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Ira Jänis-Isokangas, PhD, presented the assessment findings to an academic audience on 22 March 2017.

Increase student exchange from Finland to Russia and boost Russia-related experience in Finland, assessment proposes

Nationally coordinated cooperation with Russia and support for mobility are required to build strategic Russia-related experience in Finland, says a recent assessment of higher education cooperation with Russia, published by the Finnish National Agency for Education.

The assessment was carried out by the Aleksanteri Institute of the University of Helsinki, under the lead of Ira Jänis-Isokangas, PhD, Head of Research Training.

Russia is the most significant bilateral focus country in the higher education sector for the Finnish National Agency for Education. A changing cooperation environment, the major reforms taking place in both countries’ higher education sectors, as well as an increasingly tight outlook for the national economy motivated an examination of higher-education cooperation with Russia, even though no major changes are expected in cooperation funding in the near future. What kind of a role should the National Agency for Education adopt to promote cooperation with Russia among higher education institutions? How should the Russia-oriented support instruments be developed on the whole?

The assessment was supported by a steering group comprising representatives of key Finnish and international interest groups. Material and opinions were collected from Finnish higher education institutions, and an extensive survey was also conducted among students.

National coordination is needed

The assessment’s key proposals involve remedies to the imbalance in student exchange between Finland and Russia, such as developing new forms of cooperation and boosting strategic Russian expertise through higher education cooperation.

In 2015, the number of Russian higher education students
participating in an exchange programme in Finland was 449,
compared to 322 Finnish HE students in Russia.
One-third of them received FIRST funding.

The assessment also contains proposals for developing the FIRST programme, which supports Finnish-Russian student and teacher mobility, as well as strengthening higher education institutions’ cooperation with Russia.

According to the assessment, the National Agency for Education plays an important role in boosting strategic Russia-related competence, as well as in promoting the internationalisation–both at home and abroad–of higher education institutions, in accordance with the strategy of the Ministry of Education and Culture. To advance these fields, adequate resources should be provided to higher education programmes involving Russia. Appointing a party responsible for national coordination would help promote mobility and higher education cooperation between the two countries.

Revised FIRST programme

Bilateral student exchange will continue to be a core component of cooperation with Russia. In the future, the FIRST programme will be offered under the name FIRST+. The new name reflects the reforms made to the programme, the most significant of which is the elimination of geographical restrictions. Whereas the previous programme was restricted to northwestern Russia*, the new FIRST+ will offer cooperation with partner institutions around the country. The Russia pilot programme launched in autumn 2015 will be merged with the FIRST+ programme. Short student exchanges from Finland to Russia are another novelty.

The new programme will also fund teacher exchanges as well as intensive courses organised in Russia. Intensive courses have been a very popular form of cooperation, and Finnish students have actively participated in them to visit Russia.

Regarding the FIRST programme, the assessment highlighted the need to more strongly commit Russian higher education institutions to cooperation, also from a financial perspective. Discussions with Russian cooperation partners will continue in this field. The programme’s revised quality criteria will place a clearer emphasis on the Russian partners’ responsibility for the quality of cooperation.

Survey of Winter School expansion

The assessment’s proposal for expanding the Winter School aimed at doctoral students will be examined.

Existing resources will be employed to support the visibility of Finnish higher education in Russia to the extent possible. This can be done, for example, by enhancing cooperation with Finnish embassies and other Team Finland participants.

The Ministry of Education and Culture wishes to boost Russian cooperation

The policy for the internationalisation of higher education and research, recently published by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, spotlights Russia as a country with which higher education, research and innovation cooperation must be built up. Overall, the policy emphasises student mobility, the objective being for all study plans to include international studies.

The National Agency for Education will continue to support Russian cooperation in higher education in various ways, for example by creating regular platforms for discussions and the exchange of experiences.

In addition to conducting discussions about practical cooperation, it is also important to jointly anticipate changes in the operating environment. Among other things, discussions will examine how the striving of Russian higher education institutions towards the international top will affect their cooperation with their Finnish counterparts and how Finnish higher education institutions could boost their position on the Russian higher education market with the new tuition fees now in place.

*) Northwestern Russia comprises the Republics of Karelia and Komi, the Arkhangelsk, Vologda, Kaliningrad, Leningrad, Murmansk, Novgorod and Pskov Oblasts, St Petersburg and the Nenets Autonomous Okrug.

Higher Education Cooperation with Russia. Assessment of CIMO’s Russia operations

Additional information

Maija Airas +358 295 338 588
Juha Ketolainen +358 295 338 592

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