Internationalisation, please!

This week has marked the International Week both in the student union and at the university. But what does internationality actually mean in the context of universities? Students and researchers from abroad, teaching and courses in English, opportunities for international student mobility? Internationalisation does not only mean these, but also possibilities for internationalisation at the home campus. This is exactly what is the purpose of the International Week. Finnish and foreign students still hang out too much in their own bubbles, thus more contacts between students representing different nationalities are needed. If international community becomes familiar already during studies, the multicultural working life feels normal as well.

However, internationalisation at Finnish universities cannot be taken for granted. The current funding model for universities does not support internationalisation but the funding is shared mainly based on the number of graduating students. When it comes to global student mobility to Europe, Finland is far away from the most popular destinations; more than half of the non-European students migrate to the Great Britain, Germany and France. Moreover, the statistics of Finnish National Agency for Education indicate that the number of exchange periods to abroad have decreased during the last two years by ten percent. At Tampere University the situation is however slightly better than elsewhere in Finland. In 2018 approximately 4 800 university students went on exchange for more than three months. In average every fifth student in Finnish universities goes on abroad during their studies. The Ministry of Education and Culture has set a goal to double the number of exchange periods by the year 2030. There is a great variation in student mobility between different study fields. The students of business, administration and law go on exchange far more often than students of technical sciences and medicine.

Due to its closeness, Europe is a natural source and target destination of student mobility for us. More than two thirds of Finnish university students go on exchange to Europe. On the other hand, the number of Asian students arriving to Finland is growing steadily. Considering the global problems we need to solve in the future, we cannot rely only on Europe. There are 1.5 billion Chinese speakers in the world and 300 million Arabic speakers, almost the same amount as people who speak Spanish as their mother tongue. The university should offer language teaching in non-European languages, too, so that Finnish graduates could compete in a truly global market.

In addition to learning other languages, internationalisation includes communication between different cultures. The readiness to understand and encounter people representing other cultures is a key competence both in the working life and outside of it. Currently only immigration contributes to the population growth in Finland, and we need more international workers in the future. Although we might consider ourselves international already, there is still a lot of work to do. I would like to see more internationality and encounters between different cultures in our student associations as well. Next year we in the student union will focus on the participation of international students. To achieve our goal of increased participation we also need you!

Anne Mäki-Rahkola, Specialist in International Affairs and Advocacy