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EAIE and the role of online in student mobility initiatives

Author: Amy Shackleton, Senior Partnership Development Manager at FutureLearn

FutureLearn was pleased to send a delegate to the 31st conference of the European Association of International Education, which took place in Helsinki in late September. Attendance was at a record-breaking high – 6,200 delegates attended from over 90 countries.

EAIE’s annual conference is a huge event with a close and clear focus on networking and academic engagement. Started over 30 years ago, the Association works to bring educators together from all over the world to discuss international collaboration, student mobility and the future of teaching. However, online education did not appear to take precedence during discussions of what it means to embrace an “international” education focus. Of the 181 sessions and workshops planned over the 4 day event, only 19 used the word “online” or “digital” in their title or description. This raised the question – is this a network that chiefly focuses on physical student mobility? And if so, is there space for a digital conversation with the many thousands of EAIE members who put this event foremost in their calendar?

My conviction is a strong “yes”. Discussions with delegates would suggest this is a preoccupation of many, as budgets for traditional recruitment pathways are squeezed and visibility is a continuous issue for many university brands. 


In this sense, Finland was an excellent choice for a host country, taking such pride as they do in their inclusive, transformative curriculum that extends well beyond formal schooling years. Many adults in Finland choose to continue their education independently of any national mandate; and it is a huge part of Finland’s strategic initiatives to support and celebrate this. 

The opening session, led by Anita Lehikoinen (Ministry of Education and Culture) was a remarkably frank assessment of Finland’s standing in international education metrics, and its priorities for the future. This is summarised in four goals – 

  1. To raise competence and qualification levels of the whole population in Finland.
  2. To reduce the equality gaps in Finnish society.
  3. To focus on continuous learning opportunities.
  4. To invest in Research, Development and Innovation, increasing social cohesion and competitiveness.

Finland’s EU membership has prompted upskilling and internationalisation programmes for the last 30 years. By 2030, they want a national improvement in educational attainment across their population. This ambition is huge, but realisable – Finland identifies as a reformer and experimenter and is investing seriously in the project.

Equally exciting, a parallel goal to their educational strategy is for Finland to be carbon neutral by 2035. 


Despite a lack of focus on online opportunities, disruptive and global innovation was a running theme at EAIE 2019. As plenary speaker, Simon Anholt opened his address with the words, “I’m sick of talking. I don’t want to talk.” It was a striking beginning – a personal admission of his frustration at a lack of progress in global collaboration, and a resounding call to action. Known for his creation of the Good Country Index, Simon’s conviction was that universities’ activity as an international community allows them to foster what he chose to call, “The Good Generation” – the future of humanity as global citizens, geared towards considering their impact beyond borders, supported by a global compact. On his prompting, #goodgeneration picked up rapidly across Twitter, with many academics pledging their support. He even shared his email address – which promptly crashed with all the delegates rushing to offer ideas and ways forward. It was an energising and hopeful start to the conference and a clear sign of the total and crucial role of education.

I attended a dozen more sessions during the following days – on marketing, student recruitment, international student experience, inclusivity, accessibility, credential evaluation, and even Brexit. What came across strongly from all sessions – the common theme that linked them altogether – was that people buy from people. Simon Anholt was not wrong when he considered this group as a global community in its own right. The engagement was a levelling experience, with institutions of wildly different ages, sizes and experience working as a group to further individual projects with common aims. The way this levelling came about was through the individual tenacity and passion of each delegate – those presenting, and those in the audience. In my personal experience, it is rare to attend an event where an appetite for change and progress is so tangible. 

We’re looking forward to next year’s conference already. 

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