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VARAVA project – for equality in universities of applied sciences

The VARAVA project is focused on understanding and promoting equality of students from different ethnic backgrounds in Finnish universities of applied sciences. The aim of the project is to raise awareness of structural racism in educational institutions and develop anti-racist teaching methods.

Giving consideration to students with immigrant backgrounds and other international students in the teaching and activities of higher education institutions increases equality among students and the accessibility of education. Higher education institutions also have a major impact on the integration of international talent and students’ decisions on whether to stay in Finland after their studies.

Strengthening equality among students in internationalising educational institutions requires both the internalisation of an anti-racist operating culture and the ability to recognise different manifestations of structural racism. How to promote the realisation of equality in universities of applied sciences? 

Laurea is participating in the “The Host University of Applied Sciences – nationally against racism” (VARAVA) project. VARAVA is examining the activities of universities of applied sciences from the perspective of structural racism and creating solutions that improve the realisation of equality. 

In addition to Laurea, participants in the project also include the Seinäjoki and Tampere Universities of Aapplied Sciences as well as Lyfta Oy, a company that provides learning and teaching platforms. The project is funded by the European Union and the European Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund.

Information on supporting international students in universities of applied sciences

The VARAVA project carried out a background study – based on research, statistics and development work – which examined the role of universities of applied sciences in the integration of third-country nationals and in advancing the receptivity of society. The study found that universities of applied sciences have a major impact on the integration of individuals into the country, and that it is important to support the integration of international students during their studies.

The background study describes the practices in place for recognising structural racism and supporting international students in Finnish universities of applied sciences and asks what types of operating models result in unequal treatment of students. Among other things, the study highlights the importance of offering versatile Finnish language teaching during studies and of cooperation between universities of applied sciences and companies.

The findings of the study indicate that tailoring the support and services offered to international students is a particularly key factor for international students' study applications, study experience, and employment. It is important to recognise the different support needs of different international student groups, such as exchange students and students with an immigrant background, when planning the school's activities and its services for international students.

Towards an anti-racist culture

Educational institutions must have the tools to intervene in the racism, discrimination and feelings of exclusion that students experience. The VARAVA background study gives the following summary:

"In order to make international student support part of the normal services of universities of applied sciences, each higher education institution should examine its integration support and the occurrence of structural racism."

The aim of the VARAVA project is to increase the ability of universities of applied sciences to recognise structural racism, develop anti-racist teaching methods, and improve the service path for international students from study application through to employment. 

The project was launched with a webinar which examined the actions that universities of applied sciences can take against different forms of racism. After this, VARAVA runs a course and various workshops, together with international students, personnel and stakeholders, for developing teaching methods. The project creates tools for equal teaching and improves awareness of the importance of anti-racist pedagogy.

The project also includes the joint development of the service path for international students at the Laurea, Seinäjoki and Tampere Universities of Aapplied Sciences, which is implemented jointly by students, personnel and stakeholder groups.  This change process is also being documented and recorded in narrative form.  

Through its activities, VARAVA is gathering information in a format that can be widely utilised and accessed. In its final stages, the project will produce a national action plan and recommendations for measures to identify structural racism and promote an anti-racist operating culture.

More equality in universities of applied sciences means more equality in workplaces and in the future

To help people find their place in Finnish society, integration measures are important for both asylum seekers and those who have moved to the country for studies or work. In other words, international degree students are part of the larger field of integration issues and measures. 

By focusing on awareness of structural racism and developing an anti-racist operating culture within universities of applied sciences, the impact of the VARAVA project also extends beyond educational institutions and students. Universities of applied sciences are training the influencers of the future. This means that – as these people graduate and universities of applied sciences continue to engage in diverse stakeholder cooperation – the operating models that support anti-racism and non-discrimination will transfer to working life, and thus become part of society as a whole.