Finland: A view on one of the best university systems in the world

“Despite being a small nation, Finnish universities keep topping the world polls. So, what is it that they get so right?”

Finland is well-known for thinking outside the box in education, and its universities are no exception. The region’s focus on innovation appears to yield results, with Finnish universities recently ranked as the highest performing in the world. So, what exactly is it that they do so well? In my opinion, this can be roughly broken down into three broad categories.

  1. Strong support for quality teaching

Teaching is a respected profession in Finland, one that is extremely competitive to break into. Typically, fewer than 10% of applicants are accepted into the teacher training programme, five-year Master’s degree programmes are compulsory, and subject teachers are expected to carry out advanced academic studies in their field.

Finland’s teachers and lecturers are given great flexibility and freedom in their teaching styles too.

Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) embraces state-of-the-art teaching methods, for example, but teachers have autonomy for deciding how they are incorporated.  Mika Pulkkinen, an educational technology designer at LUT, says: “We offer a number of complex courses so we’re always looking for ways to help students cement their knowledge. We don’t want to insist on any single method of teaching, but we do make sure staff feel confident to use technology if they want to.”
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Which are the easiest and hardest languages to master?

“The average learner would take four times as long to learn Mandarin as they would to learn Spanish”

For most people, mastering another language is no easy feat. However, it is broadly accepted that some languages are easier to learn than others.

It’s a topic that is discussed often and in depth within the translation services industry, as well as by everyone from military personnel to expats. As such, let’s take a look at contenders for the easiest language to master… and the hardest!
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Shifting focus: Vietnamese students & overseas study destinations

“The story of student visa issuances in Viet Nam has been one of a pretty consistent upward trend”

There is never a dull moment in the dynamic Southeast Asian country of Viet Nam, including among its overseas-bound students.  While overall interest in study in the US remains strong, there is also ample evidence of a shift to other countries, including Canada.

According to the July 2018 SEVIS by the Numbers update, Viet Nam slipped to sixth place among sending countries, displaced by Canada, albeit by a statistically insignificant 338 students. In fact, nearly all of the top 10 places of origin experienced double or single-digit decreases, ranging from -11% for China, -10% for Japan and Saudi Arabia to -9% for South Korea and -7% for Taiwan.  The only exception was Brazil, whose numbers increased by a paltry 1%.
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UK universities can be much more innovative in marketing in India

“UK universities need to be more innovative, less conservative and worry less about the Post Study Work visa”

Indian student numbers to the UK have fallen substantially in the last few years because of tighter visa controls. India was left out of an expanded list in June this year relaxing Tier 4 visa rules. But this is the new normal now. British universities need not use these excuses to justify low recruitment in India but do need to become more innovative in how they recruit.

The Foreign Providers Bill was long seen as a panacea for UK universities to enter the Indian market. In 2015, India’s National Knowledge Commission in 2005 recommended the establishment of Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Education (IRAHE), replacing the higher and technical education regulators. The Higher Education and Research (HER) Bill 2011 sought to do the same, additionally seeking to grant greater autonomy to well-performing institutions.

In June 2017, the current government announced its intention to replace both the higher and technical education regulators with the Higher Education Empowerment Regulation Agency (HEERA) instead. A month later, reports suggested the plans were on hold. Sometime thereafter, they were back on track. Then, formally earlier this year, the plans were finally superseded with a version more acceptable to the sector.

There is a very simple reason for this policy vacillation. The education portfolio in the Indian government is not as prestigious as many others. Governments don’t like spending political capital on reforming this sector when far greater political dividends can be achieved elsewhere.

In the Joint UK-India Trade Review earlier this year, the UK government identified several barriers to entry for increased UK-India education trade, including restrictions on repatriation of investment profits, lack of mutual recognition of one-year UK Masters programmes, twinning programmes not being recognised and foreign universities not being allowed to set up.

These are all fair points to make, but there is little prospect of changes happening in India any time soon. Instead, UK universities would be better served by being more pragmatic.

“It sounds simple, but UK universities should focus more on what Indian students want to buy, not what the UK wants to sell”

First, provide guaranteed placements or internships to Indian students. Indian parents and students care far more about ROI than Chinese students and are less likely to be worried about a poor TEF rating if the course guarantees an internship, however short. I have had multiple cold calls from London-based universities asking me to take on international interns. Leaving aside the GDPR implications, I’ve been surprised at how poorly those organisations have understood the CV they are pitching to me. Some universities outside the Russell Group, are slowly beginning to realise the power of this marketing.

Second, reduce dependence on agents. This model of recruitment in India (indeed, elsewhere too) focuses on what a university wants to sell, not what the student / their parents want to buy. Agent models of selling work better for the top-rated universities, not the second tier. Online avenues of marketing like Shiksha.com have far better reach and are significantly more cost-effective.

Third, understand the Indian psyche better. UK institutions are not always on point when it comes to understanding the thought process of Indian students. A prospective European student may see a marketing message about a variety of on-campus clubs, societies and extra-curricular activities, and think that represents the opportunity to develop as a person. An Indian student may see the same marketing message and think about how much extra money this will all cost.

Fourth, focus on Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. Yes, they might not have a nice Sheraton or Taj, but there are plenty of rich parents there, who want to send through children abroad. British universities are – amongst its global competitors – the most conservative when it comes to targeting these smaller cities.

Fifth, understand the power of PR and networks in India. I recently arranged a guest lecture for a visiting academic at a TEF Gold institution at short notice, at a leading college in Bangalore, at the request of their India office lead. The students had great feedback and the college Principal thought it was a wonderful collaboration opportunity. Subsequently, at least a dozen leading academics from the UK university have visited different cities in India, and no guest lectures have been arranged.

“These were missed opportunities to reach out to the right kind of enthusiastic student, without having to pay for stalls at student fairs or commission to agents”

Supplement this with more marketing through WhatsApp groups and a concerted PR campaign means that the universities can reach an audience that goes much beyond just a student fair.

According to Rohit Ramesh, Head of International Recruitment at Liverpool University, they were one of the first universities to successful try the PR route in India, paying significant dividends in terms of recruitment. Dr Sonal Minocha, Pro Vice Chancellor at Bournemouth University, has led an annual Festival of Learning in India and other countries, that enable UK students to experience India, and establish an innovative way of marketing the university in-country.

There is plenty of scope for UK universities to expand in India. To do this, UK universities need to be more innovative, less conservative and worry less about the Post Study Work visa.

About the author: Pratik Dattani is Managing Director of EPG Economic and Strategy Consulting, and has worked with educational institutions around the world on establishing innovative models of partnerships.

The benefits of studying the International Baccalaureate

“What has inspired me the most about the IB is its ability to encourage students to become internationally minded”

As students start to plan their future, choosing the right upper school curriculum is often a difficult decision to make. Faced with so many options, from A-levels to the International Baccalaureate (IB) or even the American Advanced Placement (AP) or high school diploma, the question is which one is the best fit for their abilities? And which one will more likely lead to a good degree?

I wish there was a simple answer, but it just depends on what type of student they are. Whether a good all-rounder who enjoys studying a wide range of subjects and rises to the challenge of investigative projects and exams like in the IB, or perhaps they are a more analytical mindset who prefers time to ponder their work with a curriculum focused on fewer subjects and graded more equally on coursework and exams like some A levels and the AP or whether no exams at all like the high school diploma.

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Switzerland’s tradition of learning: “a point of reference on the global stage”

“All too often, graduates of traditional academic degrees feel that their studies have left them unprepared for the workplace”

For the eighth year in a row, Switzerland has been ranked the world’s most innovative country by the World Intellectual Property Organisation. It is a country famed for its economic health and political stability.

Some may be surprised, then, to learn that less than a third of Swiss people under the age of 25 enter traditional academic higher education, or what the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development calls “tertiary-type A” education – theory-based programs lasting at least three years.

It’s not that Switzerland doesn’t value education. Quite the contrary: Switzerland has long recognised the importance of providing a range of educational pathways for different needs and objectives. Apprenticeships and vocational training play a key role in the country’s education system, with approximately 70% of young Swiss people participating in these programs either before or instead of attending university.

Vocational education gives teens the opportunity to combine classroom learning with entry-level responsibilities in the workplace, preparing them for careers in technology, services and health as well as traditional trades and crafts. It enables students to develop the skills they want and the skills employers need. As a result, youth unemployment in Switzerland is among the lowest in the world (8.1%, compared to the OECD total of 11.9%), and the Swiss educational model has become a point of reference on the global stage.

The Swiss tradition of learning by doing has also shaped the nation’s higher education landscape. Switzerland excels in research, with the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology (EPFL and ETH Zurich) ranked as among the best engineering and technology universities worldwide. In addition to academic universities, the country offers a number of universities of applied sciences specialising in practice-oriented bachelor’s and master’s degrees, where apprentices who hold a Federal Vocational Education and Training (VET) Diploma or Federal Vocational Baccalaureate may qualify for admission. These industry-specific programmes enable graduates to make a smooth transition from studies to their career.

“We have found that this dual approach is key to ensuring that students can apply their classroom learning to real-world contexts”

In the area of hospitality management, for example, four out of the world’s top ten institutions are based in Switzerland. At both Glion Institute of Higher Education and Les Roches Global Hospitality Education, the Swiss model of combining practical and academic learning forms the backbone of the curriculum. Bachelor’s degree students are immersed in hospitality operations, such as guest service, culinary studies and housekeeping, as well as business theory, such as finance, entrepreneurship and luxury branding.

This experience enables them to develop professionalism, communication, adaptability and other essential soft skills as well as business management expertise. In addition, students are required to complete two internship semesters and are encouraged to work and study abroad to further enhance their employability.

We have found that this dual approach is key to ensuring that students can apply their classroom learning to real-world contexts. Specialist programmes that maintain close ties with the industry are better equipped to prepare students with the necessary skills for their chosen profession. It’s an educational experience that is valued by students and companies alike: in the 2018 QS World University Rankings, Glion and Les Roches rank first and third respectively for employer reputation among hospitality management institutions worldwide.

“Youth unemployment in Switzerland is among the lowest in the world “

All too often, graduates of traditional academic degrees feel that their studies have left them unprepared for the workplace. The Swiss model of blended theoretical and practical learning has become increasingly attractive not only in Switzerland but around the world. Today, Glion offers its curriculum through a branch campus in London, UK, while Les Roches also has campuses in Marbella, Spain and Shanghai, China. For career-focused students, the integration of vocational and academic education offers a compelling alternative.

About the author: Dr Pierre Ihmle is Chief Academic Officer of Sommet Education, the hospitality education group that includes Glion Institute of Higher Education and Les Roches Global Hospitality Education

 

 

 

How technology is helping to educate Syrian refugees

“Articulating your level of education is tricky if you move country, let alone if you haven’t brought proof of learning”

Fiona Reay, head of Client Services at FutureLearn, recently travelled to Lebanon to see the impact of technology at schools educating Syrian refugees as part of the Partnership for Digital Learning and Increased Access project, which has five years’ funding through the Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform initiative. Here, Reay discusses what she learned during the visit and some of the challenges that are yet to be overcome.

I saw first-hand the innovative delivery of education in Lebanese communities from the American University of Beirut and listened to Syrian students and teachers about the impact of the PADILEIA project at the GHATA schools in the Bekka Valley.

Picture2I was very impressed at the rapid pace that new schools have been rolled out in the Bekka region to accommodate 1.5 million Syrian refugees who’ve arrived in Lebanon; not only the infrastructure which has been put in place but the care which has gone into the meal planning and the welcoming environment from the teaching and support staff.

These schools are happy places with enthusiastic teachers and grateful children and teenagers, a space of ‘normality’ compared to day-to-day life in camps or other temporary accommodation, and a chance for young people to be with their friends and have routine back in their lives.
But there are several challenges to gaining an education when being displaced. While I experienced a positive and inclusive environment, there are still hurdles to overcome.

  • Articulating your level of education is tricky if you move country, let alone if you haven’t brought proof of learning. The Syrian, Jordanian and Lebanese certification levels don’t all align, and I heard examples of students travelling back into Syria to sit the exams needed to move onto the next level of study.
  • Stipends are often required to pay for travel costs and study expenses for Syrian and other disadvantaged youth. At the World Food Program school teachers reward participation with digital card ‘points’ that can be used in neighbourhood shops (much like vouchers), and this also helps stimulate the local Lebanese economy.
  • Funding and scholarship application forms can be daunting for most and understanding the nuances of “pitching yourself” requires guidance from people who have done it before. Learning how to answer what extracurricular activities you do, and the value you can add to your community (when you’ve had to relocate due to civil war) can feel even more of a stretch. The PADILEIA students have found it really valuable to learn from mentors who can support them through this process and help them fill in the forms.

Picture1I also witnessed a strong appetite for digital skills and discussion. PADILEIA’s aim is to increase critical-thinking skills so young people can prepare for higher education and consider wider career options like science, law, journalism, or IT.

The first year of the project has a focus on mixing practical digital skills with learning English, as part of a Foundation Certificate to build readiness for further education. These transferable skills build the confidence of young people.

“I was overwhelmed by the confidence and brightness of young women keen to practice with native English speakers and to show off their Adobe Photoshop exam progress”

Students also learn Microsoft and Google Drive programs, as well as AutoCAD software for potential engineering and architecture pathways in the future.

There also exists a supported and blended approach to online learning. A lot of mentoring is required around goal setting, and coaching on time management is constantly needed –  these are teenagers with homework after all!

Passionate teacher Mahmoud Shabaan, Students Service Coordinator at the GHATA School, provides mentorship support seven days a week, uses WhatsApp and Facebook groups to connect students after hours.

The school also invites Syrian scholarship awardees at the American University of Beirut to deliver “do your homework pep talks” to keep students motivated, and they plan to use graduates of the PADILEIA program to help train and support the next cohort of students.

Houssam, who has just completed his Foundation Certificate from the American University of Beirut (AUB), delivered an inspirational speech to the PADILEIA visitors, explaining the benefits he was seeing from studying with mentors and the goals he has for the future, including scholarships for higher education.

The teachers in Bekka also explained that using online resources to date has been a challenge, due to the students’ level of English but also connection issues and that they’re aiming to use more online tools in the classroom as their experience with using technology for learning increases.

It will be interesting to see how young people and their educators will embrace online and social learning.

Picture3To help with this, new online free basic English courses designed for the Middle East have been developed. Two new courses teaching Basic English from King’s College London, at elementary and pre-intermediate levels, have been specially created for Middle Eastern learners.

The short courses tell the stories of local characters Samir, Maya and Amena who learn practical phrases and hear from British voices. They include Arabic transcripts and are prepared for students learning in an environment with power cuts and slower wifi, meaning a stronger focus on audio (rather than video) and low bandwidth optimised files.

Online facilitators from King’s College London have been specially trained to help support Middle Eastern learners. The King’s College London courses are available on FutureLearn.com with free continued access for all, funded by the PADILEIA program.

Finding Study Abroad Scholarships for Indian Students

“Study abroad scholarships can be an absolute boon, providing students with the much needed financial resources”

What do Indian investor and philanthropist Ratan Tata, journalist and television news anchor Arnab Goswami, politician Shashi Tharoor and actress Ameesha Patel have in common? Well, they all received their higher education in a university abroad!

Ever since the colonial era, Indians have been travelling abroad for education. Apart from the obvious boost to one’s career and academics that an education abroad can provide, the charm of experiencing a foreign culture can also be quite a factor when it comes to attracting Indian students to foreign shores.

But for the most part, this is limited to those with considerable financial resources available to them, and consequently, accessible only to the privileged. There’s one exception to this rule – an alternate method for students to access quality education for close to free – study abroad scholarships.
International scholarships are those scholarship opportunities that are open for students studying in a country apart from their own. For international students, study abroad scholarships can be an absolute boon, providing them with the needed financial resources to pursue their higher education from prestigious universities abroad.

A scholarship to study abroad can cover a meritorious student’s expenses including tuition, flight, visa, accommodation and living expenses.

“Unlike an education loan or study loan, the aid received through a scholarship doesn’t need to be paid back as well, making them the perfect solution for financially constrained meritorious students”

Of course, with many applicants for the same positions, the competition to win scholarships is quite high. Many students are further hindered by the lack of information about available scholarships. Yet, there is no dearth of available scholarship opportunities for Indian students to study abroad.

Study abroad scholarships can be discovered by browsing the scholarship portal of your state or the national scholarship portal, through a web search by keywords, through the student counsellor at your school or college, and on scholarship websites or apps.

One resource to find information for study abroad scholarships for Indian students is Buddy4Study. Started as a website in 2011, Buddy4Study is also available as an android app on Google Play Store. The portal contains complete information on international scholarships for Indian students.
Here are few of the top study abroad scholarships:

1.Stanford Reliance Dhirubhai Fellowship
This scholarship is offered by Reliance Industries Ltd. in the name of their founder, Dhirubhai Ambani. The scholarship is offered exclusively to Indian students who wish to pursue an MBA from Stanford University in the United States of America. To qualify for the scholarship, the student must be admitted to Stanford Business School. Stanford’s Business School is one of the most prestigious schools in the world, with its MBA Degree frequently ranking among the very best in the world. Reliance CEO Mukesh Ambani, as well as his daughter, Isha Ambani, are among the alumni of the Stanford Business School.

2.Narotam Sekhsaria Scholarship
This scholarship is for graduate students who are looking to pursue a postgraduate degree from a prestigious institution – whether in India or abroad – in any of the listed disciplines. The disciplines include a vast umbrella of courses falling under Pure Sciences, Applied Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities, Law, Architecture and Management.

The scholarship provides financial aid up to INR 20 Lakh to each selected scholar. The applications for this scholarship are open between the months of January to March each year.

3.Lady Meherbai D Tata Education Scholarship
This scholarship is provided by the Tata Education Trust, one of India’s oldest, philanthropic organisations, and is exclusively for Indian women graduates. The scholarship provides financial aid to women graduates from prestigious institutions in India to pursue their postgraduate studies abroad in either the US, the UK, or Europe.

The candidate must also possess at least 2 years of work experience in the respective field which are covered under the program, including social work, social sciences, education, gender studies, child health, public health, rural development work, communication of development, etc.

4.Chinese Government Scholarships
These scholarships are offered on behalf of the Government of China by the Ministry of Human Resource Development as per the joint pacts between the countries in the sector of education. There are multiple full and partial scholarships available for Undergraduate, Masters, Doctoral, General Scholar and Senior Scholar programs.

While the full scholarship covers the entire tuition fee, accommodation, monthly stipend, and medical insurance expenses, the partial scholarship would only cover one or some items of the full scholarship.

What International Students Should Know About College Admissions

” It’s your college experience, so make it what you want, not what anyone else says it should be”

Applying to college is an exciting time in a student’s life – especially if you’re looking at studying in a different country. With additional requirements and transitioning into a different culture, the college admissions process and attending college for international students can be a bit stressful if you’re not aware of some important points.

Not every college admissions process is the same, so it’s important to pay close attention to the details your prospective colleges require. Here is a list of some key factors to look for when researching.

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Nurturing a digitally resilient generation

“Schools worldwide need to start thinking differently about how to equip children with independent learning skills”

In this week’s blog, director of The British School, New Delhi, India Vanita Uppal OBE, takes an award-winning approach to educating students and the wider community, on the benefits of becoming digitally resilient.

The constantly changing world of technology can throw up unprecedented issues for our children.  All over the world cyberbullying exists, but India experiences particularly high rates of this issue and a growing number of young and impressionable mobile device users attend our schools.
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