Autumn Forum for HEIs’ International Issues: a joyful get-together that set its sights to future

Education and qualifications Higher education Erasmus+ for higher education Internationalisation Education development Education exports
The Autumn Forum for Higher Education Institutions’ International Issues was held in Oulu on 16–17 August 2022. The event brought together more than 250 experts of international cooperation from higher education institutions around Finland.
People are chatting happily during a coffee break.
Coffee break during the Autumn Forum for HEIs’ International Issues at the University of Oulu.

After the pandemic years, Autumn Forum participants were delighted to meet and have face-to-face discussions with their colleagues. The Forum of 2021 was organised virtually, and the last physical meeting took place in Joensuu in 2019.

While the Forum's programme was more limited than usual this time, the topics it covered ranged from education exports to EU lobbying. Up to ten network meetings were also organised in connection with the Autumn Forum. The meetings enabled less formal discussions on topical issues within the networks. The Finnish National Agency for Education additionally organised an information sharing and networking meeting on higher education institutions’ activities in the context of Ukraine. 

The new trends of higher education institutions’ international cooperation were visible in the programme, and the participants reflected on change and the future in their discussions. Particular interest was expressed in the newly completed Vision for strengthening the international dimension of Finnish higher education and research by 2035, changes in and new forms of mobility, and the expanding European University networks.

Vision for strengthening the international dimension of Finnish higher education and research by 2035 – what will change?

The Ministry of Education and Culture’s Vision for strengthening the international dimension of Finnish higher education and research by 2035, which will guide the international strategies of actors in the field towards common goals, was a highly topical theme. The vision was submitted to Petri Honkonen, Minister of Science and Culture, in Helsinki while the Autumn Forum was in progress. The Forum for international activities appointed by the Ministry of Education and Culture prepared the vision in cooperation with stakeholders.

The vision underlines Finland's role as a responsible, receptive and open pioneer of international cooperation. In her keynote speech, Director Jonna Korhonen from the Ministry of Education and Culture stressed that the vision will be implemented by working together.

The last panel discussion of the Autumn Forum recapitulated the theme of the vision. Following an introduction by Anna Grönlund from the University of Jyväskylä, Markus Laitinen from the University of Helsinki and Ari-Pekka Kainu from Satakunta University of Applied Sciences discussed the vision from the higher education institutions’ perspective: what is new, what is changing, and how the goals can be reached.

The audience was also engaged in discussing the vision. According to audience members, the most important theme of the new vision is ‘Finland, a responsible and receptive nation’. Streamlined reception of international experts and a diverse academic community and society were regarded as important. The panellists also emphasised the significance of the vision as a whole. The other themes of the vision are: Guided by values and principles, A competitive economy that attracts talent, An agent in resolving sustainable development challenges, and A country that builds on cooperation. The audience found a concrete approach, sufficient financing and cooperation particularly important for turning the vision into reality.

Maija Airas, Counsellor of Education at the Finnish National Agency for Education, pointed out that in the times we live in, all HEI actors in Finland and elsewhere in Europe alike have been forced to reflect on the values and principles of international higher education cooperation. Airas noted that it is important to promote a value-based approach to not only international cooperation but also all the other themes of the new vision. To achieve this, broad-based discussion and cooperation between actors in the field of higher education will be essential. The Finnish National Agency for Education will be happy to support and enable this work.

Has interest in internationalisation declined? Discussion on mobility and its new forms

The panel organised by the Finnish National Agency for Education sparked discussion on declining mobility and changes in the forms of internationalisation. The first question addressed by the panel was, ‘Has interest in internationalisation declined?’ Yes and no, was the answer of both the audience and the panellists. Many perspectives, especially on mobility, were brought up by those who commented on the panel discussion.

Students’ interest in mobility was already declining before the COVID-19 pandemic. Pressure to graduate quickly was suggested as the most important reason for this by the audience. Exchange studies may delay graduation or be economically challenging. On the other hand, participants stressed the significance and benefits of international experience, both in professional and private life.

New forms of mobility, including short mobility periods and blended mobility, which partly takes place by virtual means, have attracted interest. They provide an easier option for internationalisation, for example for students with families and those in working life. Inclusion, one of the priorities of the new Erasmus+ programme, also came up: an effort will be made to enable international experiences for everyone.

European University networks are growing - challenges and opportunities for higher education institutions

The Erasmus + European Universities initiative has funded European University networks since 2019. Fourteen Finnish higher education institutions are involved in networks that have in-depth, long-term strategic cooperation with other European higher education institutions.

Higher education networks had a high profile at the Autumn Forum. The means for engaging students and solutions to student administration challenges attracted interested and sparked discussion. Despite the challenges, the participants emphasised the major positive significance of the networks for international cooperation and education development in the higher education sector.

The Autumn Forum for HEIs’ International Issues was organised by the University of Oulu, Oulu University of Applied Sciences and the Finnish National Agency for Education. A similar event was already called for, and initially planned for, next spring.