It’s here!! The local task force is looking for new members!

It’s that time of the year again! We’re more than excited to announce that we’re looking for new members to join our Una Europa Local Student Task Force! This is a group of student volunteers working together with each other and staff members to raise awareness about Una Europa among University of Helsinki students in addition to working together with students from the other 10 Una Europa universities to co-create events, ideas, campaigns, and other initiatives.

If you are wondering why you should apply for the local task force, you can take a look at our blog from last fall when we were recruiting local task force members, answering some of the most common questions you might have and what’s really the deal with this local task force! 😊

The most important thing to know about the local task force is that we’re open for all students, from bachelors and masters students and also PhD candidates. All programs and faculties are welcome and we are open for both international and Finnish students. Basically, we are interdisciplinary and international and aiming to be as inclusive as possible!

Currently the Local Task Force is organized in three teams:

  • The communication team
  • The events team
  • The network and community team

You can read more about the activities and tasks of each team in this Google Doc.

While we have a structure in place, there are plenty of place for new ideas, suggestions, and creative proposals! This is a work in progress and constantly developing.

We are looking for people who are:

  • Interested in trying out new things
  • Looking to challenge themselves
  • Able/willing to communicate in English (no need to be a native speaker 🙂 )
  • Excited to work with a team and create things together
  • Proactive and engaged
  • Committing to participate in regular meetings and taking the responsibility to implement ideas

What has the local task force been doing so far?

Great question! This blog is a good example of one of the things! The communication group is responsible for the blog, where one student is the editor of the blog and other students contribute to the blog.

The event and networking teams have been organizing events and gathering people, connecting with new collaborators and been thinking up new ideas that you will soon hear about for this spring or help to plan if you join the Local Task Force!

Check out these blogs to see a bit more what the Local Task Force has been up to the past fall:

Pikkujoulu in Guidance Corner

Fresher’s Adventure Una Europa activity

Joining the launch of the Micro-Credential in Sustainability

What’s next??

This spring will only increase the opportunities for the Local Task Force members to dream up, plan and execute activities. We will be at the guidance corner, Sustainability Science Days and much more! The Local Task Force will soon be planning the program for spring, so new members will be able to still participate as well.

Una Europa is a community of people who want to imagine the future of higher education and what we think European collaboration could look like. It’s for people who like working together to achieve big things and create new initiatives. It’s a chance to work together with other students, staff and academics within the University of Helsinki and also with students and staff from across our 10 partner universities.

We hope this sounds as exciting to you as it does to us!

If yes, please don’t hesitate, but click right here, to start your application for the Una Europa local task force at the University of Helsinki!

If you have any questions, you can contact Stinne Vognaes, Una Europa student engagement coordinator (

Once Upon a Summer in Una Europa One Health Summer School

This summer marked the first edition of the Una Europa One Health Summer School in Edinburgh. Six students from the University of Helsinki were selected to join the summer school. Here Venla shares her experience during the two weeks.

I did not know much about Una Europa before one afternoon I received an information letter about the first Una Europa One Health Summer School. I am glad that I decided to try my luck and applied because in July me and five other students from the University of Helsinki, Olga, Laura, Rebecca, Akseli and another Venla found ourselves in the campus of University of Edinburgh. We were surrounded by about 50 new people from eight different European universities with majors varying from medicine, veterinary medicine, physiotherapy, geography to politics, international relations, law, psychology, and anthropology. I had been hesitant to apply since my previous focus in my studies had been quite distant from health and sustainability. However, I was curious to enlighten myself and I knew (and I learned even more) about how important the link between health, science and politics is to regulate and make changes to our political and societal systems.

The key point in Summer School was to become familiar with One Health & Planetary Health concepts and practice multidisciplinary and multicultural professional cooperation. We had lectures about wider health-related concepts such as circular economy, health governance, food security and communicating science to the public. To dig in deeper, we had more detailed sessions about, for example, more specific viruses and bacteria. We practiced debating, discussing, and pitching skills in groups where we had to create a challenge connected to One Health and in mere two weeks, present our own solution to it. I am so grateful to my Project Team One members since in such a brief time we shared our knowledge, learned how to put it all together and had fun during the process. We focused on how to raise young people’s awareness of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and support positive behavioral change in the use of antibiotics among European Youth.

There were lots of activities and team building events outside of the lessons too, such as hiking the hills nearby Edinburgh, visiting museums and dancing Ceilidh (traditional Scottish dance). My independent activities with other students took me to exploring the secrets of the city by visiting many photogenic alleys, cafés, thrifts shops, Craig Millar Castle and seaside, Edinburgh’s night life (I recommend Sunday Karaoke in Frankenstein theme bar) and, of course, exploring the famous stand-up and comedy festival called ”Fringe”.

Despite the marvelous historical sights of Edinburgh, for me the most meaningful part of the trip was the people. Everyone lived in a shared flat with at least five other nationalities and worked in multidisciplinary and multicultural project groups. Me, my roomies, and our neighbors also formed a cooking club to try our favorite foods from home and spill the tea in our kitchen after intense academic and leisure activities. There were plenty of things that students from diverse backgrounds could teach to each other in and outside of the classroom too.

Therefore, I warmly encourage anyone who is even a bit interested in global health and Una Europa to reach out and apply for the upcoming Una Europa activities no matter what your academic curiosity is. For me, Una Europa is precisely about learning from each other and developing new skills together as friends and as a part of an international academic community.

Venla (3rd year Bachelor Student in Global politics, Faculty of Social Sciences)

Laura Riuttanen is working for the sustainability transformation in Una Europa and beyond

Laura Riuttanen (photo: Esko Jämsä, kirkko ja kaupunki)

It shouldn’t be news to anyone that sustainability is at the core of our strategy and our values. We aim to provide our knowledge for the betterment of the world. With the launch of the Una Europa micro-credential in sustainability, Laura Riuttanen has even bigger ambitions.

Laura Riuttanen is a university lecturer in atmospheric sciences at the Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research (INAR). From her very early days as a PhD candidate and researcher she was interested in climate change and understanding how pollutants travel in the air and affect the climate. While research is still an important part of her work, in later years she has increasingly focused her attention on climate change education and educating the change-makers we need for a more sustainable future. She has done this especially through her involvement in the Climate University network, which she is now leading. While teaching is of course an essential part of our university activities, Laura is more passionate than most. So how does she explain this passion she has for climate change education?

“I think it’s the sense of urgency of these topics. We really need the change in our societies now. Research is of course very important; it’s important we have trustworthy knowledge and create new knowledges, but I find that teaching is really the way to transform our societies. In our universities, we teach thousands of students every year. If we combine the knowledge that comes from universities and the power of educating these thousands of students, I believe universities could really be the engine of the sustainability transformation.”

Not society, but societies. Because while Laura has spent years working with Finnish networks and colleagues across higher education, she has recently expanded her reach and collaboration to colleagues far beyond our borders.

A global ambition

International partnerships and networks are a central part of our university’s operations. Often it can be hard to see the real-life impact of these alliances on a concrete and tangible level, visible to students and staff. This is slowly shifting with The University of Helsinki’s participation in the Una Europa alliance, one of 41 European University Alliances. The aim is to build the university of the future and to connect and co-create new, innovative educational formats in interdisciplinary and international ways.

This year we are finally seeing the fruition of many of the ambitious, joint formats, including our micro-credential in sustainability, which is launching today. But what is a micro-credential and who is behind it?

“A micro-credential is a new format of continuous education, it’s currently being developed across the EU. There are still different understandings on what the exact definition is, but the idea is that in a world that is changing fast we all need to be continuous learners. It’s not enough that you study for a degree in your 20s and then work the same way until you retire. We all need to update our knowledge and the micro-credentials provides a flexible way to learn on the way,” says Laura.

The Una Europa micro-credential consists of five MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), which combined becomes a 10 credit micro-credential. It is developed and delivered within the collaboration of the Una Europa Alliance, where Laura and other colleagues from across University of Helsinki have worked closely with colleagues at the University of Bologna and the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. This is a very new and different way of working, since the academics involved have collaboratively developed the scope, idea and content of the whole micro-credential, it’s not just a combination of existing courses.

Enabling a generation of sustainability change-makers

Through the Una Europa collaboration Laura has been able to expand her scope and vision for sustainability education. The micro-credential offers a wide and innovative view on sustainability by combining an introductory course on sustainability with perspectives coming from biodiversity, climate change, political economy and the arts. The courses are filled with additional examples and perspectives from other Una Europa partners such as Complutense University of Madrid and University of Edinburgh. Additionally, Laura has also engaged with colleagues from across Finland through the Climate University, the Biodiversity Education Network, and countless other colleagues. With this kind of scope and breadth of collaboration what does Laura envision for this effort?

“These challenges we are facing are so big that no country alone can solve the sustainability crisis and climate change. We need to put our forces together to work on these topics, but we also need basic knowledge, which is what the MOOCs can provide. I think that in all fields of society, we need to update our knowledge on climate change, biodiversity loss and sustainability issues. These MOOCs provide a flexible way to update your knowledge, get a status check of what the situation is and what needs to be done.”

This offering allows any student regardless of their field to get a grasp of the issues of sustainability and how we all need to engage. Una Europa has been at the frontlines of developing co-teaching between universities and institutions and has also been a leader in defining the micro-credential on a European level as an essential part of continuous learning.

If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together

In many ways the University of Helsinki is leading the work on open education, online learning and co-teaching, in addition to climate and sustainability education. That is not only in Finland but in a global context. Laura argues that this is an even more important reason to engage in an alliance such as Una Europa, as an opportunity to multiply the impact.

“We should continue to put our efforts into leading the world towards sustainable futures and towards learning about possible sustainable futures. Una Europa brought us together with new colleagues and in that way, we have been able to for example get these interviews from different parts of Europe getting a wider perspective to for example climate change and how it affects different parts of Europe differently.”

This is a unique opportunity, which Laura is aware would not have been possible without Una Europa. Una Europa allows her and her colleagues to provide learners with an international and comprehensive understanding of sustainability issues, that is not only presented from one cultural or disciplinary perspective. Students get to learn from experts from across Europe and in addition get to study virtually in Krakow and Bologna in addition to Helsinki. But while the micro-credential is finally being launched today, this is only the beginning. How does Laura imagine the universities participating in this work?

“I would like to see universities as active parts of the sustainability transformation, not only teaching these skills and knowledges but also doing and learning by doing. We shouldn’t be on the sidelines of society on these issues, but really at the core where things are happening. My goal would be to see us actively working together while studying and while teaching.”

Apply for the Una Europa local student task force by 9.9.2022!

“I joined the local task force to meet people and make some new friends – coming to a new city as an international student can be tough on social life. In Una Europa volunteers, I found a great bunch of funny, kind, enthusiastic people from all around Europe who are passionate about the organization’s mission, believe in European integration, and want to help make it happen. Needless to say that they are also a great company to go for a beer after the work is done, and chat about our experiences with living in Helsinki both as seasoned locals or fresh newcomers. So if you’re looking for a nice community and volunteer work with EU purpose, join our next meeting – we’re already excited to meet you :)!” Helena Drdlova

We’re excited to launch our fall application for the Una Europa Local Student Task Force. We had a great experience this spring with the inaugural task force, so great that many of them are continuing with us this fall, but we also have increased our ambitions and are therefore looking for creative, curious and proactive students to join the team!

What is Una Europa?

Una Europa is an alliance of 11 European universities, collaborating to create innovative and unique educational offerings and other curricular and extracurricular activities for you and you 600.000 fellow students at these universities!

This includes a 2-credit MOOC on the impact of AI in Society (start studying here), challenge-based learning initiatives such as Una.Together (we’ll launch the next challenge in spring 2023), and the student congress (currently open for applications for fully funded participation in Krakow this fall). These are just a few examples of our initiatives and opportunities that you might be able to participate and help develop if you join the local task force.

What does it mean to be part of the Local task force?

Being a member in the local task force here at the University of Helsinki means that you will join a team of motivated and enthusiastic students! We are open for all backgrounds and study fields and levels of study. Currently we’re a mix of both international and Finnish students and range from bachelor to master to PhD students. We meet every other week and plan activities, events, brainstorm and implement activities.

A big part of the work is helping to create awareness about initiatives (such as those mentioned above), but you will also be part of defining future initiatives of Una Europa (both here in Helsinki but it can also be on the European level!) and work on how students can be more involved in what Una Europa should be now and in the future.

Una Europa is a young initiative (we’re only three years in) and we have just received funding for the next four years. So how can this kind of exciting, close collaboration between 11 universities benefit you and your fellow students here in Helsinki more? How would you like to engage or collaborate with you fellow students across Europa? What kind of initiatives and conversation do you think we need to have about the future of higher education here in Europe? What opportunities do you see within such a network? These are some of the questions we’re trying to answer.

Sure, that sounds great, but what are some concrete things you do?

Well, to be honest that is up to you! In spring we were hosting both formal events discussing about the different universities in the alliance, sharing about the opportunities and promoting multilingualism. We did take-overs on the Student Union Instagram and the University of Helsinki Instagram. We were part of organising a huge event for all the universities in Helsinki. We also had a few social events and collaborated with other internationally minded associations here in Helsinki. In the fall we’re planning to do even more social events, to give students here in Helsinki more of a taste of the student cultures in our partner universities, get the chance to engage in more European networking with fellow student local task forces in other universities and do more events and awareness raising. But any good ideas are warmly welcome!

Hm okay, you say international student associations, is this only for international students?

No definitely not! Una Europa is for all students, not matter your nationality, whether you’ve been abroad or not or whether you’re new to Helsinki and Finland or not! We primarily speak English to allow everyone to participate, but we’re very nice and friendly and you don’t need perfect English to participate! This is also a place to grow and learn and most of us are not native speakers 😊 What we are looking for are people with an open mind, interested to work in an intercultural environment and to participate and challenge themselves to do new things!

We hope to receive your application for the local task force, it will be open until 9.9.2022. If you have any more questions don’t hesitate to reach out to the student engagement coordinator for Una Europa Stinne Vognaes ( When you are ready, you can apply here.

Una Europa PhD Slam: Carolina’s story of overcoming adversity and putting yourself out there

Behind every PhD candidate is a story and Carolina Buendia Sarmiento is no different. While only being a PhD student for a few months in the Doctoral Programme in Political, Societal and Regional Change, she has already participated in Una Europa’s first PhD Slam, where she competed against seven other PhD students from across Una Europa universities researching topics related to sustainability. While her preparation was impeccable, the challenges of technology can be unpredictable. So how did it go? You’ll have to read on to find out!

Before we share Carolina’s roller-coaster experience with the PhD Slam, what sparked her interest in women’s empowerment, gender equality, development cooperation and understanding the complex dynamics and intersection of these topics?

While still back at home in Colombia she worked on implementation of a project on women, peace, and security issues. The project aimed to enhance women’s capabilities to participate in peace-building processes and enable them to support women facing gender-based violence. This project put Carolina on the path to Finland where she has lived since 2018. She came here for her master’s degree at Åbo Akademi in Peace, Mediation and Conflict. In Finland, she has also done consultancy work in different capacities on the topics of development cooperation and gender equality. But for Carolina applying for a PhD was always the goal and she was clear on her interests.

“After a lot of reading and research, I came across this interesting intersection of how development cooperation has been transforming itself. It is no longer only NGOs and governmental agencies that are involved in this process. Increasingly private sector is playing an important role. That sparked my interest, and I became certain that I wanted to do my PhD on this intersection of gender equality and women’s empowerment in particular, but trying to better understand the role of the private sector and what impact it has on women in the end.”

The University of Helsinki turned out to have the program that she believed was the best fit for her. She wanted to be in an environment where the research was focused on providing a critical perspective on the topic.

“I’m interested in the critical view on the dynamics that are shaping collaboration between the Global North and the Global South. I wanted to study in a place and collaborate with people who are interested in this critical perspective and not only going by the mainstream discourse that it’s positive that private sector put money into development cooperation but challenge that and be critical of what that means. That’s the reason I choose the University of Helsinki.”

While Carolina has only been a PhD student for a few months and the complexity of the pandemic has limited the opportunities for meeting and connecting with students and faculty, she is very happy with her decision and constantly gaining new perspectives and points of view.

“I recently took this course on gender and sexuality in regional studies. It was interesting how we were able to think together about how we analyse gender and how we can include it in our respective research. I was studying with people who are looking at gender in different contexts and that brings so much richness to the discussion. My understanding of gender is very much related to my work in development cooperation and the topics of gender equality, political participation, these societal phenomena, but gender is transversal, part of every single sphere of life and sector of society. Having the opportunity to discuss with people working on such different topics got me thinking; how can we apply the gender perspective in any research? It sparks ideas for how I can look at my own subject, my own interactions with gender in a different way.”

She realized that while the topics and fields of research are different, many of the questions her and her fellow students were asking were similar. What are the relations and dynamics that should be considered? In that manner she can learn from other’s experiences and ideas.

“It has been a very wonderful process; people are very open to discussing and willing to learn. You don’t see that too often and that is something, that is helpful when you are starting out. It gives you the confidence to speak with others about your research and ask questions. It is something I really value about the university and the people I have been connecting with.”

Finding opportunities and facing fears

Starting her PhD in the middle of a global pandemic has not been easy. Carolina was fortunate enough to have been recommended to sign up for a mailing list for PhD students and that’s where she heard about the Una Europa PhD Slam. A PhD Slam is where PhD candidates get 7 minutes to present their research. In Una Europa there are eight universities (since January 2022 there are nine partners), so eight PhD candidates would get the opportunity to present. Her first response was not applying since she’s very uncomfortable speaking in public. But she had been trying to challenge herself to take opportunities like this, even if it scares her. She had recently had a positive experience with ignite talks, where she had 5 minutes to present with the help of mostly visual slides changing every 15 seconds, so she thought that this could be the next step.

“This was the next level because it was an international audience, a larger scale and a more complicated issue because it would be on my research. But it was also more exciting because it was an opportunity to speak about something that I care about and connect with people interested in the broader discussion of sustainability. So, I decided that I wanted to apply. It took me a while to actually do the application, because I was quite nervous about it, but during the last day I finally submitted it.”

She felt good about applying and was excited when she got the news that she would be the PhD student representing the University of Helsinki. She did everything she could to prepare and practice and was excited and nervous when the day finally came. She was going to be the last one to present. Just when it was finally her turn, there was problems with the internet connection, which meant long minutes of stressful efforts to get the technology to work.

“During the presentation I had several difficulties, which really threw me off balance. It makes it difficult to get a grip of yourself and for one moment I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it, either because of the technical problems but also because I was much more nervous and affected than I would have been without the technical problems. I managed to do the presentation and after I finished, I just felt relieved that it was over, but also kind of sad and maybe a little disappointed that it didn’t go as I had pictured in my head.”

This kind of situation is probably a collective nightmare for all of us in these times of Zoom and online meetings. While this was not how Carolina had planned things to go, she still managed to turn the stressful experience into an opportunity for learning.

“After thinking about the process, I see that it was an opportunity for learning valuable lessons, about how to be able to let things go and not be so afraid of problems or difficulties and failing in general. I managed to give a presentation with all those problems. That was something that helped me afterwards, to think of it in a more positive light. The main thing is to accept that sometimes even if you think that you have thought of all the things that can go wrong, something unexpected can still happen and you need to be able to give your best in those situations.”

Being able to still move ahead in times of uncertainty and challenges is a valuable skill. Carolina managed to get everything together and deliver her presentation in a convincing manner and the jury noticed. After the voting, they announced the top three presenters and Carolina got the third place.

“I couldn’t believe it and for a moment I thought that I was hearing wrong. I started thinking, despite all the problems I must have given a good presentation and have be able to convince people to vote for me, so I was happy about the results, and felt like all that work had paid off.”

The value of Una Europa

To Carolina it is not rocket science how an alliance like Una Europa is valuable to PhD students. Being an alliance of now nine of the top research universities in Europe, it provides access to a large number of like-minded people, researchers, opportunities for collaboration, and resources.

“The Una Europa network gives each student the opportunity to be on a stage that can amplify their voice. Through this network you get connected to the networks of each university and the network of those students and researchers. It gives you more opportunities and more space to work collaboratively, to learn from others, but also to disseminate your research. I think it’s invaluable.”

Carolina believes that it’s a channel for more open collaboration and opens possibilities for doing projects in a more sustainable way by including different perspectives on the same problem. In her opinion that brings a lot of richness.

“I believe there are many positive outcomes of such initiatives, in terms of professional growth of PhD students but it also makes it easier to tap into common resources and provides a wider reach for the impact that you envision for your research.”

Especially in a pandemic Una Europa is tapping into that virtuality and aiming to create a meaningful space for PhD students to gather virtually and connect. In that way, Una Europa facilitates creating the network and space for meeting others, but also a sense of feeling supported. Carolina has already taken advantage of the Una Europa network and tapped into the potential of our virtual, European community. So, what’s next?

“What I’m hoping for is more opportunities to speak about my research but also to connect with people working with similar questions. I’m eager and looking forward to challenge myself. I’m just starting, but I already have a lot of ideas and I’m looking forward to seeing this process as a journey, as an opportunity to be critical and self-assess my preconceptions and previous understandings of the work and changing them.”

Apply for the Una Europa Local Task Force!

Are you:

  • Interested in the future of European higher education and student involvement?
  • Motivated when you can shape how a project is developed?
  • Looking to work with like-minded students in an international environment to make an impact?
  • Ready to use your voice to change hearts and minds at the University of Helsinki and in European higher education?

Then this is for you!

Una Europa is a European University Alliance, where the University of Helsinki together with eight other European Universities are striving to create a common European campus and build the European university of the future. Among other things this includes developing joint degrees, virtual and blended mobility, building a common student community and developing new formats of education and mobility.

Una Europa has five thematic areas: sustainability, European studies, Cultural heritage, One Health, and AI. If any of these themes or topics are of interest to you, there is a place for you in the Una Europa Local Task Force!

We are recruiting students for two teams to bring awareness about Una Europa among our students and make sure that all our students can benefit and participate in this alliance.

Communication team:

  • Develop, strategise and create content for the Una Europa Helsinki blog (where you are currently reading this)
  • Brainstorm and write stories for internal channels about Una Europa
  • Social media – work with the Student Union, the University of Helsinki social media team and others to create and share news about Una Europa opportunities
  • Support the monthly student newsletter
  • Work with the Una Europa Student Board – they are launching a publication for students across Una Europa and this team will be supporting that
  • Help create a long-term and sustainable communication strategy for Una Europa at the University of Helsinki

Community engagement team:

  • Connect with like-minded student associations and strengthen the networks for communication and common advocacy, events and other initiatives
  • Networking and coalition building between relevant stakeholders – help develop a strategic vision for how to embed Una Europa within the university
  • Plan and host events for students about topics within the scope of Una Europa, both online and in person, including monthly events at the Guidance Corner
  • Create campaigns and other initiatives together with the communication team
  • Work with the Student Board on Una Europa level to localize and co-create events including the student congress for all Una Europa students

The content and roles of the two teams and the team members will be co-developed with the selected applicants during February. The aim is for the two teams to work in close collaboration and define the tasks on an ongoing manner. This is an open and co-creative space. We want you to share your thoughts and ideas, and to think and dream big!

What’s in it for you?

  • You get to be part of a motivated team of fellow students passionate about education, learning and internationalization!
  • The opportunity to work in an international environment, both at the university and also within the wider Una Europa student community
  • Be part of creating something from scratch that has the attention of the university leadership and will make a difference both at our university and on European level
  • Access to financial and staff resources to make your ideas into reality

If this sounds like something for you, apply right here!

The deadline is Friday 28.1.2022 at 23.59.

Additional information:

  • The working language of these task forces will be English.
  • When applying for these positions we are expecting that you will be available throughout the spring semester (February-May/June), but this can be negotiated. There will be space to indicate your situation in the application form.
  • In terms of time commitment we would prefer that you are able to spend at least a few hours on this every week (2-5 hours) and also attend meetings every two weeks. This is a initial aim, but we are flexible and considerate of each student’s situation.

Selection will be done the first week of February and all applicants will be informed when selection has been finalised. We approach this with an open mind and therefore don’t have a strict number of positions. The number of selected participants depends on the number and motivation of applications.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact the project coordinator for Una Europa and student engagement Stinne Vognaes at

Helsinki-Una Open Forum: Why do we need student engagement?

Student engagement is something we can all agree is great and important, at least in theory! But is it worth it when we need to put it into practice and how much should students be involved in? These are questions that we thought worth discussing and we will share some key insights from our last Helsinki-Una Open Forum right here.

At the Helsinki-Una Open Forums, we strive to bring up topics that connect our university with our broader network and involvement in the Una Europa alliance. 24th of November we had the fifth and last Open Forum of 2021 and we discussed the theme of student engagement.

We were lucky to have four great speakers and we got key insights as to why student engagement matters, how to do it well and what value it can contribute to our committees, international alliances, course development and building community in new programs.

If you want to watch the full talks, you can find them on UniTube.

Here we have gathered our main take-aways and reflections on how to strengthen involvement of students.

Teemu Turkki, student board member in Una Europa from the University of Helsinki.

Teemu has been a student board member in Una Europa since August and shared his experience working with fellow students in an international context, finding ways to include student voices and understanding the opportunities and challenges in a complex network such as Una Europa.

Teemu brought up many important points based on his experience in the student board:

  • The main goal of the student board (and other official bodies with students) is really to make sure the student voice is heard. That’s the essential and foundational role of these bodies. For students, it can feel difficult to really influence matters but they often have unique perspectives and suggestions that we can benefit from. The student board is crucial in facilitating that connection, and bridging bottom-up initiatives and ideas from students with the larger structures of networks such as Una Europa.
  • Student engagement happens on many different levels, from local to global and all of them matters when meaningfully engaging students. In Una Europa there is both the central Student board but also local task forces to engage local students and provide a flow of information both ways. While this is a great start, it is still challenging and an ongoing task to make sure that the centralised student board is transparent and shares the knowledge that is being gathered and discussed with all students to allow them to be informed and involved.
  • Finally, Teemu made a compelling argument for why student engagement is more important than ever. The world is increasingly complex, and we need the voices, ideas, and actions of many different people to solve the problems we are facing. It is not possible to solve problems alone. Decentralized decision-making and bottom-up engagement will be crucial to the success of Una Europa and in any kind of problem-solving in a global context, with challenges such as sustainability. For us to reach the ambitious goals of Una Europa and create the European university of the future, we truly need to engage students and make them our partners.
  1. Meri Mäkelä, university teacher and Rami Ratvio, university lecturer, and together coordinators of the SUST-001 course

Student engagement is not just about the students joining student associations and purely student driven initiatives. It is just as much about how we as staff are incorporating and including students in our work and giving them a seat at the table.

Meri and Rami understand very well the opportunities and benefits of being radically open, collaborative, and co-creating not just with students, but any member of the university community. They have been working on the university-wide sustainability course, SUST-001 that will be offered to all students. One of the main catalysts for this course was the university’s new strategic plan, where sustainability was positioned as a cross-cutting theme, to be present in all educational offerings. You can preview the course right here.

So, what have Meri and Rami learned from the ongoing process that has already lasted several years and included 160+ collaborators?

  • When planning a new initiative that will be university-wide and multidisciplinary it is beneficial to involve as stakeholders as possible. Meri and Rami are not only involving the students but also staff and other stakeholders within the university. In this kind of process, all perspectives and inputs can be valuable. It is hard to know where new insights might come from and the more people that are involved, the more insights and fresh thinking can happen. Especially initiatives related to complex topics such as sustainability benefits from a broad set of collaborators. If you want to be successful in creating a multidisciplinary course you need multidisciplinary approaches and points of view.
  • Students can take on many different roles and it is feasible to have them involved in all parts of the process. Students aren’t only included in the process of testing the course prototype, but they are involved in answering surveys, being test users, working on the content and pedagogical design, acting as facilitators in workshops and part of the steering group as equal members, in addition to being members of the working groups, and some are even working group leaders. Students were positioned as equals and encourage to contribute to the process at all stages with a full mandate together with staff.
  • Co-creative processes don’t have a clear start and end. When involving students and looking for feedback at all stages of the process, you need an iterative approach where feedback is integrated continuously. The course has been available in several iterations and changes have been made based on feedback from the students. If you want to engage students and do it well, you both need to make it clear how they can participate and show that you take the feedback seriously. There is nothing more discouraging that providing feedback and never seeing any changes being made. On the other hand, it is motivating to see your feedback put into practice.
  1. Alicia Lucendo Noriega, student in the master’s program Changing Education (CE)

Alicia is part of the first cohort in the first English-language program in the Faculty of Educational Sciences, Changing Education. They are not only the first English-language program, but they also had the challenge of creating a community in the middle of a global pandemic. In her presentation Alicia unpacked how to build a community from scratch and how proactive and creative students can be when provided the environment and encouragement to engage and co-create with staff.

So, what lessons can we learn from Alicia’s experience?

  • Co-create a community that feels safe and inclusive to everyone. It is an important part of culture building to allow students to commonly share and discuss what kind of community they want to be part of and what is important for them to feel able to express themselves freely with fellow students. In Changing Education this process started at the beginning of the program and continued through the first period. It allowed students to have a conversation about the kind of community they wanted to be part of. It both create ownership and a sense of responsibility towards the community. As Alicia said, it creates a strong foundation for learning. It is a reference point for everyone to refer to when needed and it is a continuous process to collectively bring it to life.
  • Connect with each other as human beings. Sometimes we get caught up in our roles and titles, who is student and who is staff. Alicia shared the initiative of Monday cafes where all students and staff could meet online. One hour each week, everyone could join this café to connect, talk, and share how it was going.
  • Collect feedback and act on it. Several feedback mechanisms have been put in place in the program, both regarding courses, but also to share experiences of the whole program and other aspects on students’ minds. Seeing the feedback being considered and put into practice, no matter how small, is encouraging and motivating. Ongoing conversations and dialogue are essential and in the Changing Education program students also organise a Student Panel each semester for the students to meet and openly discuss feedback and come up with concrete ideas together. Additionally, this is a great opportunity for community strengthening, since students come together and discuss how they together can improve the community. This kind of space allow students to get connected, act and feel a sense of agency for the collective they are part of.
  • Finally, Alicia emphasized how her program is an example of how much students are capable of when giving the opportunity. While the program staff did a lot and initiated the close cooperation with the students, the students also started several initiatives completely independently. They started a multimedia website where they share a podcast, blogs, their writings from courses including thoughts and ideas on how to change education. Additionally, they also created the first English-language student association Osa Ry in the faculty of educational science. They wanted to engage with the wider community and faculty, and they found ways to do this. By creating a platform to share their thoughts, work, and ideas they are striving to be part of changing education in practice. By organizing themselves in an association they are organizing events, connecting with the broader faculty and community. All this came from the wish to contribute to changing education. They are truly accepting the potential and invitation posed by their program, to change education.

We hope these insights inspired you as much as they inspired us, and we encouraged you to watch the full talks on UniTube! Student engagement is the future, students are essential partners within our collective university community and there are so many ways we can benefit from their insights and passion. We hope this has given you some ideas on how to strengthen the involvement of students in your own initiatives and projects.

Helsinki-Una Open Forum will return in January 2022 and we hope to see you for another year of thought-provoking talks and discussions!

Making international experiences accessible to all


The first student board of Una Europa in 2020

You might wonder why you should read about internationalisation in the time of COVID-19. This pandemic has, for the first time in our lifetime, shut down borders and quite literally grounded us. Does it really make sense to talk about international experiences without physical mobility? Topias Tolonen’s answer is ‘yes’. As this crisis has shown us, we need to rethink what internationalisation means and how we make it accessible to everyone, maybe even right here at home. 

Topias Tolonen is not new to the conversation about the value and challenges that comes with internationalisation. He is currently in the International Affairs Group at the University of Helsinki, which is where everything that has to do with internationalisation is debated. In addition, he is actively involved with the Student Union of the University of Helsinki, where he also deals with issues of international affairs among other things. In January 2020, he was selected to represent the University of Helsinki in the Una Europa Student Board and he just finished his term this August. Una Europa is an alliance with eight member universities, the University of Helsinki is one of them. The alliance has embarked on a journey towards a more integrated European Education Area and a common European campus. This means imagining the future of higher education through joint degrees, virtual mobility, living labs and much more.

But for Topias Tolonen the interest and passion for internationalisation started long before applying for the student board of Una Europa.

“I have been active in the Student Union for years, most recently I’ve started working as a specialist on the topics of higher education policy and internationalisation. I have been thinking about what it means for a university to be international and what that might look like in practice. The reason why I applied to join the student board of Una Europa is that I saw this alliance as an opportunity to learn. I wanted to see their approach to this question and get an example of a concrete manifestation of what an international university could look like.”

Reflecting on his time as a student representative in Una Europa, he argues that it was not just about understanding how this alliance might help or support internationalisation. In Topias’ opinion, it was also a way to get engaged and potentially impact the European landscape of higher education. Una Europa is an entry point to participate in and shape that conversation.

This is a big endeavour, and many challenges lie ahead but also plenty of opportunities. Topias was working with seven other students, each representing one of the other participating universities. Their role was to bring the student voice to this alliance, to make sure that what is being done in the different working groups has relevance to students and is addressing students’ wants and needs. Initiatives include joint bachelors, masters and doctoral programs, virtual mobility, newTopias Tolonen pedagogical approaches, challenge-based learning and much more.

The student board of Una Europa sends representatives to the steering and executive committee meetings. The goal is for the student voice to be present and to have a clear link between the high-level decision-making taking place in the steering groups and working groups and the students on each campus. Topias really sees it as quality assurance of the work that is happening to make sure that it is benefiting students and other stakeholders. The money for the project is coming from Erasmus, so students should definitely have a clear voice in Topias’ opinion.

“It is challenging when you are part of a newly started project. How to put the structures in place that keep students involved and informed continuously and make sure that we as the student board were kept informed about new information and knowledge being circulated.”

Topias Tolonen is very clear on the value of international experiences and would like more students to benefit from it. He sees Una Europa as a possibility to remove the obstacles and challenges that students might be facing when considering an international experience.

“Based on the Eurostudent VIII study, one of the key points that keeps Finnish students from applying to go abroad is financial matters. The cost can be high and they lose the income from their job while abroad. There are also many practical questions and just many unknown factors that make people think twice. Una Europa is piloting virtual mobility, which is very interesting, but I’m also curious to see the potential and implementation of blended mobility.”

Topias really wants to expand and rethink the idea of mobility. He wants it to be accessible to a broader range of students and work to break down as many barriers as possible. He argues that there are many initiatives that could make the process of going abroad easier, such as centralising information and making the application process clear and simple.

“I still believe that the threshold to applying to go abroad is too high. That is an issue. But again, if everything goes according to the plan, an alliance like Una Europa will support us in breaking down these barriers and making the technical and administrative side of things much simpler. I think that is very valuable and something that all students should really be excited about!”

Topias Tolonen has finished his term as a Student Board member, he is now focusing his energy working at the Student Union of University of Helsinki (HYY) as a specialist in higher education policy. This conversation took place in the fall of 2020. 

Since September this year, Teemu Turkki is the new student board member for Una Europa.