Universitas Helsingiensis

The challenge of global education

The challenge of global education Finland is a small nation, but we have a long and strong tradition in higher education. Investment in research and development is, relatively speaking, among the highest in the world, and all Finnish universities provide research-based education that meets high international standards. Internationalisation of our academic life, both at home and abroad, is one of the major strategic goals of the University of Helsinki. But new challenges and opportunities are arising with the current process of globalisation.

Globalisation has many aspects and dimensions. New methods of communication have transformed the world into a “global village”, with a multicultural mixture of values. Humanity faces global problems (such as those associated with the environment, natural resources, population, poverty, and diseases) that urgently need global solutions. Even though there is still room for international activities, i.e. interaction and co-operation between nation states, there are also new kinds of global actors: transnational business firms are competing in the worldwide economic market, while political organizations strive for “fair globalisation” or “globalisation with a human face”.

In this historic situation, universities should “go global” as well. They should be actors operating “glocally”, both locally and globally. By research they can try to understand the process of globalisation, its causes and consequences, and by teaching they can contribute to social and political attempts to influence the direction of this process.

The Ministry of Education has recently launched its Global Education 2010 Programme with a book entitled Education for Global Responsibility - Finnish Perspectives, edited by Monica Melén-Paaso and Taina Kaivola. Following the United Nations Millennium development goals, global education is defined to include development education, human rights education, education for sustainability, education for peace and conflict prevention, and intercultural education.

As a matter of fact, Finnish universities have already done quite a lot in meeting the challenge of global education. Finnish scholars started to explore the world, its nature and cultures, in the 18th century. University professors helped to establish Finland as a model of democracy and as a welfare state, with excellent systems of education and health care. Worldwide environmental and social issues have been in the focus of many traditional academic disciplines – such as meteorology, biology, medicine, forestry, history, philosophy, linguistics, anthropology, sociology, political science, law, and education. Besides the Institute for Asian and African Studies at the University of Helsinki, the Renvall Institute for Area and Cultural Studies includes multidisciplinary studies on Russia, Asia-Pacific, North America, and Latin America. Important openings of new fields of research include peace research (Tampere, 1970), development studies (Helsinki, 1973), futures research (Turku, 1992), and intercultural communication (Jyväskylä). New interdisciplinary units include the Institute for Human Rights (Åbo Academy, 1985), the Institute for International Economic Law (Helsinki, 1991), and the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights (Helsinki, 1998).

Additional support for global education is obtained from scientific associations (Finnish Society for Development Studies, Finnish Society for Futures Studies) and networks (Finland Futures Academy, Finnish Universities Partnership for International Development). The Academy of Finland finances research through its Development Research Strategy. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs has its own development policy, and the Parliament of Finland supports a Committee for the Future and the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

Exchange of students and teachers is facilitated by bilateral agreements between universities and by the national Centre for International Mobility (CIMO). Global topics are addressed by many worldwide associations such as the International Association of Universities (IAU). Important networks include the European Master Programme in Human Rights and Democratisation (Venice, 41 universities) and the Baltic University Programme (Uppsala, 180 universities).

A new opportunity for Finnish universities will become available in 2008 resulting from the law that allows the provision of commissioned tailor-made education or the export of education, when the commission comes from and is paid for by some public organisation and the students come from outside Europe.

It may thus seem that Finland is already promoting global education by many instruments. But it should be noted that most projects in this field are based on low budgets and short-term contracts. Adequate and stable basic funding would assist universities in the promotion of education for global responsibility.

Ilkka Niiniluoto