TFK programme’s Call 2023 supports cooperation with Ukraine

Programmes Higher education Global Cooperation Team Finland Knowledge Internationalisation Ukraine
Nuoret pitävät käsissään maapalloa ja hymyilevät.

The purpose of the Team Finland Knowledge programme (TFK) is to create and strengthen cooperation between Finnish higher education institutions and the target regions and countries selected to the TFK network. In 2023 the TFK progamme arranges a separate call for applications for Ukraine. The aim of the Call is to support Finnish higher education institutions’ collaboration with Ukrainian higher education institutions (HEIs) and support Ukraine with the development and rebuilding of its higher education.

The Finish National Agency for Education (EDUFI) organized a regional webinar on Ukraine in March 2023. During the webinar specialist Minna Hakkarainen from the Embassy of Finland in Kyiv and specialist Sari Eriksson from the Ministry for Education and Culture in Finland discussed, what should be taken into consideration when planning cooperation with the Ukrainian higher education institutions.

Higher education highly valued in Ukraine

According to the specialist Minna Hakkarainen the structure of the Ukrainian education system is very similar to the Finnish education system. Compared internationally Ukrainians are well-educated and many Ukrainians want to complete a higher education degree. Specialist Sari Eriksson emphasizes that Ukraine has a vast higher education sector which consists of 515 HEIs. Approximately 970,000 students are enrolled at the HEIs and Ukraine is a popular destination for foreign students as well, especially among students from India and African countries.

Challenges for Ukrainian education include a decline in the number of students due to the aging population and the increasing number of Ukrainian students studying abroad. 60 percent of the Ukrainian students studying abroad study in EU countries, of which the most popular are Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic. According to Eriksson the brain drain creates a longstanding challenge also for scientific research in Ukraine. The ongoing war has not helped the situation and approximately 22,000 scientists have emigrated to other countries since the beginning of the war.

When it comes to the rebuilding of the Ukrainian education and scientific research sector, Ukraine has expressed strong interest in the Finnish education competence. Therefore, Finland has an excellent opportunity to provide support for the rebuilding and development of the Ukrainian education sector.

The Russian aggression’s significant impacts on Ukrainian HEIs and students

Approximately 20 percent of the Ukrainian infrastructure has been destroyed by the Russian aggression. Consequently, electricity and internet connections, for example, are down in many areas of the country and a vast number of Ukrainians have had to relocate internally or flee abroad. In the Russian bombings directed at civilian targets also HEIs have been destroyed and some of the HEIs have moved their operations from one area to another. The situation in the occupied regions remains mostly unclear.

Despite the Russian aggression Ukrainian HEIs continue to provide students with teaching. However, face-to-face teaching has proved to be impossible in many areas. According to Hakkarainen organizing face-to-face teaching is only possible if the teaching facilities are located in close proximity to bomb shelters. Therefore, most of the HEIs have transferred to online teaching or hybrid teaching.

The security situation in Ukraine and the lack of internet connections and electronic devises among others pose essential challenges to the operations of the HEIs in terms of the continuity. In addition, many Ukrainians suffer from trauma and stress due to the war, which impacts the students’ and teachers’ ability to study and teach as well as the operations of the HEIs in general. Hakkarainen emphasizes that as a result the demand for psychological support in Ukraine is extensive.

Listen to the Ukrainian partners and their needs when building cooperation

Discussion with possible Ukrainian partners is essential because the impacts of the war differ from region to region in Ukraine. Listening to the Ukrainian HEIs and taking into consideration their needs provide the best basis for planning cooperation. It also helps Finnish HEIs to gain an understanding of how the TFK programme’s funding could be best used to support the Ukrainian higher education sector. Forms of cooperation could include joint study programmes or diplomas as well as mobilities. As the ongoing war sets its own difficulties for mobilities, the funding of the Call for Ukraine in regards to mobilities is primarily intended for supporting mobilities from Ukraine to Finland.

In addition to the impacts of the Russian aggression, there are other practical challenges in establishing cooperation with Ukrainian partners. Among others these include a possible language barrier and using technology in teaching. Ukrainians and Finns do not necessarily have a common language as many Ukrainians do not speak fluent English. In addition to the challenges with internet connections one should keep in mind Ukrainians' preferences in using technology when planning joint teaching. Currently, Ukrainians prefer using applications, which can be used on mobile phones and use as little data as possible. Furthermore, even though similar tools and platforms are used both in Finland and Ukraine, the Ukrainian Moodle platform, for example, is simpler in structure than the one used in Finland. Despite the possible language barrier and differences in the use of technology, Hakkarainen underlines that there are still plenty of cooperation opportunities with Ukraine and encourages Finnish HEIs to discuss these opportunities directly with the Ukrainian partners.