From September 1st until September 12th 2014 I was exploring AIKOPA during my Erasmus+ staff mobility.
I came to Kajaani University of Applied Sciences because I wanted to explore the Finnish education system. I was especially intrigued in adult education of the higher education sector. The Finnish higher education system is of particular interest to me because I am working in the Centre for Continuing Education of the partner university Technische Hochschule Mittelhessen University of Applied Sciences which is located in the region Hesse, Germany. So far continuing academic education at universities does not play a big part in the culture and structure of German universities as it does in Finland – neither for individuals and companies nor for universities themselves. In fact non-academic institutions are dominating the continuing education market. To face skills shortage, to improve the permeability of the different education systems, to integrate research knowledge faster into practice and overall to increase educational opportunities for all, the Federal Ministry for Education and Research funds projects which do research and development in the field of continuing academic education to meet these goals. I am working as a scientific staff member in one of these funded projects called “WM³ Weiterbildung Mittelhessen”, which is a joint project of the three universities Technische Hochschule Mittelhessen, Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen and Philipps-Universität Marburg.
In comparison to Finland German universities are still in the beginning of including adult learners in the higher education system. The diverse degrees of development in these two countries lead me to the interest in the organisation of continuing academic education and especially how AIKOPA – as the first centre which concentrates activities of continuing education of two universities in one –is integrated in the university system. Furthermore I wanted to find out more about programme planning, target groups, marketing strategies and cooperation procedures with the University of Oulu but also with other cooperation partners outside the university system. As can be seen I took a lot of questions to Finland.
To me the perfect way of discovering an unknown field is not just conducting research about the Finnish education system but also to explore how it proceeds in practice. Therefore I did so called „job shadowing“ which means I had the opportunity to work alongside and gain new experiences of different staff members of AIKOPA and Kajaani University of Applied Sciences. For example I could interview the head of the department, different team members but also coordinators of different research and development centres as well as coordinators of degree programmes. My constant reference partner was Hannu Tikkanen who answered very patiently all the questions one could imagine about the education system.
During my two weeks stay I have gained quite a good overview of the system. The interviews and exchange with people from different positions have helped to draw a picture of how continuing adult education works in Finland, especially at Kajaani University of Applied Sciences. The systems of continuing academic education of the two countries are based on different preconditions which make it difficult to transfer knowledge and good practices directly back to my university. Whereas the organization of higher education in Finland is centrally organized, German universities do have a large freedom of decision which is why regulations can differ from University to University. As a consequence there are no legal requirements regarding continuing academic education - unless some exceptions. Besides there is a different understanding of the level the programmes should have. Whereas Finnish universities offer courses within Open University mainly without access restrictions German universities mostly have strict access regulations. For example in Hesse participants have to have a first higher education degree (e.g. Bachelor or Master) or at least one year of appropriate professional experience. Professional education and experience need to have a reference to the targeted programme and applicants have to prove their state of knowledge in a qualification test. However, most programmes (especially certificate-related programmes) require a first academic degree. Although there are also strict access regulations for degree-related programmes in Finland, more people get the chance to enter the university system than in Germany. The Finnish education system is more permeable than the German. Furthermore Open Universities are part of every Finnish university. In Germany continuing education is not an equal part besides research and academic teaching, it has to be organised and planned “on top”. Overall there is no funding and support from the state or the federal states and it is not allowed to subsidy continuing education from university means. That implies programmes have to charge break-even fees and every cost factor – planning, development, implementation, rooms, lecturers etc. – has to be calculated separately. This makes such programmes very expensive in comparison to offers which are not located at universities. From my perspective these are the main reasons why many universities are not engaged in continuing (academic) education in Germany.
Although there are many different preconditions the experiences and knowledge I gained in Kajaani enhance my every day working practice. In comparing the structures of the two countries I got to know the Finnish but also the German structures more in detail and I also attained a broader view on the field adult (academic) education in general. I often have to think about my stay at Kajaani in a very positive way – so my sincere thanks go to the very hospitable AIKOPA team, especially to Hannu Tikkanen, beyond to all the personnel of Kajaani University of Applied Sciences who gave me an inside into their working field and also to the international office which organised my stay.