Southern AfricaIina Soiri

Iina Soiri

Iina Soiri, who served as Director of the Nordic Africa Institute (NIA) and as a political researcher in her previous positions, has been part of the Team Finland Knowledge network since autumn 2019. “Every visit to local universities reinforces my thought that innovations of the future are being made here – many other countries already have a strong presence in Africa. The continent has room for more operators from Finland, as we have a reputation for being a fair partner and a great country for education,” says Soiri.

Iina Soiri’s tasks in the target region in southern Africa include the monitoring and analysis of the region’s higher education and science policies, higher education and research, as well as active reporting on these. Soiri also helps in mapping cooperation and funding opportunities, monitors what the EU and other actors are offering, and coordinates the sector’s #TeamEurope activities. Soiri provides expertise for development cooperation projects in the education sector, promotes scholarship opportunities and follows higher education and science policy in the wider African region. Promoting education exports is part of supporting partnerships with higher education institutions (HEIs). In 2020, the work was supported by a market analysis of Finland and South Africa with Education Finland and Business Finland, as well as a mapping of existing cooperation in South Africa, Tanzania and Namibia. Currently, Soiri is helping in the implementation of Mozambique’s transition strategy, creating closer cooperation between HEIs and business. Iina Soiri’s job description also includes networking  between Finnish education sector actors and target area actors in accordance with the Team Finland plans of the countries in the region and the Education Export Roadmap.

Africa must no longer be eclipsed – tomorrow’s geniuses are being born here

With over one billion people living in 54 countries, Africa is a huge continent that is evolving in many ways. The population is young, and one of the most common desires and challenges is to be able to study. Under the leadership of the African Union and the national policies of the African countries, efforts are being made to increase and improve the continent’s capacity for and contribution to scientific production on a global scale, and the recent trend has been positive. The continent’s HEIs cooperate with actors such as the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) and the African Academy of Sciences (AAS). The Senior Specialist stationed in Pretoria focuses on southern Africa and especially the countries where Finland has a diplomatic mission: South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Tanzania. 

South Africa is the engine of science and innovation on the continent. It also boasts the best HEIs, which attract students and researchers from all over Africa and around the world. South African universities have repeatedly been rated the best on the African continent, and the University of Cape Town (#1 on the continent) ranks among the best 200 universities in the world.  Namibia has two public universities (UNAM and NUST) and one private management institute (IUM). Mozambique recently reformed its higher education sector and, in addition to two public universities (Eduardo Mondlane University and Pedagogical University Maputo), the country now has several regional HEIs. 

Finland and Africa – global responsibility, regional influence and HEI partnerships

The most important target country for the export of Finnish expertise in Africa is South Africa, although the country’s market is concentrated on the private side. Owing to the challenges in teaching and learning outcomes in southern Africa, Finnish teacher education constantly attracts interest there. Namibia and Finland already have extensive mutual knowledge and cooperate in many areas, including education and science. Namibia could easily be a springboard for wider markets, such as South Africa or Angola. In fact, Angola’s interest in Finnish education expertise was mapped out in 2022. In Namibia, the quality of teaching is rather poor, and inequality is one of the greatest social problems. Finding a common solution to these issues offers opportunities for many international actors.

Mozambique is also of interest to Finland from the point of view of higher education and science because Finland has a well-established educational sector programme in Mozambique financed by development cooperation funds. Mozambique has been working together with Finland in science and research for a number of years already and, now that development cooperation is ending, HEIs are important partners for continuing the joint development of the education sector. In addition, the country has potential from the point of view of the export of expertise, as there are also private educational institutions in the education sector. The potential is currently being mapped. 

In southern Africa, the focus is on regional impact, underscoring ways to reinforce global responsibility and capacity and on stepping up related cooperation and export of expertise and educational innovation. Enhancing student and researcher mobility and cooperation between the HEIs and businesses of Southern African countries and Finland is considered important, and the #FutureWithFinland campaign and website offer materials for this. The Team Finland Knowledge (TFK) programme and the Higher Education Partnership (HEP) programme of the Finnish National Agency for Education are important instruments to enhance the impact of activities, enabling mobility and cooperation between HEIs. Scientific cooperation between Africa and Finland has increased, as exemplified by the partnership of five projects funded by the Research Council of Finland and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs with an African HEI.

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