The new Team Finland Knowledge -programme opens possibilities for cooperation and mutual learning

Programmes Higher education Team Finland Knowledge Internationalisation
The purpose of the TFK -funding programme is to create and strengthen cooperation between Finnish higher education institutions and the selected TFK target countries as well as to design new operating models. The programme funds educational cooperation between higher education institutions through cooperation- and mobility projects.

The first application round for the new Team Finland Knowledge (TFK) program was opened in January 2021. The TFK programme is a continuation to Asia and FIRST+ programmes and has been designed according to the wishes of higher education institutions as well as the views of Team Finland Knowledge specialists. In addition, the changed operating environment of international cooperation have been taken into account in the design of the programme. The programme enables the development of virtual internationalization though the forms of cooperation of the programme and in addition part of the project funding can be used for the costs of planning and implementation of virtual cooperation.

The target regions and countries of the TFK programme are China, India, Russia, Southern Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America. In 2021, the programme will fund cooperation with China, India, Russia and Southeast Asia. In 2022, in turn, cooperation will be funded with Southern Africa and Latin America. The target regions and possible focus areas of the programme may vary in different ways in future application rounds.

As part of the first application round country- and region-specific webinars were organized in collaboration with the TFK-specialists in order to discuss what kind of issues should be paid attention to when planning cooperation in different target areas.

Interest for cooperation on digital learning and teachers’ education in Russia and India

According to TFK specialist Sari Eriksson, distance studying, the need for digital learning and the need to increase the number of degrees in English in Russia has led to increased interest in cooperation with Finnish higher education institutions. Other topical and fruitful fields for cooperation in Russia are IT, artificial intelligence, teachers’ education, arctic research, natural sciences, sustainable development, development of general infrastructure, climate research, physics and chemistry. Interest to Finland as a partner is heightened also due to Russia’s national policy targets to double the number of international students in Russia by 2024 and to get five Russian higher education institutions among the 100 best universities in the world.

Eriksson stated that almost half of Russian youth is interested in going abroad, according to studies. Interest to Finland has not decreased because of pandemic. According to a survey conducted last year on Russian students studying in Finland, Finland’s attractions are its geographical closeness, quality of education, high-quality living conditions as well as future prospects. 

Possibilities for cooperation with Indian higher education institutions exist particularly in the field of education, due to India’s teachers’ education reform, said TFK-specialist Mika Tirronen in the India-specific webinar. Teachers’ professional skills will be enhanced, and teachers’ education transferred to higher education institutions. Finland has prospects to cooperation in the field of connection between working life and academic studies and enhancing working life skills. Finnish higher education institutions have strong expertise to share also in cooperation with companies. Potential lies in digital learning, arctic research and tourism in remote or arctic regions, since similar areas are found in India. Finland’s clean air technology is another fruitful field for cooperation in pollution-stricken India. 

Working life cooperation and technology potential cooperation areas in China and South-East Asia

Finding a devoted and reliable partner and identifying possible risks is essential when cooperating with Chinese higher education institutions, stated TFK-specialist Mari-Anna Suurmunne in the TFK-webinar targeted for Finnish-Chinese cooperation. Suurmunne underlined, that it is important to plan the activities and cooperation in a reciprocal manner, aiming to utilize the strengths each partner university. To ensure long-lasting cooperation, one should be familiar with the partners beforehand and the project should have institutional support from both sides. 

China’s attitude towards distance learning has changed due to pandemic and this offers new possibilities for cooperation. Education with strong links to working life is a potential field for cooperation. Areas related to technology are fields, where Finnish higher education institutions have a possibilities to learn from their Chinese partners and are thus potential areas for cooperation. In social sciences and humanities China operates very differently and these fields are more challenges for cooperation depending on the topic, although cooperation is of course encouraged too. 

Suurmunne advices to state clearly and broadly the expected impacts of the cooperation, for example on how it affects attracting skilled to Finland and the image of Finland in China in general. The needs for communication should be identified beforehand with the partner, including the ways to get visibility in the Chinese social media.

According to TFK specialist Anna Korpi, South-East Asia is one of the most significant economic areas in the world, while societal inequality sets challenges in many sectors and this can be seen particularly in the field education. Covid-19 has increased inequality even more. Indonesia is one of the most pandemic-hit countries in the area and capacity for distance learning in some parts of South-East Asia is small. In Indonesia on average only 40% of households have internet connection, in some areas only 20%. The situation is however better in higher education. 

In many South-East Asian countries choosing the partner is crucial since certain HEIs are prioritized and receive more resources, and primarily these institutions should be considered for cooperation. Asia will be one of the areas most severely suffering from climate change, and the future of economic growth depends on measures to tackle climate change. Thus, cooperation in the field of sustainability is highly recommended, according to Korpi. In Indonesia, challenges lie in lack of skilled workers, and the quality and inequality of education. The reform of education system is influenced by the Finnish system and will lead to less test-based system and increase the autonomy of teachers. Other fruitful fields for cooperation are cooperation with companies, building innovation ecosystems, commercialization of research, agriculture, medicine and health, technology and ICT. In Singapore life-long learning is developed and offers possibilities for collaboration.