Text and images: Eva Babenko
Recently, Turku became the focus of international attention by presenting its climate goal, which aims at carbon neutrality by 2029 — a date that coincides with the city’s 800th birthday. By presenting one of the most ambitious climate targets in the world, Turku committed to paving the way for sustainable living and circular economy for many cities around Europe.
Besides this, the city of Turku and Southwest Finland are even better known as the homes to many innovative domestic and international companies in the tech, maritime, and health clusters, as well as being major educational centres that attract international students and high-skilled professionals from all over the globe.
Why Talents Matter
The latest socio-cultural trends highlighted in the EU Strategy 2030 show that the future wellbeing and competitiveness of countries and businesses will be largely dependent on the high-skilled labour force that the country would be able to educate or attract from abroad. Thus, a shift towards international, equal and inclusive practices will be required to secure a supply of talented and committed specialists willing to contribute to the future of Finland. That means that Southwest Finland needs to set another bold target — one that aims at reaching zero waste in international talents.
Universities currently filled with unused talents and potentials
The institutes of higher education in Southwest Finland are seeing great successes in recruiting significant numbers of local and international applicants to the region (an overall increase of 3.2 % in per annum student enrollment in the last 3 years). The University of Turku statistics show a record number of 109 different countries for incoming MA and Doctoral applications.
Among the strongest attractors for international talents are the Master’s and Doctoral programmes in the fields of technology, engineering, and life sciences, which are also important fields for the University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University. Statistics show that despite the restrictions caused by the COVID, the number of accepted MA students in the Health, Tech, and Clean clusters within the University of Turku are either stable or increasing, and the most significant growth is in Biomedical Sciences (+ 88%) and Information and Communication Technology (+85,7%). The same tendency could be seen in Åbo Akademi University’s statistics: that is keeping up the same number of accepted Master’s students (15-20 people admitted to the MA programmes each year) and investing in the university’s strategic fields, e.g., chemistry, health solutions, biodiversity and so on.
The combined data available from national statistic sources also shows that despite the challenges international talents face while studying (such as the introduction of the tuition fee in 2017 for students coming from non-EU and non-EEA countries and limited opportunities to get scholarships or grants), the overall interest in education in Southwest Finland, and, especially on the Ph.D.- and Postdoc-levels continue to grow (see Figure 3).
Universities produce highly qualified professionals that are seeking the fulfilment of their career goals in Finland. Yet, studies are showing that only 58% of international graduates are able to find a job and stay in Finland, and COVID has only worsened the situation (Shumilova et al. 2012; Mutuku 2017; Onwutalobi 2019).
Research indicates a disconnect between companies looking for talents and talents who are looking for job opportunities. This mostly boils down to a lack of networking opportunities between them and a prevailing unawareness of the availability of highly educated international specialists we already have in the region. Employment of the students and researchers coming from foreign backgrounds is the main challenge Turku Science Park, the University of Turku, Åbo Akademi University, and the universities of applied sciences are addressing within the UNICOM project.
UNICOM is a compass for companies and international talents
The UNICOM project will become a mediator between international talents already residing in Southwest Finland and companies looking for highly educated professionals. Rather than wasting, the project aims to utilise all of the valuable experience and potential we already have in the region. UNICOM will increase cooperation between universities and companies by piloting an internship programme for Ph.D. students and researchers to ensure equal opportunities for international talents. There are a number of companies already signed up for the project, but there is always a place to step up and join the initiative and invest in the advanced and resilient future of the region.