Perspectives on Quality of Higher Education in the Context of Finnish Education Export

Henna Juusola (2020)

PhD thesis. Tampere: University of Tampere. Open access.

Responsible supervisor and Custos:
– Professor Dr. Jussi Kivistö, Tampere University Finland
– Emeritus Professor Dr. Seppo Hölttä, Tampere University, Finland
– Dr. Terhi Nokkala, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
– Professor Dr. Harri Laihonen, University of Eastern Finland
– Professor Dr. Anna Kosmützky, Leibniz Universität Germany
– Professor Dr. Harri Laihonen University of Eastern Finland

Abstract. The aim of this doctoral dissertation is to describe quality-related initiatives, characteristics and principles that are produced and maintained in the context of Finnish higher education export at the national, institutional and programme levels using triangulation of data, method and theory. As such, this study contributes to the analytical and empirical understanding of the multifaceted concept of quality in the context of Finnish education export. In this study, education export denotes the international and for-profit actions that cross national borders either through the mobility of individuals and groups or through the mobility of programmes and other educational services. Previously conducted research shows that ‘quality’ in the context of education export has been subject to several expectations, principles and regulations that have exerted intense pressure on higher education institutions to consider the project locations and needs of students and customers without abandoning international comparability. Thus, involvement in education export actions can oblige higher education institutions to reflect on their traditions and processes from multiple perspectives and foster institutional aims to attain legitimation in various regimes. This research consists of four sub-studies and a summary that stress the different perspectives of quality in the context of Finnish higher education export at the national (macro), institutional (meso) and programme (micro) levels. The data used in this research included national policy documents, institutional audit reports, interviews (students and staff members), personal notes from participant observation and data from the online questionnaire (teachers). National policy documents were analysed and interpreted using Fairclough’s critical discourse analysis (sub-study I). Institutional audit reports (sub-study II) and interviews (substudy III) were explored using convention theory and qualitative content analysis. Data from the online questionnaire were analysed by qualitative content analysis and interpreted from the perspective of Mezirow’s transformative learning (sub-study IV). Personal notes recorded during the participant observation (sub-studies III and IV) were used to explain the context of the exported programme (sub-studies III and IV) and to refocus the research questions. This doctoral dissertation’s findings suggest that quality is formulated within the complex network of political, social, contextual, geographical and situational dimensions. At the national level, quality embodies the responsibility and resources that justify education export; Finnish education’s national reputation is a shared myth that sustains the widely held perception of Finnish education as superior. At the institutional level, education export is still a relatively new and fragmented action, which benefits from its international reputation but continues to seek a more strategic direction. The results also suggest that education export implementation is embedded in the temporal and local dimensions as well as in interaction among the students, teachers and representatives from the provider and receiver institutions. Therefore, higher education institutions are expected to consider quality from multiple perspectives and to justify quality of education for different stakeholder groups. Moreover, for education export providers, supporting teachers’ engagement in education export action is essential, as maintaining education quality throughout the process of knowledge creation requires trust-based interaction among providers and receivers.

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