Student mobility opening new academic horizons in Finland and Latin America


Student mobility opening new academic horizons in Finland and Latin America

While Latin America has lagged behind on student mobility, universities in the region are rapidly gaining traction in internationalization. Although Finland is an attractive destination for Latin American students, it still remains an unfamiliar one. Also for Finnish students, Latin America has not been the most popular destination given its distant location and the students’ unfamiliarity with local languages. However, there are plenty of mutually beneficial opportunities to be discovered, as both Finnish and Latin American universities strive for a more global outlook.

On September 12th, the TFK team in São Paulo participated in a study abroad fair (feira de intercâmbio) at the University of São Paulo, organized by the faculty of economics, administration and accounting. We met a lot of students during the fair and gained insight into their perspectives about studying abroad. Many students approached us with curiosity since studying in northern Europe had never occurred to them as an option. As we were representing an entire country (instead of a particular institution), we received many tricky questions, from very general ones, such as “how does it work?” to highly specific ones, like “what kind of opportunities do you have in marine engineering?”. Therefore, our participation at the event focused more on raising awareness about Finland, form an impression of what students generally look for, and painting an attractive image of Finland for future studies.

Between 2015 and 2022, the majority of Latin American students who pursued studies in Finland were from Chile, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. Nevertheless, there were fewer Latin American students going to Finland than there were students from Europe, Asia or North America. While Finland has plenty of attractive qualities, namely its high quality of life, hundreds of courses taught in English, quality education, stability and safety, it remains an unfamiliar opportunity for many Latin American students. According to a Brazilian student market study published earlier this year, Brazilian students often choose countries where English or Portuguese are first languages, such as the UK, United States, Canada and Portugal. These countries also have strong foothold in the local student exchange markets and stronger presence at the large Brazilian education fairs where they are able to raise awareness about their opportunities.

Finland has, however, all the qualities that Brazilian students generally look for in an exchange destination—even the intense winter seemed like an exciting experience for the students we talked to. Brazilian students who go abroad are often proficient in English, are highly motivated professionally and/or academically and have financial capability. Most Brazilian students, however, are interested in pursuing short-term studies abroad as a part of their local degree. In Brazil, “sandwhich”-programs (programs that include a mobility period in a foreign institution) are a popular option for studies abroad and largely supported by national funding agencies. For instance, CAPES Foundation (Coordination of Superior Level Staff Improvement) and CNPq (National Council for Scientific and Technological Development) offer funding opportunities for studies abroad, particularly at the PhD-level. Moreover, state-level agencies (for example FAPESP in São Paulo and FAPRJ in Rio de Janeiro) offer funding opportunities for students and researchers associated with institutions in the state.

But Latin America has also been a less popular destination among Finnish students going abroad. Europe, Asia and North America dominate the statistics of Finnish students’ preferred exchange destinations. However, within Latin America, Chile, Mexico and Brazil attract most Finnish students. Especially Mexico stands out as a popular destination among Finnish students. In addition to the long distances and costly travel from Finland, a challenge for Finnish universities establishing partnerships for student mobility with Latin American institutions is the lack of Finnish students’ language skills. Speaking Spanish and/or Portuguese is crucial for navigating everyday life in the region, and the universities’ course offering is primarily in the local languages, which makes having strong language skills imperative. Additionally, perceptions about the countries’ safety can impact Finnish students’ decision of going to Latin American countries for studies, although safety in the region varies greatly within the region, within countries and even within cities.

Latin America has many internationally recognized universities that make an impact in global science. For example, in this years’ QS ranking, the University of São Paulo (USP) ranked 85th globally and best in Latin America. The value of international academic cooperation has been recognized in Latin America in the past decade, and internationalization has been put on the agenda of many Latin American universities. In Brazil, it has been included in the national evaluation of Brazilian universities and there are tentative plans to create a joint internationalization strategy for Brazilian higher education institutions. However, only 1.16% of Latin American students choose to study abroad (compared to the global average of 2,4%), and 15% of those pursue studies in another country within the region. In the most recent Times Higher Education ranking, Chile performed best in international outlook of Latin American universities, with three of Chilean universities being in the top 5.

One significant effort to improve internationalization and mobility in the region has been the commitment to the UNESCO New Regional Convention for the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees in Latin America and the Caribbean, signed by 23 countries in 2022. The purpose of the New Regional Convention is to provide a cohesive framework for the member countries to recognize higher education diplomas. The ratification of the convention will allow for easier mobility of students and professionals between countries and continents.

As Latin American universities strive for internationalization and develop courses in English, they gain more attention among partner universities and students seeking a wider variety of options for studies abroad. At the same time, the growing proficiency of Spanish among Finnish students will allow them to fully embrace the academic offering and culture in Latin America. Undoubtedly, Latin America has a lot to offer solely based on its rich culture, history, as well as its vast and diverse geography. As such, there are more than 200 bilateral agreements between Finnish and Latin American universities that students and researchers can take advantage of to broaden their horizons.

Stay in touch with Emilia Heilakka, EDUFI’s TFK-trainee, Consulate of Finland in Sao Paulo

Photo: Talking to students at the “Feira de intercâmbio” event organized by FEA USP, University of São Paulo. Photo taken by Johanna Kivimäki


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