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Karelia University of Applied Sciences – Path to embedding UBC in higher education

Punn Chatupanyachotikul

It is our pleasure to introduce Karelia University of Applied Sciences (UAS) and welcome them as one of our UIIN’s newest Initiator members. Karelia UAS have been involved in UIIN events since the annual conference in Berlin in 2015 and more recently, presented their approach to entrepreneurship education at the 2022 conference in Amsterdam. We were delighted to meet with Liisa Timonen, Head of Internationalisation at Karelia UAS, and hear about their carefully considered management of industry partnerships and what areas they’d like to expand in further with the UIIN network.

Based in Joensuu in Eastern Finland, Karelia UAS is considered a mid-sized Finnish university with approximately 4,000 students and less than 400 staff. They are multi-disciplinary and have an impressive footprint in Research, Development & Innovation (RDI) for an institution of their size. University business collaboration (UBC) is embedded into all Karelia UAS’ operations from the outset, from the development of curriculum to its implementation, and throughout the university’s strategic planning. They particularly emphasise collaboration with regional partners and hold the belief that what they do should benefit regional businesses, as well as the employability and livelihoods of the local people. Industry partners support in the development of new curricula, and in the provision of case studies, internships, thesis topics, and hackathons to students.

In our national relations, this kind of ecosystem-thinking and building connections with regional businesses is important.”

Karelia UAS boasts many business-related RDI services to their business partners, for example, their research and learning environments, laboratories, and testing facilities. Partners can deliver their preliminary ideas for Karelia UAS to pilot test and determine if further development is required in order to enter the market. Though Karelia UAS may have different patterns of collaboration depending on the needs of the partner, their systematic process for partnership development underpins each interaction. They have specific agreements developed for their strategic, key, and operational partners; these are then further segmented depending on the scale and quality of the collaboration, Karelia’s role in it, and how it aligns with the UAS’s strategic plan. This strategy is university-wide, with the same process for both national and international partners that results in a network of collaborators that is broad in reach but each narrowly, and systematically managed.

Business partners are the ones who see the future competencies of the people in our region and who see where contribution is most needed. That’s one of the important areas of collaboration: estimating future skill set and seeing how it can be supported by Karelia”.

Liisa currently leads Karelia’s contribution to the European University project “Invest Alliance.” The project is in collaboration with two UASs and three academic universities, where UASs’ role is to build in their signature UBC approach that the more research-intensive universities may be less experienced in. The diversity of partners and contrasting approaches within the project offer unique opportunities for learning for each HEI involved. Invest Alliance has a LivingLab approach; one such example at Karelia is a LivingLab special community area that is testing renewable energies in a novel way and developing cheaper solutions. Here, Karelia offers technical advice, carries out analysis on carbon neutrality and calculates the carbon impact.

Though Karelia UAS encounters typically seen challenges in their UBC efforts such as misalignment in expectations, lack of funding, or delays that can frustrate industry partners, Liisa credits their comprehensive systematic partnership process as the reason for their relative lack of internal challenges. By having one point-person responsible for each partnership, ongoing communication between the partners, and a jointly agreed upon plan beforehand, their processes generally run smoothly. They also have a policy of communicating learning opportunities of the different networks they are a part of via Karelia’s internal channels which ensures a democratization of the learning process. This effort ties in with Karelia’s current EC Horizon project INVEST4EXCELLENCE which includes the development of a more methodical stakeholder involvement tool in order accurately measure their impact in this area and yield further success.

Inspired by the scale of UIIN’s network from previous events they saw many areas of alignment where they could become further involved and take advantage of opportunities for collaboration. At this point in their UBC journey, Karelia UAS want to learn about the overall approach to UBC within the UIIN wider network, how it is fostered and facilitation tools involved. Liisa mentions they are also interested in national collaboration to exchange even more best practices, learn from one another’s successes and failures in order to mitigate the difficulties that may come about and learn how to build the best possible solution.

Karelia UAS are excited to learn from their peers and are interested in the possibility of finding similarly aligned partners within the UIIN network for future RDI ventures. In particular, Liisa adds, they look forward to contributing to UIIN and collaborating with the network in knowledge sharing, co-creation, U2B, and research to practice processes – it will be a great venture!

Liisa Timonen – Head of Internationalisation at Karelia UAS
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