4.1 An evaluation area selected by the HEI

Assessment of the audit team

The University of Oulu has a holistic approach to internationalisation

The University of Oulu has adopted a holistic approach to internationalisation, encompassing both outgoing and incoming mobility, as described in its Internationalisation Policy. The University of Oulu impressed the audit team with its well-integrated approach to internationalisation during the audit visit. For the increased internationalisation of degrees and student experience, a comprehensive International Action Plan has been adopted by the university. To lead its efforts in internationalisation, the university has hired an internationalisation manager. The university has however identified the systematic implementation, monitoring of progress, and impact and sharing good practice in internationalisation as an area for enhancement. The audit team recommends the university to build indicators for following up on the progress towards the goals stated in the International Action Plan.

The university’s proactive approach to fostering international exposure and collaboration is seen in the ongoing incorporation of mobility windows into degree programmes. According to the audit visit, the university’s policy is that all degree programmes should have room for exchange or international internships. This flexible approach acknowledges the changing nature of learning and the university’s commitment to giving students a globalised educational experience. However, students pointed out during the audit visit that in some degree programmes there was no chance or mobility window for international exchange. Systematic integration of internationalisation in programme structures was also recognised in the self-assessment report as an enhancement area. The audit team recommends the university to continue working towards ensuring that all students can benefit from international mobility.

Furthermore, the audit team found at UO a variety of activities regarding internationalisation at home (I@H) and internationalisation of curriculum (IoC). Initiatives include virtual courses, intensive language learning opportunities, and joint programmes with other institutions, enhancing internationalisation without extensive travel. One such programme is the master’s degree Programme in Sustainable Mining by four universities in different countries. The project is funded by the European Union’s Erasmus+ Mundus programme.

The visibility of internationalisation opportunities should be improved

While the university’s internationalisation efforts have been commendable, gaps in the level of internationalisation are found between the different programmes and faculties. The university should promote the sharing of internationalisation best practices between different faculties and programmes to promote a more unified approach. The audit team recommends the university to provide a platform for faculties to share good practices in internationalisation, to help identify and adopt successful internationalisation practices.

The audit team also recommends that the university strengthens the opportunities of Finnish staff to obtain more international experience and intercultural competence. This could happen through increased interaction with international students and international staff, or through mechanisms like staff mobility.

Discussions with students highlighted the diverse internationalisation initiatives at the University of Oulu. However, there is room for improvement in the marketing and communication of these efforts and opportunities. The audit team recommends the university to increase the visibility of international exchange programmes and scholarships, especially for undergraduate students, through targeted campaigns, emails, and robust social media engagement. The university could thus ensure more transparent, inclusive, and effective internationalisation throughout the university.

Making use of international competences acquired abroad

During the audit visit, the audit team was presented with evidence of the transforming effect of international experiences by the UO students. Acquiring global awareness, attitude, language, and cross-cultural skills is especially important for a global outlook and career. The University of Oulu has the chance to maximise the impact of these abilities when students return from abroad. Students saw international exchange as so beneficial to learning new skills that they suggested exchanges should be compulsory for all students.

According to the audit visit, feedback is collected from exchange students who have returned to Oulu, but it was unclear how and where this feedback is used. Implementing a system to smoothly incorporate global experiences acquired by outgoing students into all facets of academic life would be a strategic improvement. This might involve developing cross-cultural understanding, bringing insights into research initiatives, and integrating global experiences into classroom instruction. The university could promote inclusivity and cross-cultural collaboration by advising teachers to intentionally integrate and mix international students, students with international experience and domestic students in the same study groups. The university not only acknowledges the importance of outward mobility but also enhances the overall learning environment for all students by more deliberately integrating these experiences into the curricula, fostering a more internationally aware and connected academic community.

Creating new culture with internationalisation

The University of Oulu continues to seek a substantial rise in the number of international students enrolled, with the goal of tripling the existing 10 % by 2030. The UO has significant numbers of international students in multidisciplinary programmes, and it offers English courses almost in all educational areas. The apparent success in drawing in international students and staff for a wide range of programmes highlights a deliberate and comprehensive approach to global education.

According to the audit visit, offering family-friendly support to international students and staff is a significant feature of the university’s approach, demonstrating a comprehensive dedication to diversity. By prioritising a family-friendly environment, the university extends its reach outside the classroom to guarantee the welfare of its global community members.

The University of Oulu could benefit from considering ways to improve community building and labour market integration for its international staff and students to maintain its appeal and draw in top talent. Enhancing activities like mentoring programmes, cross-cultural exchanges, and networking events could build an even more welcoming and encouraging campus community and further support international students and staff to find employment and build connections in the region. For instance, integration could be strengthened through tailor-made Finnish language courses.

The concept of internationalisation includes also attracting and retaining international talent in the city and region. Establishing an atmosphere of reciprocal education and equitable research opportunities is crucial to develop self-assurance and the capacity for international participation. The audit team recommends the university to strengthen the networks of international members of the university with local businesses and firms to increase long-term employment opportunities. In addition, the audit team suggests that the university could better utilise the networks that international staff and students bring to Oulu.

The audit team considers the university ready for the next step in internationalisation: to regard international students and staff as integrated into the university community. According to the audit visit, the university is focused on how to integrate international staff and students into the existing university community. A more productive view could be that those in the university community gain and learn from the international staff and students and build a joint, hybrid culture that is neither wholly Finnish nor wholly international. International staff and students who come to the university should be welcomed as individuals who influence the university and who, through becoming involved in the community also change the university. The expectations of Finnish students regarding internationalisation should also not be forgotten.

The potential of the University of Oulu in the UNIC alliance

The audit team was convinced that the University of Oulu is a globally recognised and valued partner. This is especially visible by the university’s aims to maximise the potential of the European University alliance UNIC. Recently, the UNIC alliance has secured follow-up funding from the European Commission for a four-year period. This funding will sustain the collaboration among its ten partner universities, including the University of Oulu. The new funding period aims to enhance cooperation between the partner universities’ cities and advance educational and research collaboration.

The audit team was presented with the various opportunities that the UNIC alliance offers, such as increased mobility in higher education, a joint master’s programme in urban planning, and funding for research cooperation projects. The alliance’s long-term goal is to offer diverse opportunities to its members across all partner universities, emphasising increased mobility for students, researchers, and teaching staff. The University of Oulu can make use of its strategic importance in the alliance by shaping the thematic lines of the UNIC alliance, including health, sustainability, digitalisation, and entrepreneurship.