Nordplus Higher Education
A New Development Direction in Tourism Industry in Latvia and Scandinavia
Author: Teija Tekoniemi-Selkälä
TURID is an interdisciplinary network of the Nordic-Baltic region, comprising seven higher educational institutions from Finland, Sweden, Norway, Estonia and Latvia with an aim of promoting the practical experience of students within the framework of bachelor and master study programmes in such fields as sports, health, tourism and gastronomy. TURID network was created in 1988; as of 2000, it has implemented five projects, each of which lasted for three years. With the help of these projects, successful cooperation was promoted not only between partner universities, but also between different regional communities and local entrepreneurs.
The common goal of these projects is to interconnect tourism, health promotion and local culture, thus stimulating sustainable regional development. Experience exchange mostly takes place in the form of different seminars and intensive courses organised in each of the partner states. From 2000 to 2013, approximately 250 students and 90 teachers have participated in TURID network projects.
Within the framework of this programme, Latvia is represented by Turība University, and in 2013, it implemented a project “Green Care Tourism in the Nordic-Baltic Region 2013”, which is a unique international project aimed at developing tourism sector not only in Latvia, but also in Nordic countries and the Baltics, with the financial support of NORDPLUS.
Latvia's Participation – Positive Response from both Students and Teachers
The project manager and a lecturer at Turība University Ainārs Brencis tells: “The project Green Care Tourism in the Nordic-Baltic Region 2013 organised by Turība University was the second project, which was included in an extensive three-year TURID project Green Care Tourism in the Nordic-Baltic Region. Its framework changes every year, namely, the concept of green care tourism is considered from different perspectives; moreover, there is different hosting university every year. Last year, it was Turība University in cooperation with Vidzeme University College in Valmiera. Before that, students and university lecturers from partner states were welcomed by Finland.”
This project pays attention to the interdisciplinary cooperation between different tourism entrepreneurs/ service providers or tourism clusters. One of the destination points in Latvia, which were presented to project participants and partners, was Gauja National Park (GNP) and GNP tourism cluster. “In my opinion, the project is successful, since it is based on the generally recognised methods: 1) to organise regular meetings and plan purposefully; 2) to improve the knowledge and skills of students; 3) to familiarise with the topicalities of the sector by means of video lectures and different tasks; 4) to organise meetings and trainings together with other project participants outside usual environment. In other words, the key to project' success is the possibility for students to obtain knowledge and master theory in the environment where all of it actually works.” A. Brencis added: “Successful cooperation between Turība University and Vidzeme University College in organising intensive courses is another reason for project's success in 2013. Each of the universities undertook to fulfil the tasks, in which it was the strongest one; hence, we were able to offer participants from partner states high-quality lessons and experience exchange activities in Latvia.
Valuable Training for Everyone
“During the intensive courses that lasted for six days, we encountered a few problems, which occurred due to the differences existing between different cultures and usual everyday life. For instance, some students found it difficult to fit into the overall rhythm of the group – they were unable to fulfil the tasks as quickly as other members of the group. Others, in turn, were able to do a lot of work within a short period. Of course, we understood that this problem had to be solved so that every participant would benefit, therefore we were searching for different solutions to change the dynamics of intensive courses and group work. In the end, we concluded that the intensive courses organised by us were overly saturated and enriched with activities and adventures; hence, those students, who were able to perceive a lot of information, were eventually exhausted. Our conducted intensive courses indeed corresponded to the term “intensive”. However, students, though feeling tired, were thankful for the diverse experience and extensive knowledge provided by the Latvian tourism environment”, A. Brencis admits.
TURID – Successful and Sustainable Network
The greatest benefit of TURID is the possibility for students to gain actual experience in international environment during the project, thus forgetting daily chores and devoting themselves completely to the study process in a country they are visiting. Of course, students make new friends and useful contacts, get to know the culture and traditions of other people, learn how one field, namely tourism, is perceived in different societies. Upon their return home, students often state: “This week, I accumulated a lot more valuable experience and knowledge than during my entire studies at the university.”
The development of a new, innovative and experience-based concept – intensive courses that include the cooperation of local stakeholders, students and teachers to promote regional development by means of creative activities – is another valuable result of TURID.
Undoubtedly, an extensive network of contacts, the cooperation within which becomes even closer every year, is another benefit. TURID partners consider that a close network of contacts is what will ensure the sustainability of the network.
Beneficiaries – Students, University Lecturers, Entrepreneurs
The project manager and a lecturer at Turība University Ainārs Brencis tells: “During the project, students from partner states obtained knowledge and professional skills, by developing different cooperation and competition strategies. They got to understand how to develop competitive, sustainable, innovative and health-promoting tourism products within the framework of tourism clusters. Of course, every student received the full amount of credit points for their participation in intensive courses – 5 ECTS. Likewise, we familiarised every local tourism entrepreneur, who supported intensive courses, and GNP tourism cluster participants with the conclusions made by students and ideas and proposals developed during the project. This made entrepreneurs reconsider the usual practice and set a challenge in creating new services and products, as well as improving quality.”
A. Brencis names the possibility of “pulling out” students from their usual routine, thus forcing them to think the way it is required by the relevant international environment, as one of the crucial benefits of Green Care Tourism in the Nordic-Baltic Region 2013. “Thanks to NORDPLUS financing, students never had to worry about such everyday things as catering, accommodation and transport expenses. They could devote all their energy to obtaining knowledge and its application in practice. Of course, significant intellectual contribution is ensured to university lecturers participating in the project as well – obtaining new contacts and experience, learning topical subjects, developing leadership, getting to know and study new places, regularly refreshing and supplementing knowledge to pass it to students and colleagues. Likewise, it is important to note that any contacts of different cultures and experiences, mutual integration and interaction promote the development of new knowledge and experience at a higher and more qualitative level,” A. Brencis tells confidently.
NORDPLUS – Motivating and Friendly Support
“Cooperation with NORDPLUS programme is extremely easy and stimulating, since it is free from bureaucracy; hence, during project implementation, it is possible to focus on the project to progress full-fledgedly and qualitatively. Within the framework of NORDPLUS programme, partners establish free, friendly relationships based on mutual understanding, trust and ethics. Due to that, we will definitely continue our cooperation with TURID and NORDPLUS, thus promoting the broadening of outlook of students,” A. Brencis emphasises.
Principal Data of the Project:
Project name: “Green Care Tourism in the Nordic-Baltic Region 2013”
Programme: NORDPLUS, Higher Education Programme
Project coordinator: Turība University
Project partners: Higher education institutions in Estonia, Sweden, Finland, Norway
Project target group: Students (21), university lecturers (9)
Project financing: EUR 30,00 (NORDPLUS grant – EUR 15,000, own financing – EUR 15,000)
Project implementation period: April 2013 – November 2013