Monday, June 3, 2013

Attracting international talents- internationalization of higher education on the agenda in the Central Baltic Sea region

Experts from Central Baltic Sea Regions and Asian countries share experience and best practices in talent retention.

“Education is our passport to the future”; internationalized and internationally competitive education is our passport to a flourishing future. In Latvia which is one of the fastest growing EU economies, Riga Conference ‘Internationalization of Higher Education” has aroused interest from media, universities and governments in finding ways to the future of its education in a global market.
‘supported by the EU Interreg 4 A Central Baltic programme, as part of the Expat Project, the conference aims to raise awareness and attention of decision makers on the possibilities offered by the internationalization of higher education in the context of economic growth’, one of the main organizers Emils Rode indicated.
‘For Latvia higher education system, it is necessary not only to increase the number of students, but also to introduce intercultural environment,’ Prof. Marcis Auzins, the rector of University of Latvia , explained: ‘Starting to get to know foreigners from a young age will make it easier to work with people from different culture later.’
Dr. Frank Kraushaar, Head of Asian Studies Department of University of Latvia stated: 'An open academic environment is significant for Latvia to integrate international community that knows and respects its members, regardless of their political and economic power.’
Professor Yrjö Sotamaa sharing Aalto Univeristy's story.
 As one of the initiators, Professor Yrjö Sotamaa told the story of Aalto University: how has it been developed from a local art and design college into the most international university in Finland. He recommended many simple but effective methods such as International conference which was held two to four times a year by Aalto University. It invites leading experts within the industry from around the world to share their experience and join open conversations. For the university, this has brought ‘mentors’ in addition to a flow of new ideas home.  Cumulus Association is another good example. It was founded in 1990 and hosted by Aalto University.  Over the years it has grown from 6 members to 187 members from 46 countries and become a worldwide forum for partnership and transfer of knowledge and best practices.
  In the afternoon, parallel roundtable sessions were organized on three themes: ‘soft landing policy’, ‛human and social capital’ and ‘Far-away countries’. Participants chose to join in the session based on their interest.
Ms. Getter Tiirik, adviser from Migration and Border Policy Department of Estonian Ministry of the Interior, took a four-hour bus trip from Tallinn to Riga to attend the conference.  ‘A new Alien Act proposal has been submitted to the Parliament of Estonia waiting for adoption’, she told: ‘we have a lot to learn and to do in order to attract more international talents to Estonia and improve their integration into society.’ She joined ‘soft landing policy’ panel:’I really liked that conference. Especially I liked workshop topic and discussion what we had there. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland are different, but also so similar in some ways and there is need to share our challanges. I think it was really useful, because it´s always one of the best ways get to know others expiriences and to learn from their knowledge. Expat project and it´s conclusions are useful for NGO-s and policy-makers, so I hope there will be other seminars-conferences what will focus on expats and friendly enviroment topics.

Mikko Toivonen (right) addressed challenges students face while settling in.
With those who are committed into improving the access of international graduates to local labour markets, Mikko Toivonen, head of Career Services from University of Helsinki shared his experience on how to enhance employment through teachings and degree programs.  According to Toivonen, lacking of network and insufficient Finnish language skills are the two biggest challenges in FInland. Solutions in Helsinki region are mentoring program, expectation management and diversified language courses.  
Facing almost similar challenges, National Taiwan University from afar applies different strategies. Professor Hsinyu Lee, Deputy Dean of International Affairs presented their internationalization plans: during freshman and sophomore years, oversea students are required to study general Chinese classes for at least one year; during junior and senior years, most of department required courses are offered in Chinese.  The university also has regional target: from developed countries, they accept students majoring in liberal arts, social science and political science; from developing countries, they accept students majoring in civil engineering, computer science, agriculture and technology.
After the conference, guests from afar were wandering in the beautiful Riga Old Town. They exclaimed: "Riga is such a charming city!" Indeed, despite international students are less than one percent of locals now, this city and this country have the potential to become more international and catch up with the rest of Central Baltic Sea Regions. “To achieve that, cooperation and learning from each other is preconditions for regional growth. And this is why The Expat-project is here!” exclaimed Ms. Christine Chang, the project manager of the Expat-project, Uusimaa Regional Council.
Videos of speaker sessions available at:

-Li Chen-

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