If You Can Make It There You Can Make It Everywhere – Triumph of the Metropolitan Area Cooperation

Matthias Knaut, Vice-President for Research and International Cooperation, Professor, Ph.D., HTW Berlin – University of Applied Sciences, Germany, Matthias.Knaut@HTW-Berlin.de
Tuire Ranta-Meyer, Director, Ph.D. MMus, Adjunct professor, Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Finland, tuire.ranta-meyer@metropolia.fi

Berlin and Helsinki sharing the same capital city potential

In the future, the engines of innovation and growth are focusing more and more in big cities and metropolitan areas. When experts and enthusiasts of a certain industry are working in the neighborhood, or near each other, new ideas are unfolding and innovations get on wings. The larger the city, the more versatile is its economy structure. This fact protects against the problems that one-industry-based cities, like Detroit, have been confronting in recent years.

Moreover, capital cities as metropolitan areas draw immigration. For people from different parts of the world there are in big cities local ethnic communities, which support coping with and prospering in the new homeland. For instance Berlin and larger Stockholm seem to be real idea kettles in this sense, and that’s why they are expected to have a flourishing future.

Helsinki Metropolitan Area, like Berlin and Stockholm, have several strengths in common: they have immaterial and intellectual capital, a creative and tolerant atmosphere, well-educated inhabitants, knowledge-based start-ups, residential areas with distinctive identities and individual characters, and a set of established universities and research institutions. These capital cities also seek actively for new economies and new growth by emphasizing innovation as means for creating emergent markets. Along with this kind of development trends, radical competitiveness is expected to increase.

Networks as a source of strength

Today, highest levels of excellence and innovati­on strength are sought across all value-adding networks. The scope of expertise is extended through co-operation and alliances also within higher education institutions, not only in business or among companies. That is why three years ago, HTW Berlin and Helsinki Metropolia – both being Universities of Applied Sciences – signed a general cooperation agreement to formally enter into a ‘strategic partnership’.

With a student body of more than 13,000, the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft (HTW) Berlin is the largest university of applied sciences in Berlin. With around 70 compact and practice-orientated bachelor’s and master’s courses in engineering, economics, information technology, culture and design, the range of qualifications it provides is impressive. University rankings have consistently established HTW Berlin as one of the leading providers of a modern and professional education. Enjoying an excellent academic reputation, it has received many prizes for exceptional innovation in the university sector, for internal management reforms, the consultation and service packages offered to small and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups, and for the commitment to gender equality and barrier freedom.

Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Finland’s largest university of applied sciences, educates the professionals of tomorrow in the fields of culture, business, health care and social services, and technology. At Helsinki Metropolia with its nearly 17,000 students and 1,100 full-time employees, people and worlds meet to create insight, expertise and well-being for both the world of work and life in general. Cooperation in and through the vivid metropolitan area, is the key to discover new ideas and solutions to build a better future. Helsinki Metropolia has 65 degree programs, and 14 of them in English. It is most popular UAS in Finland in terms of applicants, second-most popular in terms of attractiveness. It complies with the requirements of the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) as one of very few universities in Finland.

The step to build a strategic partnership between these two higher education institutions took place after a longer period of student exchange, a joint international Master´s Degree, and other bilateral activities showing that there is a high potential for closer cooperation in the international framework of Europe. Also the fact that the institutions are situated in capital cities facing the same kind of challenges and possibilities, played a significant role.

Added value through alliances

At HTW Berlin and Helsinki Metropolia, an international partnership means that an alliance is built with a foreign university, research institution, or working life organization in order to achie­ve goals which benefit both parties. A partner of an added value network is called a ‘strategic partner’ once the co-operation relationship is continuous and intensive, so that in the pace of time the contribution of the other party is clearly visible.

When talking about higher education institutions and other non-profit organizations, the objective of these partnerships is rarely direct economic profit; the goal is rather to detract new, underlying needs through the co-operation. The recognition of silent signals and the development work on them increases the know­edge of all participants. Acknowledging the new thus means an added value for both the competencies and the mental flexibility of the organization.

Both in HTW Berlin and in Helsinki Metropolia the discussions with professors, experts and top management convinced that in the future, both universities are able to see the world through innovative angles, learn new things, and generate creative breakthroughs best in interaction with an ally. This was the trigger for starting a new and more systematical phase of partnership between the two higher education institutions.

Many potential forms of collaboration

In the strategic alliance between HTW Berlin and Helsinki Metropolia, practical methods include interest forums, brainstorming sessions, workshops, thematic seminars and annual conferences. In higher education, benchmarking of processes and administrative policies like quality management, yearly planning of teacher work or human resource development, are an important part of strategic cooperation.

In addition, a growing interest lies in mutual research activities. Developing and nurturing new relationships with people and organizations outside the universities of applied sciences has become a critical element of successful and sustainable research programs. Both institutions, HTW Berlin and Helsinki Metropolia, seek to break into new areas and re-invigorate the already well-established strengths in the field of research, and are convinced that this is done best in partnership with each other and each other´s allies. Either partner could, of course, do business without the other, but in ideal cases it would be either difficult or not as rewarding as working in close interaction. To reach this kind of level of intensity, the partnership should be thinking 5−10 years ahead, have a strong written vision and plan the actions on this same timescale.

An effective partnership dynamo is in practice mostly the impact force of the individual, because the organization itself is never energizing. Individuals with enthusiasm are the premise of functioning. The dynamics of seeing and develop­ing partnership opportunities depend on personal relationships. At best, cooperation consists of a guild of top professionals, which is focused on people’s intrinsic motivation.

Criteria for partnership

A genuine strategic partnership has a major impact on the parties’ thinking and planning. In HTW Berlin and Helsinki Metropolia cases, an indication of this is that the top leaders meet each other and sup­port the goals set for the co-operation. Between the parties, there is an open and effective communicati­on at many different levels.

The benefits of the added value network are realized only if the alliance between the two parties shares a very high degree of confidence. This results in an enriching balance between mutually transferable skills, knowledge and practices. It is said that a partnership is like an intimate relationship that needs to be cared for and where open sharing of things carries you furthest!

Between 2010 and 2014, Helsinki Metropolia has in­vested heavily in strategic partnerships. One outcome of this investment is a set of criteria for choosing partners. Potential partners and international alliances are estimated e.g. by going through a list of questions. The following matters should, for instance, be discussed thoroughly:

What makes the difference?

Cooperation in the field of research, tuition, student and staff exchange, human resource development, and internationalisation are the bedrock in the partnership between HTW Berlin and Helsinki Metropolia. But there are phenomena, which make it beyond ordinary ‘cut-and-dried’ international cooperation.

Both parties have strong roots in the capital city area of their home countries and each plays a substantial role in the economic, social and cultural life of its city and region. There is a genuine commitment to collaborate to disseminate, implement, exploit and/or commercialise knowledge in these areas, but also a willingness to seek to work together in developing urban solutions, wellbeing in the society, artistic and cultural activities, too. Both parties share the mission of being influential stakeholders in the metropolitan areas, be it Helsinki or Berlin, which are very well to be compared. Acting as innovation drivers especially in the Baltic Sea Region is a natural expansion of the roles of the parties.

The two higher education institutions will also act as socially responsible partners and exchange knowledge and experiences regarding social responsibility issues including efficiency of operations and the impact of operations on the environment, and on the key stakeholders: students, staff, and both public and private sector.

The four-year experience of strategic partnership has shown that there is a mutually shared ambition about a high standard education that makes the HTW Berlin and Helsinki Metropolia graduates fit for jobs in their home countries, but also in Europe and abroad. Combining strong applied research and development with project study and including this into education is for both parties the essential premise as well a permanent, everlasting mission.   

Today, there is a clear trend towards working in partnerships and thus build up centres of creativity and innovation. HTW Berlin and Helsinki Metropolia wish to be harbingers, not only in improving their own quality but in being models for the students. The two institutions are open for students from everywhere in the world and want to educate students who feel themselves as citizens of Europe and the world. That is what a strategic partnership is for: opening our capital cities, countries and cultures and let others take part in it and share its beauties and richness.


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Ranta-Meyer, Tuire 2013. Metropolia´s Strategic Partnerships. Co-creating Expertise (ed. Kiventaus & Ranta-Meyer). rdwpub.metropolia.fi, ISBN 978-952-6690-05-6.

Santalainen, Timo 2009. Strateginen ajattelu & toiminta. Helsinki: Talentum. ISBN 978-952-14-1373-5.

Strategic Partnerships Manual. University of Leeds. http://www.sddu.leeds.ac.uk/uploaded/campus-only/research/knowledge/spm.pdf. ISBN 0853162050.

Redecker, Christine, Leis, Miriam & al. 2011. The Future of Learning: Preparing for Change. Institute for Prospective Technical Studies. http://ftp.jrc.es/EURdoc/JRC66836.pdf.

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Please read the UAS Journal article Benchmarking Learning and Teaching – International case study from the Oulu University of Applied Sciences and the Fontys University of Applied Sciences