Finland’s competitive edge: collaboration

Finland’s competitive edge: collaboration Helsinki 2019

Collaboration is not only one of the EAIE’s core values, but also an integral feature of the work we all do in the internationalisation of higher education. As we kick off the 31st Annual EAIE Conference and Exhibition in Helsinki, immediate past President Markus Laitinen offers us a glimpse into Finland’s culture of teamwork as a model for our path forward.

Finland is extremely keen on ice hockey, and every spring a lot of public and media attention is paid to the World Championships. One of the biggest talking points is always how many Finnish players from the National Hockey League (NHL) in North America will join the national team for the tournament. The NHL attracts the best players globally, and for the countries competing in the World Championships, getting as many of them as possible to come home to play for their country of origin is considered the recipe for success.

Before the 2019 championships this May, Finns were disappointed to learn that only two out of 24 players would make their way from the NHL to the tournament. Surely that meant that Finland had no chance of doing very well, let alone winning. However, at the end of the tournament, Finns celebrated their third ever World Championship. How could this be – what was the recipe for success?

Collaboration is key

After careful analysis, it was agreed that a major factor in Finland winning the championship was that individual players truly played for the team, rather than being focused on their personal performance. In other words, the individuals played exceedingly well as a team: they collaborated.

The same can be said about the Finnish international higher education sector. Collaboration and sharing have been a significant feature in how it has developed during its 30-year history. Right around the same time the EAIE was founded, the first people working in international offices of Finnish universities started organising national meetings, which have subsequently developed into the sector coming together every spring with 300–500 participants. It is not only collaboration between higher education institutions, however, but also with other stakeholders such as the student organisations, Ministry of Education and Culture, Finnish National Agency for Education EDUFI (formerly CIMO), cities, regional authorities and many others. When it comes to international higher education, there is a definite team spirit and a culture of sharing.

Fostering a sense of community

As a relatively small country, everybody working in internationalisation knows most everybody else and can trust others to help with issues or concerns in their daily work. Even if internationalisation has grown in complexity and increased significantly in size, the spirit of collaboration and mutual support has remained. One notable good practice facilitating cooperation is the newcomers’ session organised by EDUFI. Every year people new to the business are brought together for learning and networking experience, as well as being introduced to some of us old-timers, providing participants insights to career development and a way to become part of the Finnish international higher education team.

When you cannot solely rely on having all the best players, you have to rely on other things. You have to play smart and support others, perhaps at the cost of personal glory. Much like the Finnish ice hockey World Champions, our international higher education team is all about collaboration. We welcome all attendees of the 31st Annual EAIE Conference to witness this for themselves!

Markus Laitinen
University of Helsinki, FinlandMarkus Laitinen is Head of International Affairs of the University of Helsinki and is the immediate past President of the EAIE.