There are currently 15 700 international students studying in Finnish universities. Working with international students brings the world to the service desks and classrooms.
Internationalization has recently become a major part of the universities’ strategy, especially in terms of issues such as efficiency, competitiveness, and image. Equal and quality higher education for all is one of the major challenges of twenty-first century education. Without a doubt, the international degree students’ experiences are to be found behind this phenomenon.
Strategy for Internationalization of Higher Education Institutions in Finland, issued by the Ministry of Education and Culture in Finland, has established a goal to increase the number of international degree students to 20 000 by the year 2015. Pitkänen (2007) emphasizes that in every society in the world and especially in Finland, it is of utmost importance to strive to improve the intercultural interaction and collaboration among people so as to achieve harmony through which political, social, and economic success can be achieved.
The strategy for Finland has been criticized for not retaining the talent of academic and highly educated foreign students. The increased internationalization and diversity of students in all levels of education in Finland is challenging the Finnish educational system. Education has traditionally been planned for a uniform student body with national standards and policies. Nevertheless, the migratory pattern has presented schools and universities alike with a historically unseen diversity of different social, linguistic, religious, and cultural realities of students.
The task of successfully preparing the services, educators, and study counselors in Finland to implement and understand the ever-increasing, diverse student body presents a pressing challenge. The attractiveness of Finland as a business, work, and living environment has been identified as one of the core areas of improvement in the internationalization strategies. Yet the resources that international students bring to the work and living environment are still not recognized well enough in our society.
According to Arja Majakulma (2011), from the higher education institutions’ point of view, the motivations to recruit international students are: strengthening the internationalization of institutions, creating international learning environments, and improving the quality of education. During the VALOA project, it was interesting to notice that especially universities of applied sciences are already quite international, as they also have a lot of teaching staff with a non-Finnish background. Traditional universities have hired fewer non-native Finns from outside the Finnish borders.
Majakulma’s (2011) study also shows that study programs should be developed so that students become integrated in the local society. Universities should not only provide academic preparation, but effectively prepare students for the labor market and for life. Majakulma’s study indicates that the following factors support the employability of international students: country/Finland-specific competence, personal characteristics, professional competence, cultural competence and language skills, job-seeking skills, and networks.
International students and staff build an image of Finland during their studies on the basis of their opportunities to participate and the quality of studies. According to Nancy Arthur (IAEVG 2011), the international students’ decision to stay or leave is affected by many factors that they have to reflect on upon their graduation. One of the factors is the influence of the host country: how integrated the students feel and how they perceive their opportunities and the hospitality of their study country. These are important factors that should be carefully discussed in the strategies for internationalization in society and in individual universities.
Dervin, F. 2010. Transcending the Culturalist Impasse in Stays Abroad: Helping Mobile Students to Appreciate Diverse Diversities
Strategy for the Internationalisation of Higher Education Institutions in Finland 2009–2015
Valtonen, K. 2001, "Immigrant integration in the welfare state: social work’s growing arena",
European Journal of Social Work, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 247-262.