Senior Lecturer, Head of the ExpREES Master’s School,
Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki,
Coordinator of the ExpREES Master’s School,
Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki,
In Finland it seems to be one of the eternal questions whether there are enough of Russia experts for the purposes of state administration, businesses and for research and teaching. Even the whole term ‘Russia expertise’ has been put under the question mark, i.e. what this expertise should consist of or which skills and competencies would make any person a Russia expert (see e.g. Mustajoki 2010, Bogdanoff 2018). Mustajoki has divided the Russia expertise in Finland into two parts: academic and practical. With the first one he refers to academic research and Finnish researchers focusing on Russia and with the second one to intercultural competence and know-how of Finnish business actors, politicians, civil servants and other citizens.
Since 1998 the Master’s School in Russian and East European Studies, since 2012, ExpREES, that is, Expertise in Russian and East European Studies, has contributed to the goal of creating both academic and practical expertise in Russia, other parts of the former territory of the Soviet Union, and Easter Europe in Finland by training Master’s students coming from 12 different Finnish universities and from various academic disciplines. The Master’s School is coordinated by the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki. The ExpREES provides students with an opportunity to add a multidisciplinary area studies training to their Master’s degree, to specialize in area studies in addition to their discipline focused studies at their home university. Each year approximately 40 students begin their ExpREES studies and take part in the ExpREES summer school and other courses in the different fields of humanities and social sciences provided by the universities in the Finnish university network in Russian and East European Studies. As part of their studies students also learn to know representatives of the ExpREES alumni and in other ways to enhance their connections to the representatives of working life and skills required for finding employment after their studies.
University cooperation in this field – providing education in Russian and East European studies – is utmost important for a country such as Finland because it gathers and thus makes the best out of the resources -both intellectual and material resources that no one Finnish university alone may possess. A network-based training thus multiplies the opportunities of specializing in Russian and East European studies for students of all 12 universities that are members of the given network. In addition, it enhances cooperation between teachers of different universities and may also encourage to research cooperation. In other countries, area studies focusing on Russia, territory of the former Soviet Union or Eastern Europe are often offered by single universities and English as the language of instruction, such as in Tartu, Uppsala, or more recently Helsinki or in some cases, also in international cooperation (e.g. Central and East European, Russian and Eurasian Studies – Erasmus Mundus International Master, coordinated by the University of Glasgow). A network based approach together with the access to educational offerings of network universities and chances of networking with students and teachers from different universities work for the benefit for students’ future careers be it in the private or public sector and connected with Russia and Eastern Europe or not. Networking has been one of the most appreciated outcomes – together with the learning outcomes to do with the area knowledge – in student feedback and alumni surveys gathered each year. According to alumni surveys, the knowledge of Russia and Eastern Europe has been one crucial reason why ExpREES graduates have found their first job. ExpREES alumni also appreciated that courses in area studies were a good addition to their Master’s degree and that the ExpREES supported and promoted their graduation.
For the Finnish network universities, ExpREES offers funding for lecture courses, online courses and workshops. The focus is on distance learning, which would allow students all over Finland to participate in the courses. In 2003-2018, over 400 courses have been organized with the help of the ExpREES funding. The courses have handled topics ranging from the Soviet culture to Business in the Baltic Sea Region and from human geography to the history of Bulgaria. The network also provides an opportunity to study partly in the national language (in this case Finnish) and partly in English, some courses are also offered in Russian. The call for applications for course funding in the academic year 2020-2021 is open for the representatives of network universities; the deadline for applications is 17th February 2020.
In addition to national cooperation, Finnish universities have also been active in international education cooperation, and this concerns also cooperation with Russian universities. One of the most intensive forms of cooperation in the field of higher education are joint programmes, including Finnish-Russian double degree programmes at the Master’s level. However, these programmes have not usually focused on area studies as such, but area knowledge (or perhaps intercultural competence) may be acquired as a part of the discipline-based studies or when students take their study abroad period. Therefore, these programmes also contribute to the training of Russia experts in Finland – and Finland experts in Russia.
Expert article 2691