Sustainable and competitive higher education – Benefits of international cooperation

Teksti | Mika Launikari

In a changing world, continuous renewal and global networking are essential for Finnish higher education institutions. Increasing international cooperation between higher education institutions in different countries is based on their common interests and goals, which nowadays are often related to sustainable development issues. At its best, a future- and working-life-oriented higher education institution committed to international cooperation generates significant added value for its management, staff, students and external ecosystem. This article examines, from the perspective of Laurea University of Applied Sciences, the benefits that these stakeholders derive from its international activities and participation.

Photo: Jordan McDonald / Unsplash

The Vision 2035 for fostering the internationalisation of higher education and research guides the international strategies of Finnish higher education institutions over the next decade (MoEC 2022a). In the vision, freedom of science, research and teaching, Finland’s competitiveness, diverse society, sustainable development and national cooperation are seen as prerequisites for promoting international activities. In addition, the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), the Research Area (ERA) and the University Strategy and the related European University Initiative have a key impact on the internationalisation of Finnish higher education institutions (European Commission 2022, MoEC 2022b).

Laurea is currently renewing its strategy, which will come into force in early 2025. It is not yet known exactly how international cooperation in higher education and sustainable development will be reflected in this strategy. In Laurea’s current strategy, the aim is to expand and strengthen mutual international cooperation, which strengthens the quality and impact of higher education, research and innovation activities, as well as the international expertise of different actors (Laurea 2019). Active participation in Nordic, European and transnational networks has been seen as an opportunity for Laurea to learn new things and find solutions to cross-border challenges with international partners.

Laurea’s management operates in a global business environment

Laurea’s top management is responsible for the strategic and international management of the university. In recent years, Laurea has moved from bilateral partnerships to international networks and alliances, which help to overcome national, political and financial barriers, increase opportunities for cooperation and encourage new ways of allocating resources and expertise (Angouri 2023). A good example of this is the PIONEER Alliance of ten European higher education institutions, of which Laurea is a member (Launikari 2023, Laurea 2023). At the beginning of 2024, the rectors of the PIONEER universities signed a joint mission statement at the strategic level in which they committed themselves to intensify their mutual cooperation in education, research and innovation and to increase the mobility of students and experts. The aim of the PIONEER university cooperation is to promote the sustainable development of the cities of the future.

International cooperation brings many benefits to Laurea and its management. These range from a better understanding of the global business environment to broader networking opportunities and deeper personal relationships with foreign university management, as well as the development of their own professional skills. Laurea’s management considers it particularly important that international activities strengthen the university’s reputation and brand. Cooperation with prestigious international partner universities and other transnational institutions helps Laurea to attract top talent as staff and students, to diversify external funding, to deepen cooperation with the world of work, and to increase media visibility and social impact. This positive development makes Laurea a more competitive, dynamic and successful higher education institution – also globally. It gives Laurea more room for manoeuvre and freedom of choice in its activities, as well as more strategic management and flexibility.

Laurea staff benefit from international cooperation in many ways

Tiina Päivärinne, Director of Human Resources and International Affairs at Laurea, has many years of experience in both human resource development and international higher education cooperation. According to her, today internationality is something that permeates all activities at Laurea. Therefore, every employee at Laurea needs international competence in their work tasks and the ability to apply their own professional competence in the global working environment. Päivärinne’s motto is that no one has ever learnt everything, but you can always learn something new, if you are bold enough to challenge yourself and gain competence in international teaching, research, development and innovation activities. Laurea offers excellent opportunities for this.

”The benefits of international cooperation for staff are many and varied. Of course, it is important to remember that these benefits cannot be achieved overnight, but may require years of determined work. They always mean something different to each of us,” says Päivärinne and continues: ”The stronger and more diverse the international and professional competence of the staff, the better the conditions for the success of Laurea as a higher education institution”.

For academic staff in particular, international cooperation opens up opportunities to develop their own expertise, for example, to become familiar with new, innovative teaching and research methods. Networking with experts in other countries provides opportunities for the development of teaching and research in projects, professional exchange of experts, sharing of knowledge and expertise, and new career paths. For staff working in non-academic positions in higher education institutions, international cooperation is a way to increase understanding and knowledge of the kind of financial and human resource management practices and processes, IT systems and digital solutions, or communication and marketing channels used in foreign universities.

”At its best, international interaction leads to professional and personal growth, broadening horizons and gaining new insights,” says Päivärinne.

Internationality integrated into studies at Laurea

Internationality is strongly present in all Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes at Laurea. During their studies, students become familiar with the content, working methods and operating environment of their own field in Finland and around the world. Since Laurea students come not only from Finland, but from many different countries and ethnic backgrounds, they have a good chance to get to know and learn from each other, for example, in group assignments related to their studies.

”Internationalisation at home means meeting and doing things together with a wide range of people in everyday interaction,” says Riikka Lindholm, Senior Specialist and Team Leader in Laurea’s International Affairs Unit.

The Corona pandemic significantly reduced international student mobility. Although the mobility figures have now started to rise again at Laurea, they have not yet reached their pre-pandemic levels. In addition to physical mobility, blended mobility is developing. This involves higher education students from different countries working together both face-to-face and online.

”The aim of the European PIONEER Alliance is to improve the capacity of partner universities to offer students high-quality blended mobility in the future,” says Lindholm.

According to Lindholm, the international experience and skills acquired during their studies can benefit students in many different ways for working life and employment – including global career opportunities. Studies and internships abroad promote the development of one’s own expertise and mastery of the professional field, help to broaden one’s understanding of different perspectives, get along with different people and see things from a more global perspective. Living abroad also tends to increase cultural sensitivity and improve language skills. It is also a way of making contacts from all over the world with people who can become lifelong friends and long-term partners.

Laurea’s key partners are internationally oriented

In recent years, Laurea has worked hard to develop a network of key partners. The key partnership is an opportunity for companies and organisations to engage in extensive and tailored cooperation with Laurea’s training programmes.

”At the moment Laurea has about 100 key partner organisations and the number of partners has been growing steadily,” says Ilkka Kurkela, Laurea’s Director of Key Partnerships and Customer Relations.

According to Kurkela, the key partnership is about Laurea bringing together students and working life. For key partners, Laurea offers recruitment, project and development cooperation, and visibility cooperation, not to forget Laurea’s alumni network.

”Our key partners operate mainly in Finland, although many of them have international business cooperation in Europe and beyond. Of course, our partners employ people from all over the world,” says Kurkela.

It is important that Laurea, as a higher education institution, is able to create international added value for its key partners. This is why the expertise, international competence and global networks of Laurea’s staff, as well as the know-how and contacts acquired by students abroad, are highly valued by key partners. Laurea already serves its key partners and other stakeholders with the results of international teaching, research, development and innovation activities.

”Laurea’s cooperation with key partners is of great benefit to companies and stakeholders, and thus has a significant impact on society,” Kurkela concludes.

The article is based on the author’s discussions in early 2024 with Laurea’s President Jouni Koski, Vice Presidents Mari Vuolteenaho, Katri Ojasalo and Kimmo Hannonen, Director of Human Resources and International Affairs Tiina Päivärinne, Senior Specialist and International Services Team Leader Riikka Lindholm and Ilkka Kurkela, Director of Key Partnerships and Customer Relations.

Author information:

Mika Launikari, PhD, M.Sc. (Econ.), works as a Senior Specialist at Laurea. He is responsible for European/international higher education cooperation.



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