Tampere: the Police University College (Polamk), the University of Tampere, and the Edutech (Centre for Professional Development at Tampere University of Technology) as coordinator.

International RDI and networks

To succeed in European level RDI funding competition, it is important to develop the UAS project culture systematically and in a persevering manner. In order to complete high quality proposals, organisations’ management level must be committed to allocate reasonable resources for the preparation process. Key issue is also to integrate multidisciplinary knowledge and skills of personnel, students and working life partners into the preparation process.

Further, the participation in European networks before any project calls in an effective way to enhance the deeper understanding of the thematics and learn to know the key players of the field. It is crucial for an UAS to gain recognition as a trustful partner and thus facilitate the invitations to high quality project consortiums. Existing networks may also offer opportunities to take part on preparation process of EU programmes and give a possibility to propose topics and ideas for the future calls. As an example, JAMK has participated to the European Innovation Program’s Active and Healthy Aging (EIP AHA) network. The network aims to bring together all actors in the innovation cycle, from research to adoption along with those engaged in standardisation and regulation. The partnership provides these actors with a forum in which they can cooperate, identify and overcome potential innovations barriers and mobilise instruments.

The Police University College has strong European networks. It participates in international cooperation with the European Police College (CEPOL), European Security and Defence College (ESDC), the European Police Research Institute Collaboration (EPIC) network and a Nordic police research network. Also, CEPOL has the European Police Exchange Programme (EPEP) exchange program running since 2007, and NORDCOP police training program offers mobility in Nordic Countries. Polamk also sends annually experts to crisis management courses of several institutions like EU, UN and OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe). Active presence in international networks has been a successful strategy and lead into wide range of international RDI funding.

Another way to improve the know-how of specialists to create successful project proposals is to work as an evaluator for EU programmes. Regardless of the high workload, this position offers an authentic insight to the project proposals; both strengths and weaknesses of the applications are reviewed in a detailed way. Evaluators learn to distinguish characteristics of a good proposal in terms of content, impact and technical excellence. Until recently, these kinds of possibilities have not been actively supported by UAS organisations.

On the other hand, if UAS is not yet strategically closely connected to any European RDI-network or consortium, one way to show up its competence is the international accreditation. Kymenlaakso UAS (Kyamk) has an internationally known emission measurement laboratory that has accreditation from FINAS (Finnish state authority) and Sjöfartsverket (Swedish maritime administration). Also, some activities are registered in EU level as Designated Organisation (licence to issue CE-certificates). That makes Kyamk more interesting and reliable partner in that sector e.g. for Horizon 2020 programme calls.

Internationalisation from strategies into practice

In many Finnish UASes the paths for internationalisation are embedded in organisational strategies. Also, several ways of classifying and grading international partner organisations exist. In many cases the international mobility partners differ from partners for international RDI work, which means double work and loss of resources. A more strategic approach of managing international partners would be ideal, with more emphasis put on mobility and RDI cooperation with same organisations. For example, many of the long-term mobility partnerships could be expanded to cover also other joint activities, like RDI projects. Each student or teacher going abroad should be asked to fill out a form indicating the possible ways of (project) cooperation with the target university. Needs for cooperation could be mapped during the exchange, and response to the needs could be discussed within the home university after the exchange.

Anyway, for multi-sectorial organisations like UASes it is not always reasonable to select only a few strategic international partners, but each sector should maintain their own. In addition, multidisciplinary networks as ERRIN (European Regions Research and Innovation Network) exist. Kyamk staff participated last year to ERRIN seminar where it was possible to present ideas for the H2020 project proposals or show the interest for others’ ideas. As a result, Kyamk decided to join in a consortium aiming to support energy efficiency actions at schools. The coordinator had a good touch for preparing the proposal and advised also partners to do their parts during the preparation work. In six months the proposal was submitted to the EU. Only a few of the partners knew each other beforehand, so the cooperation does not always require deep strategic background to work together.

Strategies should neither hinder to take a chance when seeing one. Sometimes a good project proposal comes to you when you are least expecting it, and not necessarily from a strategic partner organisation. An example of taking a chance comes from Karelia UAS’s recently announced cooperation with NASA Epic Challenge, which gives students a possibility to co-generate ideas with world-lead experts for sustaining humans on Mars. Certainly, this cooperation was not written in any strategy, but it gives students an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for global networking.

Deepening the strategic cooperation

It seems that every UAS has a long list of international partners available. The main question is: Do we know our partners? Where can we find the names and contact information of key persons? A long list of partners is not valid if strategical purposes do not match. To ensure and improve active international contacts, some UASes strategically choose the most important partners and focus on the cooperation with those. Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK) carried out an evaluation for international partners during 2009-2010. Criteria for strategic partnership were built up together with the future partners: Feevale University, Brazil and VIA University College, Denmark. In this case, the most important keynotes were research and virtual teaching. Four research units started in 2014 in HAMK. Collaboration with strategic partners is carried though these units on a fast, flexible and natural way, joint projects and student work as a result. Thus, communications and mobility of teachers and students are coordinated, and also the strategically shared research topics and personal contacts are enhanced.

HAMK will hold a strategic meeting with the partners in November 2015 to clarify the research subjects and to ensure maximum four common research areas. For example, a common eLearning activity will be piloted in spring 2016 in the shape of Successful aging and digitalisation research project by organising joint courses between Feevale University and HAMK. A long term goal is to have a common 5+5+5-ECTS credit module available for students, including 5 ECTS credits per partner university per year. Students already participate in common research projects and work closely with local enterprises which are familiar with the strategic partner. This is one example of cross-fertilization of innovations and students will have skills to work as bridge-builders between different cultures, business areas and SMEs (Small and Medium Sized Enterprises). In HAMK, internationalisation strategy includes also that second-year students need to have contact to strategic partners and to integrate with them during studies. In practice, common modules with strategic partners are a long lasting solution for cooperation and an opportunity for students to gain international competence.


Tero Ahvenharju, Lecturer, PhD, Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK), tero.ahvenharju@hamk.fi

Olavi Kujanpää, Superintendent, Project Manager, Lic.Sc.Admin., Police University College (Polamk), olavi.kujanpaa@poliisi.fi

Helena Puhakka-Tarvainen, Senior Project Manager, M.Sc.(Biol.), Karelia University of Applied Sciences, helena.puhakka-tarvainen@karelia.fi

Sanna Sihvonen, Principal Lecturer, PhD, JAMK University of Applied Sciences, sanna.sihvonen@jamk.fi

Kirsi Tallinen, Research Manager, M.Sc. (Eng.), Kymenlaakso University of Applied Sciences (Kyamk), kirsi.tallinen@kyamk.fi

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