Not Exporting But Empowering

When we talk about transnational education in Finnish, we usually use the term koulutusvienti. A literal English translation of the word would be education export. Although I am working in this very field, and even have the term printed in my Finnish business cards, I am very reluctant to use the English translation or consider myself as an exporter.

If there is an exporter, there must also be an importer. But have you ever heard anyone talk about education import? Most likely not, and it actually sounds quite absurd. And besides being absurd as a term, it is also absurd as a concept. Education is always so deeply rooted in culture that it can’t be exported as such. In my opinion, it is old-fashioned and almost imperialistic to think that we could, for instance, take a piece of Finnish culture and move it untouched to a whole different country.

Instead of education export, I would rather talk about collaboration with our foreign partners and clients. Sometimes I would even use the word empowerment, especially if our foreign partners are prepared to gradually take over the whole education development process. Our role is to show what we have to offer and make suggestions for education projects. However – and here comes the “but” – Finnish education cannot in any circumstances be directly transplanted into another country.

I know that some transnational education providers consider quality assured when everything is done exactly the same way it is done in their home country. To us Finns, quality means that learning and teaching are meaningful, and education has an impact that serves children in their own culture. This means that education contents and practices have to be adapted to suit the new environment.

Best way to achieve all this is to have a deep collaboration with local partners and customers. As one of my Finnish colleagues once described: “We may provide the car and make preliminary plans for the journey. We may even sit in the front seat, but it is always the client who grabs the steering wheel and decides the final route.” In other words, it is about empowering our partners to make a difference with education.


Writer: Kirsi Kettula, Director of Transnational Education, HY+

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