Sannamaaria Vanamo, Consul General of Finland, and Janne Hirvonen, Consul of Finland, have visited St Petersburg University. During their meeting with Nikolay Kropachev, Rector of St Petersburg University, they discussed possibilities for developing cooperation between the two countries and enhancing academic mobility.

Consul General Sannamaaria Vanamo said that in recent years fewer Finnish students have been willing to travel outside the country to study at foreign universities. The exact reasons for this are unclear. According to a recent study, the pandemic, which has isolated the residents of the two countries, has partly influenced their perceptions of each other. Nevertheless, Russia is the nearest neighbour of Finland and an important link to Europe and Asia. The country maintains good tourism and transport connections with the Northwestern Federal Region and St Petersburg in particular. There is also little decline in the mutual attraction of neighbouring countries, and Finnish nature and social life remain attractive to the Russians.

I am sure that it is personal mobility that is the reason for the interest towards these areas of life in Finland. We hope that tourism will revive soon and more and more Finns will come to Russia.

Sannamaaria Vanamo, Consul General of Finland

Consul General Sannamaaria Vanamo therefore addressed Nikolay Kropachev, Rector of St Petersburg University, concerning the possible ways of supporting academic exchanges among students and academic staff, and about the pace of vaccination of University students and staff.

Nikolay Kropachev said that by the time of the meeting, 88% of the academic staff had been vaccinated or had a medical exemption, but the number of vaccinated students was much lower – not more than 20%. Information on vaccination is regularly published on the University website and the latest data can be found in the minutes of the Rector's meetings. Nikolay Kropachev, Rector of St Petersburg University, emphasised that it would be against the law to prohibit students who have not been vaccinated from attending full-time lectures, although by doing so they put teachers and fellow students at risk. The solution to this situation will be to create classrooms for conducting hybrid classes, which will enable those who cannot attend classes in person to access lectures from home. By the summer of 2022, the University plans to have around 500 to 1,000 such classrooms. Nikolay Kropachev stressed that combining two forms of classes is a modern solution and enables students to choose the study format that is most convenient for them.

During the meeting, Nikolay Kropachev, Rector of St Petersburg University, made a number of proposals aimed at strengthening international cooperation and mobility.

A joint online course with the consulate on the history and culture of St Petersburg could be one way to increase the interest of Finnish citizens in tourism, and possibly also in studying in Russia. As one of the leaders in online education in Russia, St Petersburg University would be able to create a high quality course, and the participation of consular representatives in its creation would increase its credibility with potential participants.

Nikolay Kropachev added that learning foreign languages motivates people to learn more about the history and culture of other countries. St Petersburg University Language Testing Centres for Russian as a foreign language operate in more than 40 countries, and there are more than 100 such centres worldwide. The Rector proposed opening such a centre in Finland to give people an opportunity to take a Russian language test and receive an officially recognised certificate that would enable them to enrol in Russian universities. In turn, the organisation of centres for Finnish language testing at St Petersburg University will improve the quality of teaching and increase the number of students willing to study the language. The creation of a Finnish cabinet at St Petersburg University will serve the same purpose. St Petersburg University has thematic cabinets devoted to different countries –  Japan, Thailand, China, Vietnam and many others. They have become a popular attraction for students, visitors, and foreign tourists: the cabinets are often included in tourist routes and become a tourist attraction. A representative office of St Petersburg University could become such a venue for educational and cultural meetings in Finland, where everyone can learn more about Russia. Nikolay Kropachev suggested opening it on the campus of one of the partner universities. For example, this year the St Petersburg University representative office in Spain, established at the Russian House in Barcelona, hosted a multimedia exhibition dedicated to the cultural heritage of Leningrad during the Siege, describing how people managed to preserve the treasures of one of the largest museums in the world. Nikolay Kropachev, Rector of St Petersburg University, emphasised that the University develops not only the natural sciences but also the arts: despite coronavirus restrictions, artists, designers and representatives of other creative fields find opportunities to organise exhibitions and present their works to an audience, which they are willing to share with the people of Finland as well. In concluding his speech, Nikolay Kropachev stressed that all the proposals create an institutional framework, a basis for closer international cooperation.

Sannamaaria Vanamo, Consul General of Finland, thanked the Rector of St Petersburg University for the proposals and, in her turn, outlined the most interesting areas for academic cooperation. These include international relations, history, jurisprudence, Arctic research, which are particularly relevant for St Petersburg. Separately, Sannamaaria Vanamo emphasised environmental issues.

I think more discussion is needed on the topic of sustainable development and preventing environmental crimes. You talked about the importance of observing rules and laws, all of which also relate to environmental protection. I think we could exchange ideas, since we share the Baltic Sea and the Arctic zone.

Sannamaaria Vanamo, Consul General of Finland

Currently, researchers from St Petersburg University are involved in three joint projects with the Finnish National Agency for Education as part of Team Finland Knowledge programme. It focuses on the circular economy, sustainable development and atmospheric research. Consul General Sannamaaria Vanamo also said that her colleagues are willing to participate in programmes to teach Finnish language and culture, and she herself would be eager to discuss international relations and diplomacy with students of St Petersburg University.

The participants also discussed: the reduction in academic mobility due to the suspension of the Erasmus programme and possible ways to restore it; the creation of international double degree academic programmes (in particular in tourism); and the organisation of a meeting between Russian and Finnish business representatives.

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