Turku round table

An international panel of experts explored ideas concerning the future of university cooperation.

Conference reports Frameworks for University Cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region

From the discussions at the “Frameworks for University Cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region” conference, the new EU-level interest in the region as well as increased Russian attention to the Baltic Sea sent a strong signal regarding the contemporary relevance and future importance of Baltic Sea cooperation.

Published on balticworlds.com on december 6, 2013

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On 28 October 2013, some fifty scholars, practitioners, and supporters of past and present Baltic Sea Region academic cooperation met at the University of Turku to discuss the possibilities for future cooperation, not the least in the context of the 2009 European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR).

The conference “Frameworks for University Cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region,” was co-organized by the University of Turku and the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and with active support byt the Baltic Sea Region University Network (BSRUN), the Council of Baltic Sea States (CBSS), the CBSS Finnish Presidency 2013–2014, the City of Turku, and the current EuroFaculty-Pskov project, the “Frameworks for University Cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region”. The conference provided a valuable opportunity for exchange of ideas and for taking stock of previous progress. One of the invited speakers was Rebecka Lettevall, new director of the Centre for Baltic and East European Studies (CBEES) at Södertörn University.

Since the end of the Cold War, Baltic Sea regional cooperation has focused on establishing a wide-ranging infrastructure for multi-level cooperation with the explicit aim of “desecuritizing” the region through “low politics.” Today, this infrastructure is alive and kicking. A multitude of projects are in the making. As such, participants agreed that the region has worked as a kind of social laboratory for new regionalism, multi-level governance, and soft power. The success of previous cooperation can be validated by the intention of the EU to use the EUSBSR as a model case for future macro-regional projects.

This being said, several participants at the Turku conference noted that “high politics” have made an inconspicuous, yet noticeable return in the region after a twenty year hiatus, possibly moderating this picture of a successfully desecuritized region. Longstanding challenges such as environmental degradation, resource management, and transport security have been infused with new actuality as the Baltic Sea has begun to play a more significant role for Russia’s fossil fuel exports and hence for the global economy.

While the significance of this return should not be overstated, most participants agreed that the existing matrix of institutions, projects, and programmes for cooperation is in need of more strategic problem identification and purposive overview and coordination in order to be able to respond to future challenges as well as use present capacities to the full extent. This is all the more important since many of the key players of earlier Baltic Sea cooperation are about to retire. Their contacts, insights, and networks need to be sustained.

New initiatives are thus actively solicited by for example the CBSS. The discussion on the issue of coordination also actualized a debate among participants on the relationship between regionalization and globalization. For Russia, the Baltic Sea Region is a point of access to the EU as well as to the wider world. For example, Chinese corporations are investing heavily in the Saint Petersburg region with this in mind. Finnish business interests are following suit.

In view of global competition and business opportunities, representatives of Russian higher education frequently spoke of the interest of Russian universities in expanding their educational cooperation with regard to courses, students, exchanges, and exams both with the Nordic countries as well as globally. Some Russian scholars raised questions about the possibilities for continuous research cooperation in contemporary Russia, citing concerns with academic freedom.

From the discussions at the “Frameworks for University Cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region” conference, the new EU-level interest in the region as well as increased Russian attention to the Baltic Sea sent a strong signal regarding the contemporary relevance and future importance of Baltic Sea cooperation.