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Cross-border education at the Cap of the North extended

| Text: Gunhild Wallin

Since 1991 Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian youths on at the Cap of the North have been able to meet and get vocational training under the auspices of Utbildning Nord (Education North) — a unique cross-border education strategy. On 19 October the scheme was extended until 2019.

“Utbilding Nord has a long tradition of offering vocational training for participants from Finland, Norway and Sweden. It is a unique cooperation which we protect and which creates preconditions for cross-border mobility,” says Sweden’s Minster for Labour Alva Johansson.

On 19 October she signed the new agreement for the foundation Utbilding Nordkalotten (Education Cap of the North), together with Finland’s ambassador Jarmo Viinanen and Norway’s ambassador Kai Eide. It will run until 2019.

The foundation Utbildning Nordkalotten is commonly known as Utbildning Nord and sprang out of the Swedish labour market training programme AMU in Övertorneå. The tradition of offering training for youths coming from all over the Cap of the North runs back to 1970. The training is offered in three languages, and is recognised in all three countries. In 1991 the cooperation was formalised and has since been renewed every four years. The responsibility for running the programme alternates between the three countries every four years, and right now Norwegian Sture Troli holds the directorship.

“The new agreement is the best one so far. It is concrete and we have also gained the right to validate skills, for instance vocational skills for newcomers. We are also very pleased that the countries still want to contribute economically on the same level as before, which gives us confidence to continue our work,” he says.

Each year 500 unemployed youths from Finland, Norway and Sweden arrive in Övertorneå in Sweden’s Norrbotten region to begin one of the 32 vocational courses run by Utbilding Nord. They can become joiners, tin smiths, waiters, chefs or electricians. Or assistant nurses, certified web developers or computer programmers to mention but a few of the vocations courses on offer. The students live in Övertorneå and the school offers different kinds of housing depending on what you can pay. 

The courses are individually tailored and fulfil national standards for the occupations in Finland, Sweden and Norway. Several of the courses offer upper secondary education and businesses also have the opportunity to tailor courses. Admission is individual and monthly. The individuals’ needs and wishes decide which class they are put into.

“This mixes up students who have been attending the school for a while and newcomers. It is a good symbiosis, where nationality or language doesn’t matter,” says Sture Troli.

Each class is taught in four languages and students from the three countries are mixed. 

“What’s fantastic is that students from three countries are taught together. This is unique internationally and it creates synergy because they have to work together,” says Sture Troli. 

Utbildning Nord enjoys an extensive international network, and exchanges and work placements in other countries are commonplace. One example is the “Kolarctic ENP” cooperation which recently concluded, which also involved Russia. Several of the students and teachers spent time at a Russian construction site. 

“They really enjoyed the Russian hospitality and cooperation, and want to return,” says Sture Troli. 

The majority of the students come from the countries’ northern parts, but more and more Swedes and Finns are now also coming from the south. Students are also getting younger and the average age now is 35. Many have little experience with working life. That makes teaching extra challenging and the school is getting help from Tom Tiller, Professor of pedagogy from the Arctic University of Norway. He has written 75 books, and will help develop the adult education and introduce the concept “learning by doing”.

Utbildning Nord also cooperates extensively with businesses and trades. Ylva Johansson wants the new agreement to help facilitate this cooperation further.

“We enjoy a good cooperation with businesses and trades already, but we want to expand our network. This is a must and it is a way to use practical work to open up working life to the students. There they can learn what it means to work, and they get a chance to show what they can do for potential employers,” says Sture Troli, who is pretty proud to tell us that 60 percent of the students find work when they leave the school.


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