The digital leap of higher education institutions builds on a shared vision – time to ensure a common path

The seminar's other host, Erja Widgrén-Sallinen, and CSC's Lara Anastasiou and Antti Mäki.

The digital leap of higher education institutions builds on a shared vision – time to ensure a common path

In May, a two-day seminar on the evolving digital service environment for higher education institutions brought together approximately 250 higher education experts. The aim of the seminar was to promote the vision for higher education and research in 2030, and its crosscutting themes were interoperability and joint reference architecture work. The challenges related to the harmonization of the digital service environment were one of the central themes addressed during the seminar.

President Riitta Konkola welcomed the participants to the spring seminar at the new Metropolia University of Applied Sciences Myllypuro campus, which hosts more than 6,000 students. She explained that the Metropolia campus project has not only developed physical learning environments but has also had a very strong impact on operating culture.

Konkola also works in the Vision 2030 management group and stressed that the joint services of higher education institutions and their respective tasks and actors have a special role in implementing the vision: the objectives of the vision cannot be achieved without good services and good digitalization.

"Continuous learning and digitalization concern us all. Even big changes can be achieved through cooperation, which benefits everyone", Konkola believes.

Cooperation is essential

In her speech, Director Birgitta Vuorinen from the Ministry of Education and Culture presented an overview of the different development programs of the implementation road map for the higher education and research vision 2030 and discussed the aims of the work ahead.

Director Birgitta Vuorinen from the Ministry of Education and Culture.

"We are at a stage where the good practices and issues of the development projects of higher education that need to be continued in the vision work are brought to light. Above all, we need a shared vision and willingness to move forward and to develop a common service environment. Only then can the individual components of the whole be promoted in a sensible manner", she stressed.

Vision work has aimed at finding a common direction and advancing collaboration and sharing. The objective is to support both continuous learning and general digitalization development through the development of the service environment for higher education. In addition, the aim is to lend support to cooperation between higher education institutions and to develop modularity, which is important from the viewpoint of continuous learning.

Vuorinen considered the journey towards a joint digital vision:

"The easiest and most likely solution would be to build interfaces and interoperability around different entities. If we are aiming at a bigger change, even more cooperation is needed and therefore the discussion between the various higher education sectors and between higher education institutions and the Ministry is very important", Vuorinen underlined.


New Information Management Act to ensure interoperability

The Ministerial Advisor Suvi Remes from the Ministry of Finance introduced information policy development plans that ensure interoperability at the national level and in public administration.

Suvi Remes from the Ministry of Finance

"At its core, the change concerns the life cycle management of the data that is created in various operations, so that the responsibilities related to data management are known and managed accordingly", Remes said, shedding light on the background of the general act.

According to Remes, the new 2020 Information Management Act is a wanted change, and it will support the organization of activities on the basis of data and promote the interoperability of information systems and data repositories. The aim is to establish a framework for national interoperability.

"Higher education institutions have already had high-quality cooperation in both education and research. When organizations need to start developing an information management model, for example, it's a good idea to look at what's already been done and to apply this information to new things. There's no need to reinvent the wheel", said Remes.

Continuous learning challenges service development and production models

The Director of Education and Education Services Stina Westman from CSC focused on the future service environments of higher education. According to Westman, it is important to promote digitalization and continuous learning as a whole.

Director Stina Westman, CSC.

"The common service environment for higher education must develop in a learner-oriented manner and it needs to be based on a common knowledge base. The development needs to take place in cooperation with various levels of education, research, development and innovation activities, and the working life", she outlined in her speech.

Development projects generate a lot of output, services, training modules, networks, models, pilots, concepts or similar developments on the basis of self-assessments.

"Our challenge is to compile the services into one service environment for future higher education. When the learner's needs are taken as the starting point, we're talking about activities that are wider than the activities of one development project or one school. When learning is truly continuous and open, the supply of services and its development are everyone's concern", Westman stressed.

The updated framework responds to changes in the operating environment and supports learner-centered activities

Chair of the KOOTuki Group Erja Widgrén-Sinen from the University of Eastern Finland, Chair of the Synergy Group Tapio Ekholm from Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and the coordinator of the OPI reference architecture work Lara Anastasiou from CSC presented the first results of the updating of the reference architecture for higher education institution study and teaching support services and administration (OPI).

In higher education institutions, the OPI reference architecture has been used to support management, system development, the insitutions' own architecture work and organizational changes. The purpose of the update was to create a framework that supports opportunities for continuous learning and learner-centered activities.

"The framework lacked internationality, among other things. Lifelong, continuous learning should also be included in the framework in the update. Due to the changes in the operating environment, the common framework required updating and consideration of the future. The reference architecture affects all of us working in and with higher education institutions", stressed Widgrén-Sinen.

"The process itself has also been important, not just the end result. Hundreds of experts from different fields and different higher education insitutions have taken part in the work. In addition to the descriptions of services and processes, opinions on semantic compatibility must also have been considered. A common understanding of the matters has evolved as the work has progressed" said Ekholm.


The updated architecture is structured on the basis of the learner's path, in Finnish.


"The updating of the OPI reference architecture is an ongoing process that adapts to changes in the operating environment. The background of the updating work is strongly connected to the vision 2030 for higher education and research. The update has particularly targeted the roles of the learner and the learner's service map, which in the future will be developed on the basis of the vision", said Anastasiou.

Learners' data flows in the future service environment

The panel discussion of the spring seminar considered learners' information flows in the service environment of the future. The panel examined views on how future learners' information flows should be built, as well as the data resources and information flows required for continuous learning. 

The panelists included Senior Adviser Tapio Huttula from Sitra, Development Manager Hannu Ikonen from Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences, Director Jukka Lerkkanen from the University of Jyväskylä and Director Raakel Tiihonen from the National Board of Education.  The panel was chaired by Coordinator Jukka Kohtanen from CSC. The panel discussion can be viewed in its entirety on the recordings of the first day of the seminar.

The panellists largely agreed on the major issues. Special attention was paid to the freer movement of information, which was considered from a social perspective. On the other hand, the learner's right to decide on the use of their personal data was seen to play an increasingly significant role in the future.

The panel discussion was commented on by Senior Ministerial Adviser Ilmari Hyvönen from the Ministry of Education and Culture. In his speech, he referred to the question that had already been discussed, for instance, in the panel: How should change be advanced? Should digital services be produced first, in order to enable new activities, or should change reflect "the operative changes in the real world".

According to Hyvönen, these two approaches should always be combined, although this is challenging in the world of higher education institutions, which consists of autonomous actors that do their own development work according to their own schedules.

Flexible learning through future learning environments and pedagogical capabilities

Director Tiina Silander from the Ministry of Education and Culture opened the second day of the seminar by highlighting the development program for higher education pedagogy and guidance expertise, the aim of which is to support the competence and pedagogical management of the staff of a higher education institution. According to Silander, the development programme must take into account various needs and different starting points in order to support the expertise of the individual, community, organization and higher education institution.

Director Tiina Silander from the Ministry of Education and Culture.

"If Finland's most important asset is a competent and highly educated population, the most important resource for higher education institutions is competent personnel that continuously develops its skills", said Silander. The vision 2030 for higher education and research is one of the ways in which the higher education community can meet challenges together. According to Silander, this means, among other things, that the development of personnel competence must be supported so that everyone stays involved.

Digital learning environment of the future

Digital Director Juha Eskelinen from the University of Tampere described the digital learning environments of the future and told how the DigiCampus development project is progressing.  Eskelinen also reported on the joint tendering for a European cloud service and learning environment in preparation in the OCRE project through GÉANT (European higher education and research network organizations). CSC is taking part in the competitive tendering to make the services available to Finnish higher education institutions.

Mikko Mäkelä, IT Service Manager at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, illustrated the planning of learning environments through practical examples. At the new Myllypuro campus, learning environments have been designed to be technically flexible in accordance with the customers' wishes, thus enabling support for learning across campus.

The workshops of the spring seminar established joint roadmaps for development areas identified as important in the vision

On the first day, the focus of the workshops was on the realization of vision 2030 on the national level, interoperability and linking the objectives of the vision to the development projects of higher education.

The joint objective of the second day's thematic workshops was to ensure that the results of the development projects will remain and be utilized in the field of higher education and to ensure thematic cooperation between the projects.

The workshops were led thematically by both universities and universities of applied sciences. A summary of the output of the workshops can be found here (in Finnish).

The workshops held an active discussion on various themes.

Development of the digital service environment continues

The implementation of the five development programmes for higher education and research will continue on the path set by the vision management group. The seminar and the findings of its workshops were a step towards the implementation of the vision 2030 roadmap for higher education and research. The promotion of cooperation between higher education institutions will also continue in the KOOTuki and Synergy groups, and the guidelines of the common service environment will be described with the help of reference architecture.

The seminar on the developing digital service environment for higher education institutions on 21–22 May, 2019, was organized in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Culture, KOOTuki (Cooperation group for higher education institutions' support services for studying and teaching and administrative services ), Synergy Group and CSC. The event was chaired by Chairman of the KOOTuki Group Erja Widgrén-Sinen from the University of Eastern Finland and Vice Chairman of the Synergy Group Totti Tuhkanen from the University of Turku.

Links (in Finnish):
Spring seminar materials and recordings 
Updating work of the OPI reference architecture and commenting possibility
Common workspace for development projects incl. event calendar
Higher education and research digitalization roadmap
European joint tendering for a cloud service and learning environment

Published originally 18.6.2019.



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Nina Lundahl, Anne Björklund, Karoliina Sipovaara