“The project involved more work than expected, but was genuinely effective”
When listening to Liisa Timonen, Head of International Affairs at Karelia University of Applied Sciences, you very soon realise that the networks of this higher education institution operating in North Karelia extend across the world.
Timonen has already been working with international projects for about twenty years and collaboration projects with European, Canadian and Chinese higher education institutions pop up in our conversation.
Between 2016 and 2019, Timonen managed two Erasmus+ projects aimed at developing the international studies offered by Karelia University of Applied Sciences.
“Both projects were based on a long common history with several partner institutions. We had previously worked with the project partners on projects related to such fields as the bioeconomy, regional development and entrepreneurship,” Liisa Timonen says.
Regional development, the bioeconomy and entrepreneurship
The aim of the ERDI project (Empowering Regional Development and Innovations) was to build a joint international study module with links to sustainable regional development, the bioeconomy and the business opportunities they offer.
A total of 16 partner institutions and companies from countries such as the Netherlands, Slovakia and Hungary were involved and a university, a vocational institution and a cluster of companies in the field of bioeconomy from Canada participated as associated partners. Other developer organisations and partner companies from each of the areas were also involved.
“The needs of the workplaces were strongly integrated in the study module because we wanted to link the studies to the world of work. The Regional Council of North Karelia also acted as a support organisation, providing the perspective of regional communication of information,” Liisa Timonen explains.
As a result of the project, an international study module lasting one term and consisting of two study units of 30 ECTS credits was created. A study module on sustainable bioeconomy and entrepreneurship is available at Karelia University of Applied Sciences and another module with a slightly different theme in a Dutch university of applied sciences.
The ECMT+ project (Entrepreneurship and Communication in Multicultural Teams) was a joint project of seven European higher education institutions, aimed at developing entrepreneurial studies, the competence of teachers and students, and international communication competence together. As a result, a joint international module of intensive studies related to entrepreneurship and communication competence was created.
Cooperation in workshops and on the spot
In practice, the new studies and study modules created in the projects were built in joint workshops of staff and experts and the study units were tested with students straight away. In addition, a collaboration model with partners from workplaces in the region was also created in the ERDI project.
The project partners had an online meeting approximately once a month, and partner-specific joint meetings of coordinators and workshops were held in different countries.
“The modules were tested and developed along the way during the three years of the project,” Timonen explains.
The size of the projects can be understood to some extent by looking at their budgets. The budget of the ECMT project coordinated by Karelia University of Applied Sciences was EUR 400,000. In the larger ERDI project, it was approximately EUR 1 million.
“The ERDI project involved more work for me than I had expected, as I was the project director. For example, I had to coordinate the 16 different partners and reconcile the different tasks,” Timonen says.
“However, the learning experience was absolutely amazing. Although I have been managing projects for more than 10 years, I learned a huge amount about it in this project.”
The challenges in the projects were related specifically to the cooperation of different parties.
“A lot of discussion and building trust is often required between the partners before you reach a shared mindset.”
According to Timonen, there were differences in how much work the partners invested in the project in the larger ERDI project.
“My tip to other project leaders is that you should engage all of the partners from the very beginning. Everyone must have something concrete to do and you should invest in building trust. The better you do that, the more successful your project will be.”
Two doctoral dissertations were completed
According to Liisa Timonen, the staff's competence improved enormously in both projects. There are several individual growth stories.
“In France, two doctoral dissertations were completed on the basis of the ECMT+ project. It is an excellent result. The language proficiency of many of those who participated in the working groups of the project also improved considerably: for example, one of the Polish partners had problems with communicating in English, but now that the project has ended, that person can write scientific articles in English.”
International study modules offer new opportunities for internationalisation to students and also strengthen the image and attractiveness of the higher education institution.
The term-long international study module can also be used in other international collaboration.
“For example, we have a joint degree with a Chinese higher education institution. We produce one third of this degree and can use the module in the double degree part.”
New opportunities to prove one’s worth
Both projects provided Karelia University of Applied Sciences with networks that still continue their collaboration.
“We have separate small research groups with the Polish and the French partners, with which we continue to work together, publish articles and apply for funding for research projects. These research groups prove that the projects genuinely are effective and meaningful,” Liisa Timonen says.
Three new projects in which the impact of the previous Erasmus+ projects is clearly visible have also been launched at Karelia University of Applied Sciences. Karelia was invited to a consortium for a new European Universities project by a Slovakian university that participated in the ERDI project.
“The greatest thing about new collaboration projects is that Finnish universities of applied sciences are participating in the Erasmus+ European Universities action for the first time. We are involved in the implementation of the new INVEST project related to the development of education, competence, research and learning environments, which has a budget of EUR 5 million. This is a big step for us and an opportunity to prove our worth.”
“With these projects, a wide range of international studies, opportunities for cooperation, and direct paths to international doctoral studies open up for Finnish higher education students,” Timonen rejoices.
Entrepreneurship and Communication in Multicultural Teams and Empowering Regional Development and Innovations
- Project types: Erasmus+ for Higher Education, Strategic Partnership
- Coordinator: Karelia University of Applied Sciences
- Project periods: September 2016–August 2019 and January 2016–December 2018
- Partner countries: the United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, France and Belgium, and Finland, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary
- Funding: EUR 323,930 and EUR 563,703
Author: Elina Jäntti