In autumn 1998, at the Metropole hotel in Brussels, 32 happy people from the School of Economics toasted to the Centre of Excellence in Education. There really was reason to celebrate: the Helsinki School of Economics Department of Languages and Communication had been appointed as a national Centre of Excellence in Education for the period from 1999 to 2000 on the recommendation of the Finnish Higher Education Evaluation Council (currently The Finnish Education Evaluation Centre FINEEC). It was the only unit in business education in the whole country to be granted such an honour!
I had started at the School of Economics six years earlier as Head of the Department of Languages and Communications (1992–2009). The fact that I joined the School of Economics was associated with the organisational change of the Department of Languages: the unit placed strong emphasis on teaching, and a decision had been made to transform it into a separate department, which is why a full-time head was hired. In the spring of 1992, I responded to a job posting in Helsingin Sanomat, and a highly rewarding 26-year career path opened to this licentiate of applied languages. For the last nine years (2010–2018), I worked as the quality manager of Aalto University School of Business. I enjoyed my time at the School of Economics and School of Business from the very first day to the last!
According to the evaluation council, the Department of Languages and Communication was awarded the desired quality label because its teaching objectives had been determined appropriately and in a modern manner, and the department regarded language proficiency as part of professional competence. Moreover, the evaluation council thought that the objectives had been implemented extensively and diversely despite the declining resources. The department had been a pioneer in adopting individual and alternative forms of study. Fixed links to the world of work included expert tasks for teachers in companies, business representatives’ participation in education, and research commissions. A lot of international and national cooperation had been carried out in the planning and implementation of education.
The evaluation council also thought that the pedagogical level of teachers was high, and that constant attention had been paid to the development of such competence. Student feedback had also been excellent. The nomination meant significant additional funding for the university from the Ministry of Education for each year of the performance agreement period. To top it all, I cannot help but point out that the School of Economics Department of Languages and Communication was selected as Centre of Excellence also in the next round, from 2001 to 2003.
A small Manneken Pis statue as a souvenir
Almost everyone from the department took part in the trip to Brussels, that is, 32 people in total. If I remember right, Eero Kasanen and Esa Ahonen raised their brows at first, as they probably could have thought of other uses for the funding in the department’s operations. But we adhered to the plan that everyone interested could take part, and, ultimately, we got permission. Our trip was part of the department’s quality work and continuing education for staff.
In 1998, Brussels was an obvious destination choice. At that time, everything about the EU was new and interesting. From the point of view of languages, EU’s multilingualism and multiculturalism were viewed as particularly inspiring, as it was considered that they further strengthened the importance of diverse competence in languages and culture. In this context, it is worth remembering that our students completed over 30 credits of language studies on average in those days. Our itinerary included a visit to the European Parliament, where the interpretation activities of the parliament were presented to us, among other things. We also learned about the translation activities of the Council of the European Union and the interesting job description of the language coordinator of the European Commission. Moreover, we had a chance to visit the Brussels Office of the Industrial Employers’ Association and the ICHEC Brussels Management School to learn about their teaching of languages and communication.
Our travel itinerary was versatile and inspiring in many ways, but we were particularly impressed by how warmly we were welcomed everywhere and how carefully our hosts and hostesses were prepared for our visit. Funny how all this comes back to me after 23 years! Despite our busy official programme, we also had a chance to taste some mussels on the side streets of Grand Place and to visit La Mort Subite – more than once, if I remember correctly. As a cherry on the cake, we stayed at a great hotel, Hotel Metropole, organised for us by the Töölön Matkatoimisto travel agency. In the stately golden lobby bar of the hotel, we raised a glass in honour of the Centre of Excellence in Education.
I bought a small bronze Manneken Pis statue (approx. 10 cm) as a souvenir. For twenty years, the statue stood on the windowsill of the department's coffee room. For a long time, our tradition was to place a tiny student cap on the statue’s head on the First of May. At the end of 2018, Anne Kankaanranta ceremoniously donated the statue to me before the School of Business moved to Otaniemi and before I retired. Now it stands in a place of honour in my living room with a student cap on its head.
Head of the Department of Languages and Communications (1992–2009) and Quality Manager of the School of Business
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In 2021, we ask former and current members of the School of Business community (especially faculty and staff) to share their memories of the School. These memories will comprise the ‘My Kauppis Memory’ series of stories.