The beginnings of international programmes in Finnish polytechnics reflect the internationalisation progress of higher education in Finland. After the first few years of operation the polytechnics realised that in order to participate in the EU exchange programmes that were opening up for Finland after she joined the EU, they had to offer courses in English to attract exchange students and staff. As Finland has gained a reputation as a country of high-tech innovation and people who are the first to test any new innovations, it has become an attractive alternative for not only exchange but also regular students.

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An important question to ask oneself before establishing an international programme at a Finnish polytechnic is “why?” In the case of international business programmes the reasons are obvious. The globalisation of trade is a fact that should not be ignored in business education. The world is becoming one big market place. This does not, however, mean that it looks or is the same in every corner. The stands in this market place are of different shapes and colours, the sales talk has many cultural shades and the languages spoken and accents heard are numerous. An international business programme should recognise these facts and provide the students an opportunity to gain a solid basis in business skills, but at the same time offer them a possibility to acquire the language and cultural skills that have become part of professional competence in the global market place

How can all this be achieved? An international programme that has students coming from different countries and cultures offers a natural environment for young people to learn these skills in their everyday life. It is not always easy, though. There are often clashes of opinions, feelings hurt and even a few tears shed, but the bottom line always has a plus sign in front of it. Managing a programme like this sometimes feels like being a manager of a circus crew – in the nicest sense of the word.

The benefits to the individual students are obvious. Working in a multi-national environment is both fun and a rewarding experience. The personal networks that the students create for themselves add to both their professional development and to their personality. International work placement enables the students to test their skills further in a wider and more demanding international setting.

The question often raised is: “What is the benefit of these programmes to Finland and Finnish companies, on the one hand, and to the countries where the students come from, on the other?” There are many people who feel that Finnish young people who study in international programmes will only show in the “brain drain” figures, and international students will go back to their countries and also take the know-how out of Finland. Seen at a short term, this may be true to a certain extent. But the impacts of international education should not be viewed at such a short-term basis. We should realise that these young people, wherever they will find themselves on this globe, will have taken part of Finland with them and they, whether they are Finnish or represent any other nationality, are the ones who are able to create and maintain genuine business networks reaching across oceans and continents.

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