Notes on cooperation

Over the last three years universities have been coaxed, guided, and goaded into cooperation with other units of higher education by the Ministry of Education and Culture. Often the resulting cooperation has been realised in and among the support functions of universities, but less so in their core activities, like study programmes. Also the cooperation between language centres has been wished for, and that has kept us busy recently.

Before any planning work was actually started, it was a pleasure to note that in cities where many universities operate, cooperation between language centres was more a norm than an exception (my experience here is limited to Helsinki and Vaasa). The many forms of cooperation in which Hanken Language Centre teachers were involved prior to Ministry’s guidelines ranged from personal contacts and enterprises started by two teachers to research projects backed by organisations for enhancing language education; as the nature of cooperation always requires at least two parties, what I just wrote applies to many other language centres as well!

With already partly implemented cooperation, our language centre’s task is to organise it and make it visible, through reporting and marketing. Also new forms of cooperation are being and will be started. For example, currently there are more or less established student ”exchanges” between universities in some languages: the course tray of one university can be extended by the courses of another university, and thus provide longer study paths in one particular language to the interested students, or even offer a language that is not taught at the home university. The latter is an option that the planned (and hopefully upcoming) spearhead project KIVAKO will extend nation-wide. As up to 49 % of all studies included in a degree can be completed outside one’s home university, there are no real limits to this kind of cooperation.

The exchange of students between universities is beneficial for both parties: the sending university will, at the end of the year, have a higher percentage of students who completed at least 55 credits a year; the receiving university will simply register more credits produced a year. Both of these are considered in the Ministry’s funding model for universities. Unfortunately, the existing system for JOO-studies is the loser in the current model, as they are not considered in the calculation of a university’s future funding. Eventually, extended course offering will (hopefully) lead to a slightly quicker completion of degrees, and to an increased ECTS production,

In addition to cooperative agreements between universities, coordination is a question that needs to be solved, as students will need to know when and where classes take place. Coordination is pivotal, not only because the academic years of different universities are scheduled slightly differently, but also because changes will certainly occur during the year, and students need to be aware of the changes. One solution to this is taking information (and courses) to where students roam: therefore Hanken plans to organise ”Language Market Days” with cooperating universities, during which students will have easy access to information on language courses, meet the teachers, and also register for courses. Also the venue of a course should be subject to discussion: students are, I am afraid, notoriously immobile as regards course hunting, and therefore it may be easier to ask a teacher take the class to the willing and eager learners.

Any cooperation requires resources, of which time and patience are, perhaps, the most important. Nevertheless, even cooperation that has been imposed on language centres can prove to be fruitful and even fun, even if at first sight it may have appeared as a chore.

Martti Mäkinen