Transnationalism Education and Research: Shifting focus to the global South and potential spaces for inter-faculty collaboration

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The report by the research center of Transnationalism and Transformation (TRANSIT) about research, teaching and collaboration on topics under the umbrella of transnationalism (i.e. transnational and cross-national processes such as exchanges and interactions between policies, people, organizations, ideas, technologies, or resources, and their implications for societal conditions and transformations in specific localities and more globally) at Tampere University revealed signs of rising attention to Asia and Africa although European countries are still the main focus. To further promote education and research on transnationalism in Asian and African contexts, the role of local voices and knowledge is vital.  

Furthermore, the survey conducted across the three faculties of Education and Culture (EDU), Management and Business (MAB), and Social Sciences (SOC) showed great potential and acute need to enhance inter-faculty collaboration.  

“With its globally influential and multidisciplinary nature, transnational phenomena (e.g. global health, climate changes, conflicts and security, migration, etc.) can only be studied comprehensively with a thoughtful consideration of different contexts and collaboration between researchers from different fields”, said Tram Ninh, the report´s author.

Going beyond the traditional geographical focus: Signs of shifting to Asia and Africa

In teaching and researching the transnational flows and activities crossing national borders and the formation of complex networks between actors globally, the survey shows a predominant geographical focus on Europe rather than Asia and Africa.  

Courses related to Asia and Africa represent slightly over 10% of transnationalism related teaching based on a comprehensive mapping of the Sisu study information database. Also, among 35 research communities working with transnational themes only two explicitly express research interest in Asia and Africa.  

However, there are noticeable signs that more attention will be paid to Asia and Africa as some faculties and research communities have recently confirmed their strategies of research context diversification and interests in the Global South. Part of the reason for this shift may relate to the recent (economic) development of some Asian countries and the enormous scale of the Asian market.  

While Asian and African countries are usually studied as examples of various ’problems’, such as ‘authoritarian systems’, ‘war’ or ’conflict zones’, the rising Asian countries, such as China and India are also described as ‘emerging’, ‘largest higher education systems’, or ‘becoming the largest’. The acknowledged potential of Asia may explain why Asia seems to attract more attention than Africa across degree programs, courses, academic communities, and research projects. Among these, China is the most prevalent country, followed by India. 

The need to involve local expertise

Although there are plausible signs of expanding geographical focus to new areas outside Europe, the courses about Asia and Africa have not always been well-tailored to reflect the local contexts, and the reverse flow of knowledge is rarely evident.  

In addition to scare presence of scholars from the studied contexts, most courses seem to examine Asia and Africa from an ‘outsider’ perspective, which leads to the question of whether a Western frame is being universally applied to non-Western countries 

To bring thorough insights about Asia and Africa to future courses, the report suggested a more inclusive approach and involvement of diverse knowledges and participation of scholars from Asia and Africa.  

“Another possible way to include more diverse and locally contextualized knowledge into teaching contents is to mobilise the networks of researchers and adapt the knowledges produced across the research projects about Asia and Africa”, Ninh said.

The spaces for inter-faculty collaboration

According to the report, the units (programs, courses, communities, and projects) working with transnational phenomena at Tampere University have built cooperative relations with various external actors in and outside Finland but there are few signs of collaboration between faculties inside the university. 

There is untapped potential for strong inter-faculty collaboration in teaching and research thanks to the multiple shared themes that the report has helped to shed light on such as Education (between EDU and MAB), ’Politics’ and ‘Governance’ (between MAB and SOC), and ‘Economics’ (between MAB and SOC). Also Migration is a central common theme in teaching and research.  

“Tampere University is one of the most multidisciplinary and international universities in Finland.  It can greatly enhance our understanding of transnational phenomena through strong inter-faculty collaboration and interdisciplinary and international ties in the above-mentioned shared themes”, Ninh said.

Contact information:
Tram Ninh
Doctoral researcher
+358 44 9263055