How to get a headache by winning an award

How to get a headache by winning an award

This is the first blog in a series of posts highlighting some of the 2013 EAIE Award winners and the significant contributions they have made to the international higher education field. Read the University of Helsinki’s award story. As the winner of the 2013 EAIE Institutional Award for Innovation in Internationalisation, they’ve shared some tips and takeaways derived from the university’s initiatives and strategies.

The University of Helsinki received the EAIE Institutional Award for Innovation in Internationalisation at the 25th Annual EAIE Conference in Istanbul.  I have to say it was one of the highlights of my career in international higher education to date. However, it did also present me with a problem, or maybe even a headache. The physical form of the award is a rectangular piece of glass weighing more than a kilo. What was my problem, you might ask? No, it was not carrying it back home – there was even a nice box for it. My problem, rather, was where on earth I should put it at the University.

The dilemma

We were given the award because of our approach to internationalisation, which we refer to as ‘embedded’. The University of Helsinki believes that internationalisation is part and parcel of all university activities; research, education, engagement and their support functions. As a consequence, we have no international office but rather international operators in various places of our organisation. So, no international office; no natural place for the glass piece.

How about the Rector’s office then? Would that not be a good place? Maybe, but wouldn’t that give a wrong picture to the university community? If internationalisation is to be part of everything, why should the symbol sit in an office rarely seen by the majority of the community? The same went for the Vice-Rector International.

For a very brief second I was tempted to keep the award in my own office. After all, this will probably be the closest I would ever come to winning an Oscar. But no, keeping it all to myself would seriously undermine the idea that the award as well as the approach is really a result of continued cooperation throughout the University.

University of Helsinki’s internationalisation model

As the winner of the Institutional Award, we were given an opportunity to have a dedicated session to our approach to internationalisation at the EAIE Conference in Istanbul. Rather than simply verbalising the application we submitted, we decided to present four cases signifying the four key words or operating principles of our approach. ‘ECCE’ is an acronym for Embedding, Communication, Cooperation and Excellence, four concepts that really form the backbone of our way of promoting internationalisation throughout the University.  The presenters represented different areas of expertise; international teaching, student services, people working with our staff exchange week and last but certainly not least, our Student Union.

We presented four cases with the intention of convincing our audience that embedded internationalisation has not, in the case of the University of Helsinki, led to isolation or invisibility of international work. For the first key word, Embedding, we chose our international staff exchange week, which unlike many corresponding weeks is not exclusive of people working in areas normally designated as ‘international’. Every year we receive people in such areas as university finances, HR, strategic management, etc. Often the people coming to Helsinki are on their first business trip abroad and the added advantage is that the units receiving these guests are also exposed to international benchmarking and have to be able to interact with the visitors in English.

For our second theme, Communication, we chose to present the revamping of various online services for new international students. Previously isolated channels such as blogs, facebook  and a new entry portal were re-designed as a whole, requiring significant cooperation between different offices and actors.

We had a Student Union representative to present the third key word, Cooperation. The Student Union of the University of Helsinki is a rather special one since it provides services which in most other places would be the responsibility of the university. Student accommodation, cafeterias, health care centres and day care are just a few examples of services that students depend on the Student Union to provide. The same goes for internationalisation; the Student Union is a vital partner for the University of Helsinki when it comes to integrating international students with the larger student body.

The final ‘E’ in ECCE is for Excellence. A newly established Teachers’ Academy aims to improve teaching and highlight its importance. The members were selected based on the quality of their teaching and their commitment to improving it throughout the University.  They represent different fields of study and have independently formed various working groups. Right from the onset, the Academy has worked to tackle the issues related to international education. This goes to show that internationalisation often permeates different university activities quite naturally.

Embedding internationalisation at your institution

Whenever I present our Embedded Internationalisation model, I am often faced with a comment along the lines of “This would not work at our university” or “We are not there yet”. To tell you the truth, the University of Helsinki is not “there” either. I feel like we have only just started. Every day and every week shows quite clearly, how the agenda for internationalisation of higher education is broadening with all kinds of new issues emerging – rankings and MOOCs just to name two recent ones. I believe that in order to be able to face these new challenges, a university needs to embrace internationalisation much more than most do. Learn more about the details of the University of Helsinki’s embedded internationalisation approach through this presentation.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you how the issue of displaying the award was resolved. I ended up taking it on a grand tour of our four campuses and numerous buildings and put together a slideshow showing that the award – just like internationalisation – belongs everywhere and is the responsibility of everyone in the University community.

Author: Markus Laitinen, Head of International Affairs, University of Helsinki

Markus Laitinen
University of Helsinki, FinlandMarkus Laitinen of the University of Helsinki, Finland is the President of the EAIE.