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Finland Stepping up Higher Education Development Cooperation

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland has recently signed the approval of 23 new capacity development projects aiming at improving capacities and linkages between Finland and developing countries' higher education institutions. This is the second funding round for the HEI ICI programme in question, and marks a significant increase in ODA funding allocated to higher education institutions.

Finnish development cooperation relating to higher education has been enjoying a positive momentum in recent years. The Finnish Minister for International Development, Heidi Hautala, approved in early March grants for up to EUR 9.7 million for a total of 23 development cooperation projects carried out by Finnish higher education institutions (HEI). The projects fall under the umbrella of the HEI ICI (Higher Education Institutions Institutional Cooperation Instrument) programme and will be implemented in 2013-2015. This decision marks a significant increase in both the amount of funding and the amount of projects involved. These are welcoming signs that higher education is moving up on the Finnish aid agenda.

Through the HEI ICI programme the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA) specifically supports capacity development between Finnish higher education institutions and their partners in developing countries. HEI ICI highlights the current development policy’s focus on human development and accountable and democratic knowledge societies worldwide.  While HEI ICI is funded by the Finnish MFA, it is administered by the Finnish Centre for International Mobility CIMO.

In recent years, CIMO has seen a significant increase in its MFA funded programmes relating to global responsibility and development cooperation.  Besides higher education development cooperation, CIMO also administers Finnish participation in ADEA, i.e. the Association for Development of Education in Africa. In the same vein, CIMO is responsible for the Finnish Junior Professional Officers (JPO) and Junior Experts in the Delegations (JED) programmes, thereby providing the United Nations Institutions and European Commission with qualified and enthusiastic workforce.

Increasing Interest towards HEI Development Programmes

HEIs as development cooperation actors in Finland are still relatively young. Even the HEI ICI programme is still quite new, having been piloted in 2009. This was only the second full funding round administered by CIMO.

Thus far, all HEI ICI projects must be coordinated by Finnish institutions. Being North-based, the programme and projects need to aspire towards mutual learning and the principles of equal partnership. The projects are based on needs specified by the partner HEIs in developing countries. While Finnish allies can help, ultimately it is up to partner countries and institutions themselves to commit to making things happen.

Representing various fields of study, the projects mainly support the development of curricula and teaching methods, the continued training of teaching staff, as well as the improvement of administrative systems, and building links with society and industry.

To keep the selection process as transparent as possible, an international group of specialists in development cooperation and international HEI cooperation took part in the proposal assessment. The process was a good manifestation of successful Nordic collaboration and mutual learning, with experts from SIU in Norway and Scholars from Sweden and Denmark assessing the proposals.

Time will Tell

The future of Finnish higher education development cooperation programmes is looking bright. However, with ever increasing funding pressures clouds may gather. Another CIMO administered programme, North-South-South (NSS), aiming at student and teacher mobility, has been running steadily and successfully since 2004. Currently, there is a drive to find more synergies between the two programmes. In order to also combat the fragmentation of aid, the two programmes will be evaluated this year with an eye on tentatively joining and expanding them into one more cohesive whole. Bridging the programmes also has potential to increase the effectiveness and impact of the various interventions.

So far Finnish capacity development programmes have been running separately from research programmes. With ever-deepening funding pressures, it is uncertain if this recipe is sustainable. There are hopes that the new programme could incorporate even more of HEI’s core functions in order to guarantee high level commitment in the future as well. Only time will tell.

For more information about CIMO programmes, click here. For more information about HEI ICI, click here

Annica Moore
Senior Programme Adviser, Higher Education Cooperation
Centre for International Mobility CIMO, FINLAND