‘Lithuania is not an entity existing solely within its borders any more, nor are the universities. The most successful and valuable research and study projects are being carried out with international partners. On the other hand, only staying open to the world we can treasure and sustain our traditions and values’, says Rūta Avulytė Moreira, the Director of Department of International Relations at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU).
In 1995 Moreira was among the few Lithuanians who took a risk to study abroad (Denmark) through Tempus study exchange programme. Later the graduation from master programme at Columbia University in the US and the career of a United Nations consultant in Liberia, East Timor, Turkmenistan and Belgium followed. Moreira is convinced that Lithuanian perspective on internationality is outdated and needs to be revised if we are willing to keep up with the universities across Europe and the world.
What does internationality mean for a university today?
Traditionally in Lithuania a common practice was to measure internationality by numbers of international students and teachers coming to a university. However, here at KTU we are trying to implement the attitude that internationality is not a separate mission, but an integral part of the University life: from administration to teaching, from designing research to creating study programmes.
We are keeping an eye on everything that is going on around us, and by ‘around us’ I mean global processes. If we wish to be visual and influential globally, we have open up to other countries and other cultures and this doesn’t only mean student exchange.
We need to become a hub, a centre of attraction for Lithuanian pupils who are dreaming of studying abroad and for international experts willing to share their know-how with us. International research projects, conferences and collaborations between researchers, students and academic staff are means through which the university can achieve this goal.
What competences and knowledge can be gained through study exchange?
We always ask our students to share their study abroad experience: to compare teaching, to share good practice examples. Our goal is to become one of the leading European universities, therefore we are improving our study programmes and study process based on our students’ experience in other universities. By enhancing the quality of our studies we become more attractive to students from the best universities across the world.
International students also bring and willingly share their knowledge, skills and experience. Their feedback on studying at KTU is invaluable for initiating changes. For example, our international students used to complain about lack of discussions with lecturers. Now we rarely hear this complaint – we have improved.
All this means that the University is not functioning only in Lithuanian environment. International study and work placement experiences are among the most valued qualities for many employers. This kind of experience means that a prospective employee is a proactive person who is willing to enhance his skills and knowledge, and will apply this quality while working.
How studying abroad changes people?
After studying abroad students come back more confident, opinionated. Their feedback is always encouraging: ‘It is not easy, but definitely worth trying’. After trying once the students usually look for more opportunities – it is good way to travel; people need to use this opportunity while they are still young and do not have long term responsibilities, such as family or permanent job.
You have a personal experience of studying abroad: were you looking for better study quality?
Although I have obtained my masters abroad, I can honestly say that studies at KTU meet the quality of most European universities: we are interested in both attracting international students and delivering the education to young Lithuanians that meets global job market standards for skills and competencies.
We have more than 300 study or work placement agreements with more than 270 European universities through Erasmus+ programme and our students can spend one or two semesters at more than 100 universities across the globe – from Japan to the USA.
Also, the University grants scholarships for studying abroad. During the last academic year we have sponsored studies at our partner universities in Taiwan, South Korea and Georgia. In addition to that, paid work placements as well as various exchange programmes are being offered by KTU Career Centre.
The ones who worry about their English skills should definitely approach us: we are willing to help them improve their language skills free of charge. Erasmus+ provides an English course online and KTU Foreign Language Centre offers more various possibilities to learn languages.
My recommendation would be to study at least several modules in English: every study programme has alternatives in both languages.
What are the procedures for those willing to participate in study exchange?
It is really simple: if you wish to apply for work placement or study exchange, you need to approach the Career Centre or the Department of International Relations of KTU. Of course, we have quite strict selection procedure for the candidates, but the opportunities are equal for everyone. Also, the disabled students and those from socially funded families are being granted additional financial support.
The academic and even administrating staff are being encouraged to participate in exchange programmes. What are the benefits?
International community at our University comprises 5–6 percent and is continuously increasing: our long term goal is 20 percent. This means that in most cases the University environment must be bilingual. This can be guaranteed only if majority of staff speaks and understands English and are aware of peculiarities of working with people from other cultures and other universities. That’s why we strongly encourage travelling and getting to know the context which we are willing to provide us with students and teachers. This is internationality at home and it opens a different angle to the discussions on studies and research.
It is not uncommon for some representatives of general society and even academic community to voice a critical opinion towards the University’s openness to the world. They say that we are able to do everything ourselves and we don’t need to invite foreigners to our country.
You’re right: I have met Lithuanian students who said that it was their constitutional right to study in Lithuanian and therefore refused to attend lectures in English. However, we strongly encourage to do that: to attend lectures together with international students and to gain first-hand international experience at home. There are students of 43 nationalities studying at our University – it is a unique opportunity to get to know different cultures, views and experiences.
The success story of Dario Martinelli, the Director of KTU International Semiotics Institute is a perfect response to those having negative opinions. After his contract with Helsinki University ended, the semiotics professor was looking for a job in Baltic countries and chose KTU. Coming to the University to teach he brought the entire Institute with him.
In June Martinelli and the Institute organised the International Congress on Numanities which was the first event of such scope in the field and one of the most important in Lithuanian scene of scientific events. The Congress attracted more than a thousand participants and some of the most famous semiotics from all over the world.
Lithuania, as an entity entirely within its borders doesn’t exist any more. You can’t build fences around your house forbidding anyone to enter. Research and education doesn’t know borders: the most successful projects are being undertaken with international partners. On the other hand, opening ourselves to the world we begin to treasure our traditions and values which are of immense interest to people from other countries and cultures.
Being open to the world means being open to new possibilities, and first of all – financial possibilities. For example, the number of local companies ordering R&D services is limited, but offering our services globally we can reach the world-wide market. The same applies to rankings. We may love them or hate them, but the reality is such that students choose a university according to rankings and one of the important criteria is a number of international teachers. This criteria indicates the university’s capability to create innovations, to deliver up-to-date competences and to nurture broad-mindedness.
What can we offer to the people coming from other countries?
We are still labelled as and ‘exotic’ small country in Northern Europe and this sounds attractive. Also, people are talking about our beautiful women and attentive men.
The popularity of some successful study programmes, such as food technology is a result of word of mouth marketing: for example, students of one particular university come to study with one particular professor as they know they will gain invaluable hands-on experience. By the way, our Food Research and Technology Centre labs are among the best equipped in Europe.
Also, KTU has an extensive mentoring system which makes a real difference: our international students enjoy personal attention.