The SIMHE (Supporting Immigrants in Higher Education in Finland) network, funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture, has operated in Finland for over three years. It was set up following the refugee crisis that hit Europe in 2015 and brought more than 32,000 asylum seekers to Finland. Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and the University of Jyväskylä piloted the SIMHE model in 2016, and since 2017, SIMHE services have also been offered by the University of Helsinki and the University of Turku, as well as by Karelia University of Applied Sciences and Oulu University of Applied Sciences.
The SIMHE member institutions provide guidance and advice for highly educated immigrants and immigrants eligible for higher education studies. In addition, they actively participate in various projects related to the education and competence development of immigrants. The present funding for SIMHE institutions lasts until the end of 2020, but the goal is to make SIMHE activities a permanent part of the services offered by higher education institutions. This article provides a general overview of SIMHE operations and a more detailed description of the SIMHE-Metropolia service concept.
Photo: Daniel Leiviskä
Personal guidance helps immigrants find their own path
Highly educated immigrants constitute a heterogeneous group. From the perspective of SIMHE counsellors, this calls for diverse know-how and a broad understanding of the operating environment. Key elements naturally include guidance competence, cross-cultural communication skills, knowledge of various education opportunities and insight into the practices and conventions of workplaces. Most of the clients seeking SIMHE guidance have completed a bachelor’s level degree, some have a master’s degree and others have earned a doctorate. Only a handful have not advanced past their upper secondary education, which nevertheless makes them eligible for higher education studies. The most challenging group for guidance comprises individuals who have completed a degree for a regulated profession as well as those who have completed studies, but not an entire degree, in a higher education institution. To obtain the right to pursue higher education studies in Finland, candidates must meet specific selection criteria, which means that it is rarely easy to continue one’s studies straight away, without a wait.
The main goal of SIMHE guidance is to help immigrants find the options that are best suited to their individual needs and which can advance their integration into Finnish society either through studies or through work. In addition to a degree, many highly educated immigrants also have long and diverse work experience and are highly motivated to find employment in their own field in Finland. The employment outlook depends greatly on the field of education, that is, whether the field is regulated or unregulated in Finland and what level of language proficiency it requires. The client’s own motivation and goals also make a big difference. Questions concerning livelihood and income, the time possibly needed for further studies and access to studies also have an impact on the plans for the future. Therefore, SIMHE guidance does not focus solely on the higher education sector: some of the clients may also benefit from vocational education or other types of studies. In addition, SIMHE guidance co-operates closely with, for example, the National Agency for Education and licencing authorities in different fields.
It is important to determine the personal situation, goals and opportunities of each client in order to offer them support for building their own, individual path. Many of the immigrants seeking guidance also use TE services as jobseekers or as participants in integration training during their integration period. This may also influence the kind of path that is designed for the client. Nevertheless, the focus is on providing the clients with a wide range of information about various alternatives to help them make their own decisions. The purpose is to support immigrants in their role as active participants and help them enjoy the opportunities available in Finnish society. This also introduces them to, for example, the practices of Finnish higher education, which emphasise self-regulation, initiative and the ability to control one’s activities.
SIMHE-Metropolia operations started with the recognition of competence
SIMHE-Metropolia services were launched in early spring 2016 and were heavily focused on modelling the recognition of competence. The first pilot project on competence recognition was carried out soon afterwards, in April 2016, in the field of technology. The goal was to develop methods and instruments for assessing technology education and competence acquired in other countries from the perspective of Finnish education and especially the needs of workplaces.
The pilot project was conducted in the form of a written examination measuring mathematical skills, engineering competence and digital skills. The project was carried out in co-operation with the City of Helsinki Reception Centre and the City of Helsinki Immigration Unit. Most of the 30 or so participants were asylum seekers still waiting for a decision on their asylum application. The written test was offered in Finnish, English and Arabic, the last of which was the most common option among the participants. The only requirement for participation was the participant’s own statement of having completed a degree or studies in the field. In other words, the participants were not required to present certificates or other proof of their education.
Based on the results from the pilot project and on feedback from participants and experts, a competence mapping process was devised for the fields of technology and business in autumn 2016. It is dialogic in nature and also serves as a steering method for the assessment of prior knowledge. Further specifications were also made to the participant profile: participants were required to have a residence permit, a diploma in the field of technology or business and adequate proficiency in Finnish or English. The competence mapping process comprises a group orientation, self-assessment, an individual in-depth professional discussion with an expert from Metropolia, a group feedback session and a mapping report based on the in-depth professional discussion. The participants can also make an appointment for SIMHE guidance. The feedback from participants has been very positive: the mapping has helped them view their own competence specifically in a Finnish context. In 2016–2018, the mapping of competences involved a total of 155 immigrants, and it also served as a model for the competence mapping carried out in the SIMHE path and the Deploying competences in Finland projects.
SIMHE-Metropolia guidance and counselling services provide comprehensive guidance
In the past three years, SIMHE-Metropolia has reached approximately two thousand clients in individual and group guidance sessions. Individual guidance is based on treating the client as a unique individual, whose goals and plans are discussed and mapped out jointly with the SIMHE counsellor. Since the very beginning, the individual guidance sessions have lasted for one hour. An appointment for individual guidance can be made by e-mail. The sessions are conducted face-to-face, over the phone or via Skype, but face-to-face meetings have been by far the most popular kind. Clients can attend guidance as many times as they feel necessary. For some, a single meeting and one-time provision of information has been sufficient. The client’s whole sphere of life is taken into account in guidance, and the client can bring, for example, a friend along as an interpreter. Children are also welcome at guidance sessions. This has made it easier for mothers at home, for example, to take part in individual guidance.
Group guidance is offered through the Guidance Generalia lectures, organised around ten times a year, and other guidance sessions arranged in group format. The Guidance Generalia lectures have focused on, for example, the application process to higher education institutions, the recognition of comparability of degrees, competence development and various educational opportunities in Finland. SIMHE-Metropolia often hosts integration training groups that wish to learn more about the services, and SIMHE counsellors visit educational organisations that offer integration training. Guidance counsellor students and representatives of different levels of education have also visited SIMHE-Metropolia to learn more about the activities. At present, SIMHE-Metropolia’s guidance and counselling services employ two guidance counsellors.
Networking and co-operation increase the engagement of immigrants
SIMHE activities have become an important element of the guidance provided to highly educated immigrants in Finland. The SIMHE member institutions operate regionally, but also together in a close-knit network as well as with various stakeholders. The creation of extensive national and international networks has helped raise awareness of the activities and has attracted new projects aimed at increasing the engagement of highly educated immigrants. Education preparing immigrants for higher education studies has been
developed in the Getting ready - A higher education preparatory programme for immigrants 2018–2019, a nationwide project that involves nine universities of applied sciences, and three SIMHE member institutions are devising models for educational paths in the SIMHE path project.
The competence of highly educated immigrants is also of great importance to Finnish society, because Finland’s population is ageing and many fields already suffer from a skills shortage. The networks and business co-operation of the SIMHE member institutions have introduced new opportunities for increasing the engagement of immigrants in Finnish society.
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Marianne Autero (BA, MA, guidance counsellor) is a project coordinator for the SIMHE services offered by Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and has been involved in developing the activities from the very beginning. Her interests focus especially on the development and provision of guidance for immigrants. Marianne has long experience from providing guidance to international students at Metropolia and has for many years provided instruction preparing immigrants for higher education.
This article is a part of a series of articles about guidance in Finland. The series of articles is published by Euroguidance and EPALE teams at the Finnish National Agency for Education. The articles are published throughout Finland’s EU Presidency, approximately one article per month.