Spring Forum for higher education international affairs brought together over 450 colleagues at Aalto University’s campus in Otaniemi

Education and qualifications Higher education Erasmus+ for higher education Internationalisation Education development
Following a hiatus lasting a few years, the Spring Forum for higher education international affairs was held once again this year, this time at the Aalto University campus in Otaniemi, Espoo. While the spring weather was still somewhat chilly, the atmosphere between universities’ international affairs colleagues was all the warmer.
People in a large hall during Spring Forum at Aalto University.
Opening of the Spring Forum at Aalto University.

The event brought together more than 450 colleagues and stakeholder representatives working in the field of higher education international affairs across Finland. The theme of the Spring Forum was ‘Internationality in transition’ and the programme was built around the Vision for strengthening the international dimension of Finnish higher education and research by 2035. The programme was prepared in cooperation with the Forum for International Policies, the cooperation network of universities of applied sciences’ internationalisation managers Pinnet, the cooperation network of universities’ internationalisation managers Aivoriihi, Aalto University and the Finnish National Agency for Education. Also participating in the Spring Forum were all the experts of Finland’s Team Finland Knowledge network, who provided valuable information about the current situations of the countries they are stationed in and about the positioning and relevance of their respective regions in the changed geopolitical circumstances. The key content of the programme consisted of 35 sessions, which were thought up and implemented by universities and their stakeholders. The Spring Forum also serves as a meeting place for a number of national networks.

In her opening speech, Director General of the Finnish National Agency for Education Minna Kelhä emphasised the importance of internationalisation competence. Internationalisation competence is important not only for individuals themselves but also for Finnish society as a whole and its ability to welcome international talent. The topic is highly relevant to universities as well, which is why the theme was also explored in numerous sessions seeking answers to questions such as how to attract international talent to universities and how to transform universities into truly international communities.

In his part of the opening speech, Director of the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC) Harri Peltoniemi detailed how internationality has been examined in a cross-cutting manner in the higher education evaluations carried out by FINEEC. Peltoniemi also shared with the audience the preliminary results of the evaluation of the state and reform of higher education pedagogy to be published this autumn. The student survey carried out as part of the evaluation raises concerns about e.g. the development of students’ internationalisation competence during studies: Of the 7,500 survey respondents, nearly 60% stated that they are not even considering participating in a foreign exchange period during their studies and only 36% said that their studies have included international networking.

In his opening keynote, Professor Hannu Seristö from Aalto University painted a picture of the complex current state of international relations and the network of interdependencies that we live in the middle of. Seristö pointed out that the concept of VUCA (an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) describes our contemporary world perhaps better than ever before and that higher education institutions must also be able to operate and update their operating methods in an environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

The 35 sessions, workshops and roundtables of the Spring Forum for higher education international affairs covered a broad range of topics ranging from the Talent Boost activities of higher education institutions to the risks and challenges of international cooperation and current themes in international mobility. Perhaps the most discussed subject matter of the Forum was international talent, in regard to which the topics discussed included the integration of foreign students into Finnish higher education institutions and society and measures for promoting the employment of foreigners.

After three intense days, the Spring Forum for higher education international affairs ended with a closing plenary organised by the Forum for International Policies coordinated by the Ministry of Education and Culture. The key issue explored by the expert panels was Finland's role in a changing and increasingly unpredictable international operating environment. How can we navigate changing political and economic circumstances while defending the autonomy of science and upholding the values of Finnish higher education? In her keynote, Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto's State Secretary Johanna Sumuvuori provided a background for the changed state of international politics and the rise of power politics at the expense of a multipolar and rule-based world order. The destabilisation of the rule-based world order also poses new challenges for Finland, for which multilateral international cooperation has provided opportunities to engage with a wide variety of different countries and regions.

The panel of the Team Finland Knowledge network’s experts highlighted the status and situation of higher education especially in China, India and the United States. In the closing panel, President Ilkka Niemelä, Director Jonna Korhonen, President Örjan Andersson and State Secretary Johanna Sumuvuori highlighted the resilience needed in the international affairs of the scientific world and higher education institutions in the midst of changing international political situations. The key is for higher education institutions to be extensively networked and ready for change. The panelists had faith in the appeal of Finland and the Nordic countries and in the still increasing international appreciation of their high-quality higher education and pure nature. Being able to successfully attract talent remains a vital issue for Finnish higher education institutions as well.

Encounters with colleagues arriving from different parts of Finland and discussions in the hallways and during coffee breaks and the evening party are also a major focus of the Spring Forum. The joy of reunion felt at the event was almost tangible. It is therefore a pleasure to announce that the Spring Forum for higher education international affairs will be resuming its previous rhythm, with next year’s Spring Forum to be hosted by the Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences. See you in Seinäjoki in May 2024!