Vocational institutions modify their EU projects in support of Ukrainians – Sedu and Taitotalo rolled up their sleeves

Programmes Erasmus+ Erasmus+ for vocational education Internationalisation Ukraine
Erasmus+ projects can be modified to help those fleeing the war in Ukraine. Taitotalo and Seinäjoki Joint Municipal Authority for Education (Sedu) use their project grants to hire Ukrainian experts to support the integration of other Ukrainians at the institutions.
Kuvassa Ukrainan lippu, taustalla metsä ja taivasta.

In September 2022, Sedu and Taitotalo were the first Finnish vocational institutions to seize the opportunity of updating their Erasmus+ project activities to help those fleeing the war in Ukraine.

The European Commission had already decided in March that Erasmus+ projects could be adapted to help Ukrainians if this is compatible with the project theme.

Seinäjoki Joint Municipal Authority for Education Sedu seized this opportunity and used the funding for a personnel exchange, in other words expert mobility. Sedu’s Erasmus+ project involved an Invited Expert activity, in which organisations can invite teachers, trainers or other qualified professionals from abroad to assist with education development.

Olena Nikitova had fled Ukraine to Finland, and with the support of project funding, Sedu recruited her to help with various tasks related to Ukrainian students’ education and training.

“For example, Olena has helped us in the new preparatory education for programmes leading to an upper secondary qualification (TUVA), in which twenty Ukrainians are studying at Sedu in Lapua," says Juha Riippi, Sedu’s International Affairs Specialist.

Olena Nikitova työskentelee tietokoneella. Olenalla on pitkät tummat hiukset.
Olena Nikitova fled from Ukraine and is now working at Sedu in teaching assistance tasks.

More than just an interpreter

Nikitova had already worked at Sedu in a fixed-term employment relationship last spring, and her teaching and training period in the autumn semester was a natural way of extending it. Nikitova mostly works together with the teacher who instructs the TUVA group, which consists of Ukrainian students.

While Nikitova is a professional interpreter and teacher of English, she does not only serve as an interpreter for the group. Nikitova’s Ukrainian language proficiency is naturally an enormous benefit for Sedu, as not all Ukrainian students at the institution or their guardians speak English.

"In her home country, Olena worked as an education planner, and her job description at Sedu is also versatile. For example, she produced marketing material in Ukrainian for a local government pilot project on the employment of immigrants.”

As the Ukrainian education system is quite different from its Finnish counterpart, Riippi says that Nikitova has an important role as an interpreter of the school culture. 

“Her work has been really crucial. We hope that we can also offer her a job in the future, in one way or another.”

Both Sedu and Taitotalo have accreditation for Erasmus+ mobility projects, which means regular annual funding for students’ and staff members’ international mobility periods.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a large part of the funding intended for student and staff mobility remained unused.

"In this sense, the support for Ukrainians does not reduce our funding for any other purposes", Riippi says.

Taitotalo's company network is willing to help

Taitotalo is the largest Finnish institution in the field of vocational adult education, and it has been making plans for the integration, training and employment of those who have fled Ukraine since the beginning of the war.

Taitotalo seized the opportunity to modify its Erasmus+ project activities as soon as we heard about it, says Heli Pispala-Tapio, trainer and Coordinator of International Affairs at Taitotalo. Taitotalo decided to use apprenticeship training to implement its plan.

“Our institution has many business and organisation partners and also an extensive apprenticeship training network. Our partners also have a strong willingness to help Ukrainians and immigrants in general", says Pispala-Tapio.

With Ukrainians and other immigrants in mind, Taitotalo has explored sectors experiencing shortages of labour. They include the construction industry, social welfare and health care jobs, and the cleaning and property services sector.

Information of the available support should be spread

One of the solutions offered by Taitotalo is apprenticeship training for Ukrainians in the cleaning and property services sector. A few Ukrainians had been recruited for the training in early autumn.

Taitotalo is about to invite a Ukrainian language teacher on Erasmus+ funding to join the Taitotalo team that organises apprenticeship training.

“The idea is that this person would provide linguistic support but also support and encourage the students in general. He or she would be part of our team and, for example, assist workplace instructors.”

Erasmus+ project funding, which consists of travel support, individual support and special needs support, can be granted to Ukrainian teachers and also students whose vocational studies in Ukraine have been interrupted by the war.

It would be a good idea to actively spread information and share experiences of the possibility to support Ukrainians with EU project funding, both in Finland and elsewhere," says Pispala-Tapio.

“I recently participated in an Erasmus+ seminar in Riga, which was attended by dozens of VET representatives from eleven countries. It turned out that only a handful of European institutions made use of this support for Ukrainians enabled by Erasmus+”, says Pispala-Tapio.