The role of international competences in higher education institutions has been sparking lively debate lately for several reasons. Firstly, financial indicators are highly likely to change during the coming agreement period so that instead of calculating the number of incoming and outgoing exchange students, internationalisation should be integrated in all programme strategies. Higher education institutions have been forced to ideate ways of cross-cutting integration of internationalisation in their strategies. Secondly, the number of outgoing exchange students has decreased significantly.
”Students graduating from Finnish higher education institutions should have the competences to act in international, multicultural environments and understand diversity, global challenges and the principles of a sustainable society”, a quote of the objective explicitly set by the Ministry of Education and Culture already a couple of years ago. It is a fact that, for one reason or another, not all students go on exchange abroad to gain international experience, and therefore other ways of supporting acquisition of international competences during studies must be generated.
The Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture recently published a report: Internationalization at Home in Finnish Higher Education Institutions and Research Institutes. The outcomes of the report were published in a seminar organized by the Finnish National Agency for Education OPH on 29 August 2019, and at the same time, workshops were conducted to define ways of promoting internationalisation at home. The key finding in all workshops was that the quality of higher education institutions will be increasingly defined by their future degree of internationalisation and that internationalisation should be a real cross-cutting theme in all disciplines. Education programmes, goals and pedagogical strategy should comprise elements of internationalisation at home and international competences should be evaluated in the learning outcomes as well. Development of these skills should be an integral part of individual study plans. Development of international competences should not be restricted to students only but should cover the whole staff in higher education institutions. Thus, international competences should be fostered not only among the teaching staff but also among the administrative personnel.
Although development of students’ international competences is integrated with the established strategy of Savonia, the feedback from student questionnaires reveals the inadequacy of international skills based education. The thesis of Johanna Piik, a student in Tourism and Hospitality Management Degree Programme in Savonia, aimed at shedding light to the thoughts and opinions of Savonia students on the subject. In conclusion, the thesis presented an array of ideas for more versatile ways to enhance international competences, such as increased options for language studies, closer interaction between foreign and Finnish students both in school and leisure, utilizing the knowhow of professionals working in international tasks in teaching, as well as exploiting the potential for international collaboration provided by digitalization. The attitude and positive reinforcement by educators was also considered vital.
We in Savonia apply a range of good practices for enhancing international competences. For example, if a group contains even one foreign exchange student, the teaching language can be switched into English in a flexible manner in several programmes. Savonia is using the International Talent Open Badge, now actively sought by students. Short-term visits abroad during various study modules, carousel school models and the like have been developed for those who are not able to go on a long-term exchange abroad. Currently, a multi-disciplinary Summer School is being developed as well.
We have the knowledge and resources to build models for the provision of international competences and experiences also for those who do not utilise exchange abroad. The importance of sharing the competences and experiences related to these models has prompted us to introduce a series of monthly publications, each one presenting one great way to promote the international competences of the Savonians (students or staff). Therefore: Stay tuned for more!
Manager of International Relations