Ambassador for Education Export Marianne Huusko faces a challenging task: how to turn Finland’s strongest international brand into a thriving business.
How can we translate Finnish expertise in education into export revenue?
This is the tricky question on the mind of Marianne Huusko, who in September took up the post of Ambassador for Education Export. She is the first Finnish ambassador to focus full-time on the development of education export.
“The idea to establish this new ambassadorial position came from Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Kai Mykkänen. On his travels, he found that Finland’s strongest brand internationally is Finnish education, which is renowned for its high quality and egalitarianism,” Huusko says.
Mykkänen’s observation is not entirely new. Finns have been successful in PISA tests in the 2000s and Finnish teacher education is admired around the world in much the same way as, for example, the Finnish maternity package. In spite of the strong brand and demand, Finland has not been able to respond to export opportunities as effectively as could be hoped.
Huusko’s job is to stoke the flames of this nascent fire.
So what exactly do we mean by education export?
According to the Ministry of Education and Culture’s broad definition, “education export includes all business activities based on education, the education system and the transfer of knowledge that create products or services that a foreign party pays for.”
Huusko points out that education export is a highly divergent field. Early childhood education and higher education, for example, are comprised of completely different content.
“The dominant form internationally is education leading to a university degree. It is the field of education with the highest revenues, but also the one where competition is the most intense,” Huusko explains.
In addition to university degrees, learning environments are receiving a lot of attention:
“There are businesses that create healthy and safe school buildings. Of course, you also have the digital side of things: there is growing global demand for digital learning environments, learning games and more traditional learning materials. We have examples of all of these in Finland.”
According to Marianne Huusko, the greatest challenge in education export lies in the productisation and marketing of big principles.
“For example, how do you develop teacher education into a product or service that can be exported to other countries? These are the questions that Finnish businesses wrestle with on a daily basis.”
As difficult as these challenges are, it makes sense to work together to find solutions to them, as education export has tremendous future potential. Huusko believes that the established education systems in different countries will undergo the same kind of transformation that has shaken up other business sectors around the world: customer orientation, digitalisation and the increasingly young population structure of developing countries present export opportunities to a leader in education such as Finland.
Finland’s current government has also recognised these opportunities.
“The Government Programme sets a clear target of increasing education export from EUR 260 million to EUR 350 million by 2018. For its part, the government seems to be actively putting this plan into action; for example, the introduction of tuition fees for non-EU and non-EEA students gives Finnish higher education institutions the opportunity to expand their offering of foreign-language degree programmes,” Huusko says.
Huusko’s role as the Ambassador for Education Export will see her work in the dual role of coordinator and salesperson.
As a coordinator, she will act as a bridge between the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, foreign missions, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, the Ministry of Education and Culture and other stakeholders, as well as between businesses. Huusko is not intimidated by the challenge of coordinating the complex Team Finland network. In her previous role as the Deputy Permanent Representative of Finland to the European Union, her day-to-day work cut across the full expanse of the national administration.
“I believe I can make a strong contribution to Team Finland, as I am used to working in a role that involves more than just the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. I know how to navigate these kinds of networks and get things done,” Huusko adds.
The sales-oriented part of the job will see Huusko participate in sales promotion trips with key ministers. In late September, Huusko was part of a Team Finland trip to Egypt, led by Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Kai Mykkänen. In early October, she will travel to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with a delegation led by Minister of Education and Culture Sanni Grahn-Laasonen.
“Sales promotion trips open doors for Finnish companies abroad and strengthen confidence among foreign parties. To put it simply, we show them that the Finnish national administration has confidence in these companies, so you should too,” Huusko explains.
Huusko points out that education export rarely means that you try to directly sell a particular product to a foreign buyer. Rather, the goal is to engage in interaction to understand the needs of the target country.
“Education export is ultimately about improving the level of education through interaction with others,” Huusko says.
This makes education export difficult to define: at what point does international interaction and networking become export, and how much value should be placed on having a Finnish higher education institution involved in high-level networks? This means that education export should not be defined too strictly.
“At the same time, we must not be so naive as to keep helping others out of the goodness of our hearts. After all, the goal is to achieve growth and success in business,” Huusko concludes.
The writer works as a trainee in the Unit for Current Affairs of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.