On March 7, a seminar was held at the University of Helsinki concerning language strategies and policies surrounding the internationalisation of Finnish higher education. In the following guest blog, ELFA project member Netta Hirvensalo addresses some key points raised in the seminar.
by Netta Hirvensalo
The language strategy seminar arranged at the University of Helsinki last Thursday set out to discuss the status of Finland’s national languages, Finnish and Swedish, in Finnish universities and the role English plays in all this. Ulla-Maija Forsberg, first Vice-Rector of the University of Helsinki, kicked off the seminar by outlining what internationalisation means for the University. She characterised the University as already very international, citing rather promising figures for example in terms of the share of non-Finnish postdoctoral researchers (30%), but admitted that the figures were lower on the higher career levels. As the University aims to be internationally attractive, and eventually reach the Top 50 in world university rankings, the direction certainly seems right. But how are we getting there?
From strategies to practice
The much quoted Section 11 of the Finnish Universities Act only dictates the use of Finnish and Swedish within each university and leaves the decision about other languages to the universities themselves. This is where language policies and strategies come into the picture. These documents seem a natural medium for making those decisions known, and it was encouraging to hear that several Finnish universities are in the process of updating theirs, no doubt as a result of desired and already achieved internationalisation. But therein lies also a problem: who ensures that universities actually follow through with the statements they make, when there is no regulation on the government’s part?