10-Year Long Cooperation Between the Baltic States and the Nordic Countries is a Success
Author: Joan Rask
In 10 years, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have become full members of Nordplus, and that pleases Dagfinn Høybråten, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers and Nordic Council. He views Nordplus as the most folk friendly part of the Nordic cooperation and the Balts – they have embraced Nordplus.
“We were told that Nordplus was based on mutual trust, and I can say – it is! There is no unnecessary bureaucracy, and our schools and universities have embraced the new opportunities.”
So says Anne Hütt, Head of the Education Agency Archimedes Foundation, which administers Nordplus across all of Estonia. She quickly adds that the economy is, of course, under control. The special thing is that they are not subjected to unnecessary control.
Nordplus first began cooperating with the Baltic states in 2008. That is just about 10 years ago today. Dagfinn Høybråten, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers and Nordic Council, has followed the development of the Baltic-Nordic cooperation closely, not just as part of Nordplus but also all institutions under the Nordic Council of Ministers.
“The world around us is changing and that is why the Baltic-Nordic cooperation becomes increasingly relevant – not less relevant. The Nordic Council of Ministers commit more to this area than we did just few years ago,” says Dagfinn Høybråten.
Anne Hütt and Dagfinn Høybråten both emphasise how the historic and geographic unity lay a natural foundation for the cooperation. Workforce can now move unrestrictedly between nations, and because of the proximity, the populations should know about each other’s culture, language, history, and living conditions.
Acquaintance leads to friendship
In the years following 1991 where the Balts gained independence, the three countries didn’t look to their immediate neighbours when planning education – but rather, they often cooperated via the EU and forgot their closest neighbours.
“Thanks to Nordplus, we now have more cooperation with the all the Nordic countries – and also with the Baltic countries, our bonds have grown much stronger,” says Anne Hütt.
Māra Katvare is senior expert in the Ministry of Education and Science in Latvia, and she is not just any employee. She was there when it all began – or actually even before. Her family had relations in the Western world and she miraculously received a scholarship from the Council of Nordic Ministers before Latvia gained independence.
“It was really a historic time for me. I had a great chance, and on the 16th of August in 1991, I left Riga for Copenhagen – and there I found out what was going on in Moscow! And after three months in Denmark, I came back to a free Latvia,” she says.
She has dreamed about working internationally since high school and suddenly it became a possibility through employment in the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science. Here, she learned about Nordplus, and today she forms part of the Nordplus programme committee where she is able to experience the effect of the Baltic-Nordic cooperation first-hand.
“Nordplus is a very good and positive way for less experienced institutions to start working internationally. Very often a kindergarten or a school from the countryside will use Nordplus as their first international project – and they even apply for the coordinator role,” she explains.
Decades of preliminary work and cooperation back and forth between the Nordic countries have created a flexible way to apply for - and execute projects. Over time, a successful and efficient model has been established, because such a model is a necessity when more than 10.000 people are involved each year – there are pre-schoolers, schoolchildren, students, teachers, NGOs, further education students, companies etc., and they are all from the Nordic countries, the three self-governed countries of the Åland Islands, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland – and from the Baltic states.
Economy and evaluations
According to Dagfinn Høybråten, who has been Secretary General for nearly five years, there are two things of importance: The participants’ evaluations and the economy.
“Nordplus has most definitely made a difference on the individual level, and that is quite unique. Every day there are new participants who get the opportunity to share their experience and apply in their day-to-day life – it’s like a ripple effect,” he says.
Since 2008, the three Baltic states have been full members of Nordplus, that is, on equal terms with the rest of the Nordic countries. Consequently, every member state now pays about the same, representatives of the Baltic states participate on equal terms with the rest of the representatives of the Nordic countries, and, lastly, Baltic institutions can apply to all of Nordplus’ programmes.
“Regarding education, the cooperation between the Baltic states and the North is securely established. Concretely, there is parity with the economy – and we have complete systematic evaluations showing that Nordplus is one of the most folk friendly projects we have,” says Dagfinn Høybråten.
The latter cannot just be assumed. Both Māra Katvare and Anne Hütt highlight how valuable equality is. Žana Orlova, Deputy Director of The Education Exchanges Support Foundation, which administers Nordplus in Lithuania, agrees. She has a lot of experience with international exchange, but has only worked with Nordplus for a year and a half and hence sees the cooperation with a fresh pair of eyes.
”In Nordplus, people share the good practices examples, people learn more languages and they learn about the culture, but usually there it is much more. It is hidden, you can’t see it so clearly, but values are also transferred during the close cooperation,” says Žana Orlova.
Nordplus namely operates on two levels, she explains – the institutional level and the personal level. The latter is hardest to measure.
“At the personal level we talk about leadership, personal growth, self-confidence and even some unexpected impact on the knowledge you gain that you did not expect,” she explains.
At first glance, a project with exchange of kindergarten teachers may look like an insignificant little project. But if that is what you think, then you are wrong, explains Žana Orlova.
“If you invest in the people, the impact will last for a long time,” she says.
More than 300 schools in Lithuania have coordinated a projects – all of which have partners in at least two other countries – and some projects even have notably more partners. There are hundreds of participants during the projects’ duration, and other times there might only be 10-20 people involved. The three Baltic women all have a hard time naming any issues with the Baltic-Nordic cooperation in Nordplus. It is only minor things, they all say. Instead, Žana Orlov emphasises something they would like to learn more about:
“We still have much more to learn from our neighbour countries. In Finland and Estonia, they are at the frontline of PISA* analysis of performance in school education,” she says.
But then she points to something entirely different.
“Now we are sharing our knowledge with other countries such as Georgia and Azerbaijan – part of former Soviet Union. They are inviting our people as experts in education, and it shows how we have grown in these last 10 or 20 years of independence – and of course it comes mainly from the international cooperation,” says Žana Orlova.
* Programme for International Student Assessment
Nordplus funds projects within education, knowledge transfer, and network among kindergartens, schools, universities, and NGOs in the North and the Baltic states.
Nordplus is one of the largest institutions under the Nordic Council of Ministers and receive about 75 mil. DKK every year. This amount is decided pro rata payment from both the Nordic and Baltic countries.
- 650 applications are received.
- 2-3 times the size of the available funds is applied for.
- 3.400-3.900 education institutes and organisations participate and about half of them are new applicants.
- About 8.500 people are on exchange.