Visitors from companies open an international perspective to business studies education
Taina Savolainen, who recently became Professor Emerita, has been a pioneer in organising international visits and has herself taught abroad several times. She originally made contacts at research conferences.
The Erasmus+ programme enables teacher exchanges at foreign higher education institutions on the basis of bilateral agreements concluded by the institutions. A representative of a foreign company may also be invited to teach in a Finnish higher education institution, which is precisely the opportunity the University of Eastern Finland has taken advantage of.
Visitors have usually been invited twice a year and they taught in a course instructed in English, the theme of which is management of competitive advantage and intellectual capital. The visits last between three and five days. In Spain, the partner is a company from the service sector and in Germany, a research organisation specialising in businesses.
“We wanted to create an international study module for our students and we also needed to be able to offer our exchange students more teaching in English,” Savolainen recalls.
Finnish business studies students and exchange students from the whole faculty have been interested in the course. A total of more than 40 students have participated and they have been very satisfied with what has been offered. The course has offered both research information and practical experiences from businesses, and the approach in the teaching has been concrete and participatory. The teaching is planned together with the visitor so that their expertise supplements the course as a whole.
“For us, the most important thing has been the opportunity to expand and diversify the teaching we offer. Erasmus+ provides the financial support required for inviting international visitors. The University would otherwise not be able to afford it.”
Taina Savolainen finds that business administration as well as leadership and management are by nature very international fields. It is therefore important that this is also visible in the teaching. However, having international lecturers in the courses is not the only benefit achieved through regular teacher exchange. The visits have intensified the relationships with the partner organisations, which has also led to new research collaboration.
Coronavirus epidemic prevented visits and moved the course online
For more than ten years, the visits of teachers ran smoothly without any major problems. The course was further developed every year and was always slightly different, depending on the expertise of the visitors. Funding has been awarded every year, so continuity has been maintained.
But then 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic happened. Higher education became virtual everywhere in Europe. This year, the annual visit in the autumn could not be carried out and the decision was made to organise the course online.
The biggest challenge was building a well-functioning online course for up to 40 participants with such a fast timetable. The lectures were recorded and the course material was distributed to the participants electronically. Teaching in groups was implemented with Zoom and, in addition to the presentations, time was also reserved for questions.
The experiment was successful as students found the course, distance teaching worked well and even group work was successful without face-to-face contact.
However, the organisers still prefer to invite the visitors to Finland for real, as genuine encounters and presence are meaningful in their own way. The partners are willing to continue collaboration with the university in the future as they also find they benefit from it.
“Of course, a lot of work is required for the courses because you always need some time for hosting the visitors and making the practical arrangements for their stay in Finland.”
As a tip, Savolainen says that it is a good idea to develop a process for hosting the visitors in order to clarify what practical work is required. You also have to take care of many administrative matters and practices that ensure the teaching runs smoothly. In addition, you must be prepared to support the visitor even in smaller matters to make the experience a successful one for everyone.
In addition to business studies, some other subjects at the University of Eastern Finland have also started to organise visits of teachers. Taina Savolainen encourages those who are interested in the activity to go ahead and start planning it.
“If you already know good partners, you should definitely take advantage of the resources offered by Erasmus+.”
According to Savolainen, the easiest way to find partners is through research activities and conferences, but if necessary, partners can also be found by asking around in your own networks or your partners’ networks.
- Project type: Erasmus+ for Higher Education, Mobility/teachers invited from companies
- Coordinator: University of Eastern Finland
- Project period: visits approximately twice a year, duration of visit 2–5 days
- Partner countries: visitors from Germany and Spain, etc.
Author: Päivi Kärnä