Joanna Kumpula works for Study in Finland, part of the Finnish national agency for education. She answered our questions about an arresting new video promoting the equality and opportunity that Finland offers and its history as a global study destination.
"Education is definitely at the forefront of Finland's brand as a country"
The PIE: Please tell me about the Hän video project we saw [at EAIE] promoting Finland.
Joanna Kumpula: So the hän project (the word means “he/she”) started already this spring and it’s basically run by the Finnish embassies around the world. The Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the one who made the concept; the idea is that we [strive] for equity [in our community].
“Hän [he/she] is just one example of how basically our language puts us in equal standing”
Hän is just one example of how basically our language puts us in equal standing. My friends always wonder when I’m speaking English, why do I always mix he and she? I don’t see the difference in those two words because in my language there’s only one word, hän.
You never know when you’re talking about a person, unless you hear their first name, you don’t know if it’s a woman or man that you’re talking about. So in that sense, hän was picked as this kind of a symbol for this work that we want to do in Finland.
The PIE: And how long have you been with the Finnish national agency for education?
JK: I’ve been there for almost three years and I work for Study in Finland, although I am shortly moving roles.
The PIE: Has Finland always tried to present itself as sustainable, equitable?
JK:We don’t really believe in tag lines yet I’m standing under a tag line [in this picture]. It’s more that there’s a theme, and equality or equity is one, for example, this year, and we just concentrate on that idea.
Education is definitely at the forefront of Finland’s brand as a country. When we started to establish universities or schools, it was the idea that it’s reachable for all. That anyone can access education.
The PIE: How are you promoting the Hän campaign – on social media and via embassies?
JK: The local embassies are the ones who implement it. Our [education] audience is also interested in “what’s the admissions procedure” and so on but this is more in the background.
We are a country where we can offer opportunities for young people wanting to study but they already have a family. In Finland, I would say all of the universities are equipped in helping to find housing and you have the kindergartens that you can put your children into and so on.
The PIE:I know that there used to be no tuition fees in Finland and then you introduced them. Are you seeing numbers beginning to rise again after a slight decline?
JK: We’re going to get more actual figures on that. The drop was kind of small and it was more due to the fact that universities had a lot of things to settle concerning scholarships and how to build tuition fee structures and so on.
There was a small drop, but they are already very actively gaining ground. For certain target markets, there was a decline. But I think that we’re getting them back and also looking into new markets.
The PIE: What are your top three markets?
JK: They are China, Russia and India/Vietnam. Russia and China have longer histories [as source countries] because we’ve had good relationships with these two countries all through our history. So there’s been already Chinese students coming in in the 1950s.
I met this couple at the Shanghai World Expo in 2010. They were in their maybe 60s, 70s, and they suddenly started to talk to me in Finnish. And they said that they were one of the first Chinese exchange students, in the early 60s in university in Helsinki.
Russia, of course, as a neighbour is very logical. A lot of the Russian students come from close by cities but also from Siberia. So it’s the whole of Russia that traditionally comes to Finland.
The PIE: They would learn in English?
JK: Yeah. I would say all of these international groups, they are definitely studying English at the moment. The tuition fees are for bachelor’s and master’s, which are taught in English. There are not that many people around who speak Finnish at the academic level that is needed for those programs.
You always get a few. So from of course, from Estonia, but also from all the way from China.
“There are not that many people around who speak Finnish at the academic level that is needed”
The PIE: You also mentioned, the “Welcome to Finland” toolbox. Is that new?
JK: Oh, yes. Well, there is a newer version of it. It is aimed at all parties wanting to promote Finland but not for commercial use.
It’s aimed definitely at, let’s say, universities, individual people going abroad or just working in that environment. There’s a lot of information gathered about certain things because I think the information specifically is sometimes difficult to gather in one place.
We have videos there that you can show in different situations concerning business in Finland, working in Finland, all kinds of things. One part of it is, is also information about education in Finland, whether you are looking at kindergartens or if you’re looking at higher education.
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