Saara Pirhonen, Vice Observer Member of the UniPID Board and master’s student of Sociology in Tampere University, ponders how regular degree students can get motivated and hands-on involved in global responsibility work.
It is stated in the Finnish Universities’ Act, that the educational mission of the university includes preparing students for an active, informed and critical citizenship. International mobility can be one way to attain this goal, but it is not always possible in every students' lives for various reasons. This is when options such as virtual studies can provide enrichening learning possibilities without the need to go abroad.
The Virtual Studies Programme has been an essential part of UniPID for 15 years (since 2007) and it has gained a lot of popularity during the years. However, while some students have permanently adapted to more flexible online study opportunities, virtual studies have recently faced challenges with attracting students who are exhausted by the effects of the pandemic.
Students are understandably worried about their own livelihood, graduating schedule, employability and overall well-being. In this light, taking virtual studies outside of one’s majoring fields can seem like an extra burden. Also for many people who are less familiar with the field, solely mentioning development cooperation can instantly cause images of colonial practices and past that should belong to past. These kind of preassumptions should be answered with examples of what constructive North-South relations can look like nowadays.
My home university Tampere University offers courses of its own in programs such as Global and Transnational Sociology, Public and Global Health, Peace and Conflict Research and Gender Studies. These programs consist of students, who already predominantly concentrate on transnational solidarity and overcoming barriers to equality. Yet especially for students who study in programmes which do not actively seek for expertise on developmental studies or issues of global responsibility, collaboration with UniPID could be extra beneficial.
It is concerning, how many students still graduate from university, without obtaining enough essential knowledge about global inequality or sustainable development - even though these themes should be included in all academic studies. Students coming from different programmes could act as messengers, spreading the awareness in their own communities for less obvious audiences.
I personally became a member of UniPID by participating in the development cooperation project at SYL (National Union of University Students in Finland). SYL’s Advisory Board for Development Cooperation connects students from all Finnish Universities, having representatives from social and political sciences to medicine, technical field, theology and tourism research. Its current projects concentrate on improving the position of disabled students in the universities of Ethiopia and Zambia.
One way to motivate people for action is to show them that they are trusted by offering practical experience. When given responsibility for project management tasks in SYL, students can get the experience that they are valued for their work and can improve their knowledge and administrative skills, which are needed for building long-lasting structural changes.
Definitely more and more students are concerned and interested in global development issues, yet they struggle with where and how to start. They could benefit from what UniPID offers, gaining information about which steps to take to successfully get more involved in the process of global sustainability building. Providing opportunities for taking these practical steps, UniPID creates partnerships, acting as facilitator and convener between students and researchers from Global North and South. To ensure that we have multidisciplinary professionals tackling the most urgent global concerns, we need to get students involved early enough. Taking action should be everyone’s right and responsibility, not only from those who study in sustainability labeled programmes.
Interested in knowing more about how to motivate students to get more involved in global development issues? Listen to UniPID's latest "DetanglingDevelopment podcast episode on Students global competences with Alexandra Biris, master student of the Changing Education Programme from the University of Helsinki!
Photo credits: Jessica Ruscello, 2017, on Unsplash