Last week, 15 members of staff from Welsh FE colleges and organisations visited Helsinki Vocational College in Finland as part of the Erasmus+ 2018 staff project. Interested in gaining an overview of the Finnish education system and the status of VET, the group also wanted to identify how research supports VET operations and how internationalisation is embedded into everyday life of a Helsinki Vocational College. The group were able to benchmark current practice from home to the policy direction of internationalisation of VET in Finland.
Here are Nerys Gimblett, Director of IT, Digital Development from Bridgend College thoughts from the visit:
Being relatively new to the sector I always find that spending time with colleagues from other colleges valuable. Also joined by partners from the British Council, NTFW and Sgiliaith the purpose of our trip is to gain an overview of the Finnish education system and the status of VET. This with the knowledge that Finland is the happiest country in the world, was so exciting that I didn’t even mind the 3.30am start!
This is ColegauCymru’s fourth successful application for funding from Erasmus+ on behalf of the sector for staff mobility. It quickly became apparent that these visits, without a doubt, strengthen the sector’s partnerships across Europe and encourage collaboration within the sector in Wales.
We had already had a ‘heads up’ in our initial briefing meeting that our accommodation was an old prison! However, there’s nothing quite like standing in line to get the key for your room/cell that you’re grateful that your life hasn’t taken a different turn and you’re standing here for another reason!!
An hour of settling in and admiring the bars on the windows and padlocks in frames as room decoration and it was back downstairs to meet to discuss the next few days.
We had already been provided with information to spike our curiosity so we discussed what else we wanted to explore. We were challenged to dig deep in upcoming meetings and get a real understanding of the research carried out in Finland and the impact of mobility on VET learners!
The Nordic countries are commonly known to be pretty expensive and Finland is no exception. The culinary experience was interesting and thankfully there was plenty of bottles of water as the cheapest bottle of wine available started at 70 euros! Whilst we were aware of the popularity of fish in the country, you couldn’t turn for beetroot and although the Liquorice Creme Brulee concept was a new one on us, it turned out to be popular.
At this point, I’d like to apologise to my colleague for the text at 8am (6am UK time), completely forgetting that we were two hours ahead (sorry Viv!)! Having our first presentation at 7.30am (UK time) meant that breakfast was a slightly quieter affair in the dungeon, sorry basement of the hotel!
There is no doubt the architecture in this city is breathtaking and as we headed to our first location the camera phones of all our party were clicking furiously trying to capture every inch of this amazing city.
We soon arrived at Helsinki College. The college was established in 2013 through the merger of the city’s former three vocational institutes (Helsinki City College of Technology; Helsinki City College of Social and Health Care; Helsinki City College of Culinary Art, Fashion and Beauty). There are 15,000 students studying at the College and it has over a 1,000 employees.
The opening statement to us was ‘there are no dead ends in our system’. Our host for the first part of the day, Erika started by telling us she was also an apprentice, studying a Higher Level Qualification in Leadership. What stood out to the group was that the education system was very much driven by the need of employers, and students are judged on their competencies. There are no inspections only the criteria of achieving these competencies and a positive progression into employment or on to another qualification.
The afternoon followed with a captivating presentation by Mika Saarinen, Counsellor of Education, Deputy Director of Erasmus+Finnish National Agency for Education EDUFI demonstrating how an International Strategy expresses a meaning and purpose and gives direction to providers or vocational training institutions. The priorities of lifelong learning and mobility, quality and efficiency and active citizenships were themes that resonated with all members of the group.
Both presentation and discussions throughout the day gave us much to discuss and consider! With our first full day over it was time to google another restaurant and for us all to reflect on how we drive forward the embedding of Internationalism into our curriculum both as a sector, and in our own individual establishments.