Perspectives on UniPID’s role at ÅAU

October 6, 2022
Katarina Frostell & Sinikka Suomalainen, Åbo Akademi University

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the UniPID network, this blog post looks at how Åbo Akademi University (5,700 students and 1,100 staff members) has benefited from the network. Within the fields of sustainability and human rights, we are focusing on efforts to expand and deepen our work directed towards the Global South.

Åbo Akademi University (ÅAU) has been a member of UniPID from the start. The thematic foundation for the membership was sustainability and human rights and the key institutional affiliates were the Centre for Life Long Learning and the Institute for Human Rights. Later also other units and subjects have benefited from UniPID and its project FinCEAL, such as gender studies, economics, social sciences, and chemical engineering. Geographically ÅAU’s involvement in UniPID has been directed primarily towards Africa and Latin America.

Thanks to four Academy of Finland funded development research projects in the 2000s, the human rights-based approach to development remained an important research topic at the Institute for Human Rights for many years. This was a key contributing factor to ÅAU’s initial request to join the network. Another motivation stemmed from the interest to develop further virtual studies courses in sustainable development for new groups of students. The Centre for Life Long Learning took the lead regarding the virtual studies and over the years ÅAU has offered six courses within the UniPID virtual studies programme including Concepts of Sustainability, Ecological Economics, Implications on Climate Change, United Nations and Human Rights, Human Rights and Development, and Migration, Development and Human Rights.

As an example, the course Concepts of Sustainability has been organised every year since the beginning of the UniPID virtual studies programme in 2007, i.e., already 16 times. It is open for students from all disciplines and subjects, thereby promoting participation of all UniPID member universities. The courses Concepts of Sustainability and Implications on Climate Change have been offered within the Open University of ÅAU. This arrangement has been beneficial by enabling ÅAU to make use of existing administrative structures for registering and transferring study credits. Teaching UniPID courses has proven stimulating thanks to the diverse group of participants with different perspectives and experiences.

Through the new partnerships established within UniPID virtual studies, ÅAU took during 2008 the next step by establishing new forms of collaboration with African universities. Together with the subject of geography at University of Turku, ÅAU were running the North-South-South project on sustainable development and human rights for seven years, focusing on student exchanges and intensive courses in Africa. After this, ÅAU and UTU decided in mutual understanding to go separate ways, allowing the two partners to focus on their core academic interests while establishing new partnerships with African universities in similar fields.

Building on existing networks such as the Global Campus on Human Rights, ÅAU initiated a HEI ICI project on Strengthening Human Rights Research and Education in Sub-Saharan Africa, the focus this time was on doctoral candidates and research training. Again mobility between ÅAU and the four African partner universities in Nairobi, Pretoria, Addis Ababa and Kampala as well as between the African partners were the focus of attention together with joint Finnish-African doctoral training courses in human rights (see picture from training course in Addis Ababa in 2019).

The latest addition to the portfolio of ÅAU has been the engagement in the Global Pilots initiated by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, which has enabled the long awaited possibility to engage in research collaboration with new partners in Finland and Africa. ÅAU participates in FAPI, FICORE, GINTL and SAFINET. To give an example of activities developed within one of these pilots, i.e. FAPI - Finland-Africa Platform for Innovation (SDG 9), the Institute for Human Rights and the School of Business and Economics of ÅAU together with development studies at Jyväskylä University, have initiated a book project on achieving social justice through social innovation and entrepreneurship with authors from both Finnish and African universities.

Even if many of the ÅAU activities with the Global South have been implemented outside the framework of UniPID, the network has throughout served as an important resource for ÅAU. This is reflected both in the establishment of new partnerships and in capacity-building, such as the support extended by UniPID to the Global Pilots through the arrangement of the highly appreciated training in the spring of 2022 on good practices for responsible global academic partnerships.


Photo credits: SHUREA in AU, Institute for Human Rights