EDU-SMEs project worked for 1,5 years developing one aligned VET programme in Business Administration and Entrepreneurship

Aligned vocational education and training programme

The project was implemented in Specific Objective 4.2. More aligned vocational education and training programmes in the Central Baltic region
 

Results and outputs

The result indicator for SO 4.2 is “Increased share of aligned VET programmes”.
The partners designed and implemented an e-learning course in five modules "International Business Strategies of SMEs". In total, the course sums up to 10 ECTS.

The output indicator is “Number of benefitting vocational education schools”, and partners in this project are four (4) benefitting universities of applied sciences in Estonia, Finland and Latvia.

Around 180 students participated in the project during its implementation, with a proportional distribution of participants from the different institutions and regions.

Good cooperation between the partners and the fact that the project was based on a real need have helped the project to reach all expected results and to ensure sustainability of the results.

Activities?

The partners integrated the course and course materials especially in the following programs/courses:  EUAS in International marketing, TTK in Logistics, ViA in Tourism, Arcada in International Business.

A team of teachers from partner universities designed and implemented an e-learning course in five modules "International Business Strategies of SMEs". It is web based, free of use. You find it here, http://edusmes.eliademy.com/ .

In total, the course sums up to 10 ECTS. It has a flexible structure with modules that can be taken separately, so that the contents can be more easily integrated into different institutional structures and curricula requirements.

The project also wrote an EDU-SMEs Handbook (attached), which provides guidance to teachers in designing materials for the e-course and assisting in implementing the real-life cross-border assignments (CBAs).

EDU-SMEs reached a large number of companies during project implementation. SMEs were a main target group of the project, and in total the consortium reached more than 300 businesses, representing a variety of sectors. Especially successful for reaching the SMEs was the combined seminar/webinar in Riga, which was broadcasted both nationally and to the partner countries.

For the pedagogical approach (the cross-border assignments or CBAs), partners had promised 10 CBAs to be implemented during the project, which was also accomplished. Both Estonian, Finnish, and Latvian markets were in focus of the studies. The companies were active in the food, fashion, transport, and construction industries.

A self-evaluation for SMEs and students helps to identify weak points and is available on the webpage.

Pedagogical model

The project’s main pedagogical approach is the cross-border assignment (CBA), which provides a genuine learning environment, where students and SMEs work closely together across national borders. The CBAs directly link SMEs with faculty and students abroad - i.e. with their target markets.

In the CBAs, between 10-20 students per institution have been involved, altogether around 180 students.

The CBAs can be to:

  • develop market entry plans
  • participate in business fairs
  • test products and services
  • gather information about financing and business support
  • other activities for successful internationalisation of SMEs

There are three main players to a CBA:

1. A team of teachers in each partner school

The teachers are the key persons that decide what cross-border assignments to accept into their courses. The assignments should be possible to accomplish in the time frame of the course (or other study module) and they should lead to learning outcomes in line with the overall aim of the course. The teachers also provide guidance to the students during the CBA.

2. The students that conduct the CBA

They form teams where necessary competencies are available. They are also in close contact with their teacher and the SME abroad at least 3 times during the assignment:before the start to make sure goals are clear to both parties, mid-term to report status and to agree on the next step, in the end to present their final result to the company and to get feed-back on their result.

3. The SMEs that provide the CBAs

They assign a business tutor to closely guide the students and answer the company-related questions that will arise. The business tutors will be available either in the EDU-SMEs e-learning environment or on-campus.
 

Benefits for target groups

For students:

  • Cross-border assignments gave a stronger integration of classroom learning and real-life practice
  • The concrete cooperation with an SME in another country trained new competencies in the field of internationalisation of small and medium-sized companies

For SMEs:

  • Direct support for SMEs in their internationalisation process
  • Cross-border activities link the SMEs with faculty and students in their (new) target markets

For educational institutions:

  • Cooperation and stronger integration of classroom learning and business through real-life assignments > new developed curricula
  • The pedagogical model for cross-border cooperation between VET institutions and SMEs provides the students skills that match with labour market needs through stronger integration of classroom learning and practice in the workplace

 

The work goes on / The sustainability of the project

All materials are available on Internet, and the partners are using the course materials and the pedagogical approach also after project closure.
The course has also been tested outside the original target group of students (bachelor level in business administration).
For example, it is now being integrated in tourism programs, and in a course on master level, and the results will be evaluated after this academic year (2017-2018).

After the project, the partners have continued to work closely with SMEs and further developed their expertise in the area of SME internationalisation. The CBAs have continued, but also other forms of cooperation have emerged. Among these are e.g. guest lecturing about growing market areas, such as Asia and Africa, from where the entrepreneurs have reported their experiences of SME internationalisation. These growing markets provide extensive opportunities for Central-Baltic SMEs.

- Further, a new group of SME cooperation partners have emerged, tells Eija Källström from lead partner organisation Arcada University of Applied Sciences.
These are business associations representing SMEs – e.g. chambers of commerce, regional development centres and SME umbrella associations, which have provided access to large groups of SMEs. Through these organisations, knowledge about the CBA approach has been spread to a larger audience.

- In November 2017, EDU-SMEs was one of the few projects invited to be presented at a combined UEAPME/BIC seminar in Brussels, Eija Källström continues. UEAPME is an umbrella organisation for European employers’ organisations with a member count of more than 12 million small and medium sized companies (SMEs), and BIC is one of their member organisations representing the construction industry. EDU-SMEs was presented as a best-practise example of how projects can support internationalisation of SMEs and also to create new co-operation platforms for SMEs and higher education institutions across national borders.