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Time leap to 2004:

I started my studies at the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi in 2004. The distance between my home in South Ostrobothnia and my place of study was just over 580 kilometres. A minimum of 7.5 hours had to be reserved for a one-way train journey. I was not the only one who came to study from further away, but many of my fellow students came from Southern Finland. In the early 2000s, a common practice was that wherever the place of study was, people lived there as well. Teaching was contact teaching, and exams were taken on centralised exam days at certain times in large auditoriums. If you wanted to take an exam at another location, this had to be separately agreed with the host higher education institution, and a fee was also paid for this. For example, I took the exams at the end of my studies as a paid transfer exam conducted by the Open University of the University of Vaasa.

Alongside my studies, I was active in student organisation activities. As students, we called for the possibility of flexible completion of studies, and we spread this message at both local and national level. In my speeches, electronic exams and the term Exam Aquarium became so familiar in our university meetings that Vice President Jukka Mäkelä, who was responsible for teaching at the time, often started his sentence “Henna and Henna’s Exam Aquarium…”. The Exam Aquarium was realised as a result of persistent work and Tenttis, developed by the University of Tampere, was introduced in several higher education institutions in the 2010s.

Nationally recognised need for flexible completion of studies

Settling the countryside and, on the other hand, attracting skilled personnel across Finland are hot topics for discussion. One purpose of higher education institutions is to strengthen the expertise of their neighbouring areas. At the same time, however, they also have to justify their existence and compete for students with other higher education institutions.

What then makes students choose their study place and possibly move to the other side of Finland? Today, this choice is certainly influenced by the fact that flexibility and diversity have been introduced alongside traditional forms of teaching. In addition, the student’s different life situations are taken into account better, and they are not seen as an obstacle to studying.

In the future, the higher education institutions’ Digivisio 2030 program and cross-institutional studies will make studies more accessible to everyone. With the expansion, the importance of completing flexible studies will increase. It is important to identify this topic and bring it up for discussion already at this stage, while plans are still being made.

EXAM consortium as an example of cooperation between higher education institutions

The EXAM consortium strategy, approved in March 2024, has three values, which are user-orientation, communality and performance. Of the above, I would particularly like to emphasise communality, which has been the driving theme from the outset. In the consortium model, each higher education institution is an equal member and a shared will to develop and promote electronic assessment has supported decision-making and ERP.

The interoperability of the EXAM system is an internationally unique demonstration of cooperation between higher education institutions and its functionality at its best. It supports flexible completion of studies as well as strengthening teaching cooperation between higher education institutions. In a joint exam, teachers from different higher education institutions can create a joint exam and thus utilise more extensive expertise. An exam visit, on the other hand, is a response to geographically flexible studying. Students can flexibly take exams of their own higher education institution in another location, thus reducing travel.

I don’t even dare to count how many kilometres and hours spent on the train I would have saved during my studies, let alone money, had EXAM and exam visits been available to me at the time. I am proud of what the efforts have resulted in and what opportunities we can now offer students.

The author is Henna Toivola, project manager responsible for the EXAM service commissioned by the EXAM consortium, from CSC’s Technology Services for Education.