Finnishing school in Scotland
In the past, we have been involved in hosting groups of students from Belgium who have looked at how Scotland markets itself as a holiday destination and the differences between the way that Belgian and Scottish football teams promote themselves. Fairly significant numbers of students and staff from Rovaniemi in Finland have come to South Lanarkshire and participated in six-week-long placements in care settings. We have hosted the usual groups of French and German students most years and have even managed to encourage our own less well-travelled students to make forays into Europe for "cultural exchanges".
In many ways, the European college system is quite different from ours. Mostly, it is centralised and consists of a mixture of technical and craft skills sitting alongside a general education. The teaching materials often come in the format of books and students sit formal examinations. Very little of the curriculum is devolved to the college to devise. Much is offered through monotechnics which are strongly influenced by craft bodies and the equivalent of the CBI.
But perhaps the greatest differences are in the way that staff are employed, and deployed. European terms and conditions of service very often remind me of my time as a "lecturer A" where most of the preparation and development takes place in homes. Offices really exist only for the senior management and management structures in colleges in Europe are usually very flat. Marketing of the college is a little homespun, a bit like our pre-incorporation days.
Whether or not all this leads to a better deal for the students is more difficult to say, particularly as I'm pretty sure that students who come to study in Scotland will tend to "self-select" and are generally very able, so we perhaps do not see groups who are representative of the "average" student in their respective countries.
So, why this desire to deliver part of the Finnish curriculum to Finnish students studying in East Kilbride for half a term? It's partly because I think that it is good for both the students and the staff at my college to have a class of Finnish students learning more about our environment. It's also partly because I'm proud of my college and, indeed, my country and I want to show off what we have to offer. Finally, and probably most importantly, lecturing and teaching are truly trans-national skills which are useful for my staff to develop and broaden their outlook.
It's also what Europe should really be about, encouraging students to study further as they move from one country to another.
However, the real positives would be if these visits by European students were a catalyst for my own students to feel that they also wanted to study for part of their course in another country - if I could keep the central funding for them and have them come back as better-educated people.
As I'm never quite sure where we are with the introduction, or reintroduction (again!), of languages into the primary school curriculum, perhaps it would be better if we had more pop songs in Finnish. They might even win the Eurovision Song Contest - but didn't that happen with Rovaniemi's group "Lordi" a few years ago?
Stewart McKillop is principal of South Lanarkshire College.