The University of Oulu has ambitious internationalisation goals

Universities have always been international but with varying levels and objectives. The University of Oulu has ambitious goals to deepen its internationalisation and to improve the integration and retention of international experts in Finland. This is also a ministerial requirement.
Hanna Saarela ja Katja Nieminen
Pictured from left: Project Manager Hanna Saarela and Head of International Affairs Katja Nieminen.

“For me, internationalisation means challenging myself and continuously seeking opportunities to broaden my views,” says Katja Nieminen, Head of International Affairs. “Living and working abroad for half of my life has had a profound impact on how I perceive the world and my place in it.”

Nieminen started as the Head of International Affairs at the University of Oulu in September 2021. Before returning to Finland, she worked abroad for over 20 years, including 18 at higher education institutions in England, most recently at the University of Sheffield.

The managerial role is new after the cessation of the equivalent position at the University of Oulu in the 2017 organisational reform. The Head of International Affairs heads the Office for International Affairs under the Unit for Strategy and Science Policy. The office is responsible for cross-cutting strategic steering and coordinating of the University’s international affairs.

“For the university, internationalisation is a way to enhance the quality of our teaching and research. It also provides an opportunity to demonstrate our excellence and impact for the benefit of the wider society locally and globally.”

Also International Mobility Services in Academic Affairs promotes university's internationalization by organizing student mobilities, traineeships and staff mobilities, coordinating mobility programs and supporting faculties in the international education projects.

The University of Oulu is already quite international: According to the 2021 statistics, only Aalto University and Svenska handelshögskolan (Hanken) have a higher proportion of international employees among the teaching and research staff. Also, our share of international funding for universities was the fourth largest in Finland. Fifty-four per cent of the international funding in 2021 was competitive EU funding.

“There are many qualitative dimensions to internationalisation. For example, international co-publications are proven to be more effective than domestic ones. There is also researched evidence on the benefits of internationalisation in developing students’ working life skills and the quality of employment,” Nieminen says.

Talent Boost promotes education-based immigration

Many internationalisation goals are coordinated through the Talent Boost programme, for which the University of Oulu has received state funding. The programme promotes the employment of highly educated international workers and the opportunities and willingness of employers to hire international experts. It also provides training for international experts and their spouses and improves the services offered to highly educated people already in Finland.

“One ambitious goal is to have 75% of the University’s foreign graduates find employment in Finland by 2030 at the latest. For example, we know that about 54% of non-Finns graduated from the University of Oulu in 2019 have been employed in Finland one year after graduation,” says Hanna Saarela, the University’s Talent Boost Project Manager.

The University of Oulu has prepared an “Internationalisation Action Plan: vision towards 2030”. The plan has been submitted for comments to the faculties, units and student union, and it is due to be approved by the University Board during the spring. The following subheadings refer to the different areas of the plan.

Diverse and inclusive campus community

Many of the University of Oulu’s internationalisation goals have to do with the diversity and inclusion of the campus community. The aim is to ensure a successful university experience for everyone through, for example, an open-minded and multilingual culture.

“An internationally and culturally diverse environment helps our students build successful careers in an increasingly global world. The opportunity to do an international internship or work and learn languages and intercultural and meta-skills deepens the student experience,” says Katja Nieminen.

Naturally, the variety of nationalities sometimes also brings world crises and tensions into the everyday life of campuses. Dealing with them requires expertise and sensitivity. The University of Oulu is one of the first higher education institutions in Finland to hire an expert on developing diversity, Taina Cooke.

The action plan for internationalisation will feature the goal of having at least half of the students include some international experience in their studies, such as an exchange period. A wide range of destinations can be found both in Europe and outside Europe.

Another ambitious goal concerns the number of Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees by foreign students. According to the agreement between the Ministry of Education and Culture and the University of Oulu, the number of completed degrees should be 520 by as early as 2024. Over the past four years, this number has varied between 139 and 266 per year.

Global learning experience

The University of Oulu aims to increase international student and staff exchanges and to achieve sustainable internationalisation at home, providing opportunities for international interaction without the need to travel.

Internationality is strengthened by international virtual courses, English-language degree programmes and joint degree programmes in cooperation with other higher education institutions. One such programme is the Master’s Degree Programme in Sustainable Mining by four universities in different countries. The programme started last autumn, with the first students coming from 11 countries. The project is funded by the European Union’s Erasmus+ Mundus programme.

The University’s Career Centre supports international students in finding a job after their studies.

“Many international students study in two-year Master’s programmes. It is important that they prepare for their job search, familiarise themselves with job opportunities and build networks throughout their studies. The Career Centre helps students, for example, to get acquainted with the labour market and culture, to identify their strengths, to plan their careers, and to draw up job application documents,” says Solution Designer Angela Suorsa.

World-leading research and reputation

The University of Oulu’s research profile is based on its strategy with nine profiling themes. The aim is to establish high-quality research contacts, particularly through the EU’s massive Horizon funding programme.

The scientific level and reputation are built, among other things, by the staff’s international mobility, international co-publications, funding and visibility in international media.

The reputation of the University of Oulu in Finland is good, but the international reputation is more difficult to measure. Indicative data can be obtained from university rankings that place value on reputation, such as the Times Higher Education and QS rankings.

Partnering with the best

The University of Oulu wants to prioritise international cooperation partnerships that best support quality, reputation, competitiveness, global responsibility and global sustainability perspectives.

Within the EU, the University’s main cooperation network is the European University of Cities in Post-Industrial Transition (UNIC), which started its activities in the autumn of 2020. Consisting of ten partner universities, the alliance supports its members’ internationalisation, mobility and international cooperation opportunities in the fields of education, research and societal impact. A total of 44 similar alliances have been established in the European Higher Education and Research Area.

“For the University of Oulu, UNIC is not a separate project but a strategic partnership alliance for long-term and deep cooperation between the partner universities and cities,” says Development Manager Henna Määttä.

“More than 300 course units have been opened so far as a result of the educational cooperation, with all the partner universities offering, for example, local language courses. Staff and students have got new opportunities for exchange periods, and there are two joint degree programmes being prepared.”

One of UNIC’s key themes is the promotion of diversity. The decision on further funding for the European University will be made in June 2023.

The University of Oulu has had a double degree programme in software production with the Chinese Nanjing Institute of Technology since 2018. So far, the programme has produced 84 Bachelor’s graduates. New double degree programmes with the same university are being planned. Also, we recently deepened cooperation with the University of Tokyo, the Japanese construction giant Shimizu and the Fulbright Finland Foundation.

The agreement with the Ministry of Education and Culture aims at seven significant cooperation agreements from 2021 to 2024.

“Partnerships must be strategic for us, and assessing them as a whole is important. We are assessing our current partnerships and developing operating models for cooperation with universities, research institutes and business partners,” says Vice Rector for Cooperation Arto Maaninen.

Besides independently established cooperation relationships, the Ministry of Education and Culture funds internationalisation pilots, of which the University of Oulu is involved in seven. The global programme’s pilots cover different continents and aim at new kinds of measures to strengthen Finland’s higher education and competence brand and partnerships globally. Within the EU, contacts are built, for example, through UNIC and Horizon funding, while the global pilots are used to support the building of cooperation relations outside Europe.

The development of internationality is linked to the Noste development programme for education. Launched at the University of Oulu, the programme is led by the Vice Rector for Education, Tapio Koivu, with Elina Niemitalo-Haapola as the Programme Manager.

The language policy programme of the University of Oulu
National Talent Boost programme

Last updated: 12.4.2023