Interview Julia Nevmerzhitskaya

Julia Nevmerzhitskaya
Senior Lecturer,
Business Management and Tourism

How do you see/What is your opinion about the internationalization of the higher education in Finland and in your university?

I think this question is deeper than it might seem at first. To me the concept of internationalization has many aspects, such as, for example, international/global perspective in curricular planning; language of instructions; competences and skills of teaching/mentoring staff; amount of students from outside Finland interested in studies in Finland; amount of Finnish graduates employed in international positions both in Finland and abroad etc.

To me one important question when speaking about internationalization of education is the goals behind this process. That is, what do we want to achieve by internationalizing? Because, if we want to attract qualified and competent workforce to Finland, then internationalization of education should probably be implemented based on the needs of foreign students: curricula has to be oriented at providing skills and knowledge of Finnish working environment, laws etc, Finnish language has to be emphasized much stronger à all activities should be targeted at integrating international talent into Finnish life. However, if the goal of internationalization is to offer education that can be valid for making international career, regardless of the country a graduate will work, then the emphasis should be on internationally/globally important skills and competences (such as cross-cultural communication, international trade and law, talent management etc) – those subjects and competences that can be used at work regardless what country we talk about. In this case it does not matter if we educate Finnish or foreign students in my opinion. To me this second goal is similar to what Switzerland is doing with their higher education system, which is valued all over the world.

At Laurea internationalization is one of the strategic goals. It has been measured by amount of international R&D projects, cooperation with top-level partners from abroad, mobility and other measures. But to me, a person who has been at this UAS for 8 years and seen how DP in Business Management in English was closed down in Hyvinkää, now Tourism degree will disappear as well as degree in Social Services in Otaniemi, the question of the linkage between strategy and practice is still open. For example, Tourism degree in English has attracted a lot of Finnish students who want international career, and our graduation statistics show that many of them do go and work abroad, and get positions in Finland that involve international competences. At the same time this programme has also been very popular among international students. Now this programme is closing and the only English programme loosely related to Hospitality Management in Laurea is Facility management – a programme basically targeted at foreign students who are to stay in Finland and work in maintenance. I personally see no logic in that at all…

I think internationalization can also be done in Finnish programmes with Finnish teachers and students, however, to me the point is to be very clear about the goals we want to achieve, and then connecting the ends and means to these goals.

How is the student body of your study program (meaning the ratio between international and Finnish students)?

DP in Tourism has had 4 intakes so far. Approximate numbers: intake 2008-2009 was 25 students, out of which about 15 were foreign and 10 Finnish. Intake 2009-2010 – 25 students, 10 foreign and 15 Finnish; intake 2012 – 2011, 40 students, 25 Finnish and 15 foreign; and intake 2011 – 2012, 40 students, 30 Finnish and 10 foreign.

So, the trend is clearly to have more Finnish students applying to Eng programmes. However, the ratio changes during the second year of studies due to the fact that 5-7 Finnish students usually drop out after the first year, and up to 10-12 foreign transfer students get accepted, so the proportion changes dramatically by the second year of studies.

In your opinion, what is important in teaching the diverse student body?

Enthusiasm, motivation and passion towards the subject you teach. The rest (such as well-discussed cross-cultural competence, cultural awareness, etc) comes secondary, in my opinion. Also, respect and appreciation of diverse students is essential.

Speaking about practicalities of teaching diverse groups. I found in important to have clear rules that apply for everybody, regardless of their background. Deadlines are deadlines, copy-pasting is cheating, free riding in team work is not accepted, just to mention few most common issues. However, helping students to see their own potential; helping them to identify their own role and what they are good at, is a skill good teachers of diverse groups should have.

How would you guide a student who is interested to remain in Finland after the graduation?

My guide list:

  1. Understand why do you want to stay in Finland, and be honest about it: do you have career goals, or you simply do not want to come back to your native country? For the career goals see below. For the second reason get married to a Finn.
  2. Be proactive from the first year of your studies. Take part in visits, interviews and projects offered by teachers. When a visitor comes from a company, prepare yourself: ask several questions, try to engage in a conversation when appropriate. Introduce yourself and get “”noticed. Contacts you get from school assignments and projects are your first step in creating network in Finland.
  3. Take part in extra activities. For example, Laurea organizes events related to entrepreneurship, project management etc etc. Most of these events are for free for the students. Go there and show off! Meet people, show your interest, leave contact details and soon you might be contacted with the job/project offer.
  4. Create own project portfolio. List all the projects you have participated during your studies, identify your role in these projects, commissioner, outcomes of the project for the commissioner and your learning experience. Everybody know how hard it is for a foreigner to get (first) job in Finland, so the project portfolio will act as a proof of your professional experience.
  5. Again project work in own UAS or other educational institutions. Often project assistant is the easiest way to get work experience, and due to the project nature of the studies nowadays there are relatively many open positions for up to 6 months. Even unpaid, take it – you’ll get to know the basics of project management, again get to know people and if your work is good, you might be offered further paid contract.
  6. One way to remain in Finland is to continue studies. So, remember to keep good grades, as often it is a prerequisite for further education.
  7. Be realistic. You need to be better at something than a Finnish person is, to get a position. Know your strengths and weaknesses. If you cannot think of something you are better at, go to issue 5.
  8. One way to remain is also to think of your own business in Finland.

How do you see the employment opportunities for you students in Finland?

At the moment most of our international graduates remained in Finland, however, the sample is very small (some 10-15 international graduates from Tourism degree, all graduated during 2011 academic year). About 5 of them went to Rovaniemi University to continue Master education. Others are living in Finland based on family tiers (3 are married to a Finn) and/or work permits (maintenance and catering are the main areas of employment).

Overall I am skeptical about employment opportunities of international students in Finland. Even with fluent Finnish and relevant work experience, they need to be still better at something than a Finnish person with same qualifications (which is natural, of course). Taking into account also overall employment situation in Finland now, I do not see much opportunities for foreign graduates.