Finland’s new education minister advocates for student exchange

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In a cabinet shuffle, Anders Adlercreutz, of the Swedish People’s Party, was appointed as Finland’s minister of education on July 5 under prime minister and leader of the National Coalition Party, Petteri Orpo.

An AFS Finland alumni, Adlercreutz studied abroad in 1987 in Portugal, and has since hosted international students on their own student exchange journeys to Finland.

Earlier this year, in a video and interview posted by AFS, Adlercreutz, who previously served as minister for European affairs and ownership steering, recounted his move from Finland to Portugal for his studies, and shared the impact of this experience on his life and career trajectory, including the value of learning a foreign language.

“The Portuguese language opened doors to Latin-speaking countries and while language skills might be seen as a mere functional benefit, my experience is that it is so much more than that,” said Adlercreutz.

“The fact that you speak another person’s language shows that you care. It shows a desire to get to know another person and their background. I see this everyday in my work.”

Adlercreutz noted that, importantly, an exchange year is “not a holiday”, depicting some of the challenges faced by students pursuing an educational experience abroad.

“A holiday is a break from everyday life whereas an exchange student year is everyday life – full on mundane chores, just life as it is. Sure, it is full of exciting experiences but also boredom and home sickness. Above all, it’s about learning about yourself.

“Understanding diversity and internationalism requires stepping outside of your comfort zone,” continued Adlercreutz.

“It also requires tolerating uncertainty. Internationalism is about embracing difference and more to the point. It’s about the ability to see value in difference – something we need now more than ever.”

Adlercreutz’s year spent in Portugal “changed everything” for him, and is how he met his wife, who was also abroad with AFS at the same time and later met at a meeting organised by the organisation.

Understanding diversity and internationalism requires stepping outside of your comfort zone

Anders Adlercreutz, Finland’s minister of education

In the interview with AFS, Adlercreutz went on to promote the benefits of hosting international students.

Upon returning from his exchange year, his family hosted an exchange student from Brazil and Adlercreutz and his wife have extended this tradition to their own family, having hosted several students whom the family have stayed in close contact with, inviting them back to Finland to visit.

Furthermore, some of Adlercreuz’s five children have also benefitted from AFS programs as exchange students.

In a blog post published on the day of his ministerial appointment, Adlercreutz spoke of his commitment to help children “build good self-confidence and a willingness to experiment” and to “nurture creativity”, adding that he plans to work closely with educators to find ways to best support them.

As a leading provider for ‘Live and Study in Finland’ programs, CEO and co-founder of Edunation, Tuomas Kauppinen told The PIE he is “optimistic” about Adlercreutz’s vision for international education, exchange, and hosting.

“His commitment to these areas is a promising step forward for Finland’s educational landscape.”

Labour shortages and an aging population are among challenges facing the country, leading to a “stagnant growth” for the economy, according to Kauppinen.

“It’s clear that we need to embrace new strategies to stimulate development. Increasing the number of international students at all educational levels—vocational schools, high schools, and universities—is crucial for our country’s future.”

Kauppinen hopes that with the new education minister’s support, the admission process to Finnish universities can be streamlined and made more accessible for international students.

He’d also like to see “more ambitious” government-level targets set for attracting and retaining international talent, such as facilitating faster paths to permanent residency and citizenship for international students who choose to make Finland their home.

“Moreover, Finland still faces challenges with basic aspects such as opening a bank account as a foreigner and providing English language schools for the children of immigrants. 

“The global competition for talent is fierce, and it’s essential that we create a welcoming and efficient system to draw and keep these valuable individuals.

“I believe Mr. Adlercreutz’s appointment will bring about necessary changes and foster an environment where international education can thrive, benefiting not just the students, but Finland as a whole.”

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