22 SES 05 A, Inclusion and Diversity in Higher Education Settings
Parallel Paper Session
The number of foreign students is increasing rapidly in Finnish higher education institutions. Finland is very interested in foreign students for many reasons – e.g. the ongoing dramatic demographic process. From this perspective, the institutions have to strengthen their contents and methods to support international students in carrying out their studies and in promoting their integration into society. The official manifest of the MoE emphasises the following points: the institutions have to take care of the support activities for integrating the students into the Finnish work and living environment, they have to cooperate with regional actors. (MoE 2009.) Being a foreign student in Finland is not easy. Although studies are free of charge, many other mental and physical difficulties exist. These are very similar to those which the immigrants living in Finland have (Jasinskaja-Lahti et al. 2007): language, climate, silence etc. Also the concrete problems are the same: problems in finding work (including training places), difficulties in making contacts etc. (Koivisto & Juusela 2008.)
There are many surveys concerning the problems at the national level among foreign students. The situations in Finland vary a lot between big cities, small towns and the countryside. This is one factor which our UAS has taken as a starting point, when addressing the problems of foreign degree programme students. Our city is a medium-size one, situated 100 km from Helsinki. The number of foreigners is low and the level of internationalisation of business and industry is lower than average in Finland.
The difference, when comparing foreign students with immigrants, is that foreign students do not have integrating services which Finnish communities provide for immigrants. Students only have the services offered by their institutions and which are concentrated on studies. According to the surveys, foreign students would like to integrate socially, but the only possibility often seems to be the activities students unions provide. Our UAS emphasizes the holistic responsibility of students, and one attempt is the course Seeing Finland through Culture (SFTC, 3 credits). The aim of the course is support foreign students integrate into Finnish society by helping them to become familiar with culture which is understood from a wide perspective; nature, man-made material and immaterial artefacts. The lectures are based on music but also there are also lectures concerning literature, fine arts and design. The course includes visits to museums and events so that students can become familiar with them and so that they can form new networks. Consequently, they will find their ways to choirs, evening classes and other cultural hobbies.
Our research question is how to develop the content of the course to increase the cultural competence of the foreign students so that they can manage in their studies, in Finnish society and at work. From the viewpoint of Champion Freedom, Education and Development for All, this kind of research is significant because it helps to create the equal starting points for those who are outsiders of the dominant culture.
Halonen, T. & Aro, L. 2005. Suomalaiset symbolit (Finnish Symbols). Atena. Häme Development Centre 2011. Survey: Opinions about getting and having International Workers. Jasinskaja-Lahti, I., Liebkind, K. & Perhoniemi, R. (2007). Perceived ethnic discrimination at work and wellbeing of immigrants in Finland: The moderating role of employment status and work-specific group-level control beliefs. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 31, 223-242. Koivisto, Janna & Juusola, Henna 2008. “We need more English information about our study, life in Finland and this country”. Samok. Koskela, Jani 2009. Kohtaamisia ja kriisejä läpi ihmiselämän (Encounters and crisis through the human life). Aikuiskasvatus 29 (4), 248-255. Ministry of Education 2009 (MoE). Strategy for the Internationalisation of Higher Education Institutions in Finland 2009–2015. Publications of the Ministry of Education, Finland 2009:23 Taajamo, M. 2005. Foreign students in Finland. Experiences of studying and learning, life and diversity. University of Jyväskylä. Institute for Educational Research.
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