7th European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sear Region 2016 (EUSBSR)

I started my master’s degree in the fall of 2016 and since the start I was eager to learn, comprehend, and get to know many discussions and policies at the European Union level related to the Baltic Sea Region (BSR). One place where I was sure to find BSR and its many facets, including regional challenges, opportunities, collaboration, development, etc., being vigorously addressed is the annual EUSBSR Forum (Forum). The Forum’s programme for this year looked promising with its thematic focus on a desired vision for the BSR for 2030. Luckily for me, it was being held on 8-9 November in neighbouring Stockholm, Sweden, therefore I simply did not want to pass such an opportunity.

The day before the Forum, I attended an event, titled NORTHERN DIMENSION IN 2030 – HOW TO GRASP THE OPPORTUNITIES AND FIGHT THE CHALLENGES?, hosted as part of the 18th Baltic Development Forum (BDF). The Northern Dimension (ND) is a partnership between the EU, Russia, Norway, and Iceland on four priority areas (environment, health, transport and logistics, and culture). The ND brought subject matter experts in the field of transport, logistics, health, and environment to tackle policy related subjects in the face of future challenges and opportunities in the North. One of the recurring themes was the need to adapt and leverage the technological advancement in all aspects of commercial and social activities in the North, especially digitalisation. There is an urgency to connect the rural and urban north and bring digitalisation to all aspects of future activities. The key challenge for the regional competitiveness and growth is the sustainability of the workforce, i.e., aging demographics. I was not too surprised upon hearing this but it did highlight the significance of readily available young workforce, in particular, and sustained population growth in the North, in general.

The day of the 7th EUSBSR was packed with activities. I was looking forward to taking a deep dive into the world of BSR especially after attending the ND event the day before. The day started with various workshops and panel discussions taking place concurrently. I chose to attended a panel discussion on human trafficking in the BSR. Speakers were from Poland, Russia, Sweden, and Finland, representing ministerial departments responsible for action on human trafficking in each country. I had, over the years, followed and studied trafficking mechanisms and techniques but was astonished to learn the sophistication of human trafficking in the BSR. The issues relating to human trafficking are as complex as the region itself. Host of countries, including Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland are not only transit states but are source and destination countries for human trafficking. There are number of reports highlighting diversified trends in human trafficking; sexual exploitation, forced criminality, organised crimes, and drug related operations to name a few. Please refer to the recent publication, Human Trafficking 2016 – Baltic Sea Region Round-up, by the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) for a thorough macro-regional overview of human trafficking as well as regional efforts to curtail it.

Afterwards, I headed to the Creative Lounge and mingled with delegates and presenters from range of field. The day progressed with a networking session while indulging in a sumptuous lunch. The afternoon started with a specially themed session, titled Vision 2030 for the Baltic Sea Region. This is where over a thousand participants heard Stefan Löfven and Juha Sipilä, Prime Ministers of Sweden and Finland respectively, lay out the vision for the development of BSR for the coming decade.

Over the two-day period, I attended workshops and events with topics ranging from economic development, cyclic economy, sustainable development, blue growth, maritime spatial planning, bio-economy, digital market and Startup in the BSR. The information presented and the debates conducted were overwhelming, to say the least. I, by no means, claim to have prior knowledge on many subjects, therefore, I believe that by simply situating myself in above mentioned debates, I had the opportunity to get familiar with the topics I knew very little about. Soon after my return, I restarted my courses which were undertaking environmental, maritime transport, maritime spatial planning, and economic challenges facing the BSR, only this time I was better equipped to take active part in the academic discussions.

Beyond attending workshops, I took part, as a support team, in the successful execution of a panel discussion on the subject of UN SDGs 2030, titled Walk the Talk – Implementing Sustainable Development Goals in the Baltic Sea Region, hosted by the Baltic University Network (BUP). As part of the student group we engaged and pressed panelists on a candid discussion about SDGs as a national policy tool of their respective governments. Upon concluding, we managed to personally interview the panellists. I interviewed Stefán Haukur Johannesson, Permanent Secretary of the MFA, Iceland, where I asked him to explain challenges facing Iceland within BSR while fulfilling SDGs. The interview is available on the BUP YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAMhDL_bQ_E

As part of the Forum, we were invited to a dinner reception, hosted by the City of Stockholm at the beautiful and historic Stockholm City Hall. It was yet another opportunity to speak and get acquainted with the with experts and delegates in the BSR, along with indulging in a traditional Swedish buffet.

I will encourage other students to actively seek and participate in events related to the studies as they add practical and pragmatic element to one’s education and allow us to challenge and validate classroom discussions on a grand stage.

Iftihkar Syed, student, Baltic Sea Region Studies




MDP Baltic Sea Region Studies! The course you are actually doing!

It is a tired cliché amongst those outside of the humanities and social sciences that whilst your studies may be interesting and personally rewarding, they may not result in a job at the end of your time at Turku University. This is a myth perpetuated time and time again, with little basis in fact.

There may be a grain of truth in the assertion that a social science degree means one has to be more adventurous when looking for future employment.  But that is exactly what a multi-disciplinary Masters prepares you for.

The MA BSRS is as advertised, a multi-disciplinary programme, it does not pigeon hole your talents. It allows you to explore the social sciences and find your niche. And yes you may have to search and be a bit more creative with acquiring internships and work, but I have not yet met a social sciences student who does not have a bit of adventure about them.

Studying subjects as diverse as macro-economics, history, culture and identity, regionalism and environmental ethics turn the BSRS graduate into the all-star decathlete of the academic world. It allows for fantastic flexibility when choosing the area of specialization for your thesis.

It enables one to search for internships and work in places as diverse as finance, media, marketing, the start-up community, and government. This is not just ‘prospectus speak’, I can vouch for friends who are social science graduates who work in all of these fields.

The BSRS programme supplies the graduate with more than one string to their bow, and whilst I’m on the metaphor bandwagon, it turns the student into more than a one trick pony.

Throw into the mix the notion that this is a dynamic region in flux, where currently one can point to questions surrounding nationalism, EU sovereignty, the future role of NATO in Europe vis a vis Russia, and whether or not smaller countries can go it alone like ‘Brexity- Britain’, as examples which make the BSRS programme pertinent and useful.

A large percentage of International Master’s students at Turku are studying science or IT related subjects, where lack of automatic specific degree related job prospects is an anathema to them. But for the inquisitive, independent and intrepid BSRS student this is something to be embraced.

Turku University has a generous internship grant, and also Erasmus exchange system in place, this should be taken advantage of.

After one year of studying the BSRS I hope I have displayed enough ammunition with which one can repel the attacks from the science and IT community regarding this unique but invaluable department of study.

© Pravin Bjarni Ramdin

What is BSRS? Why BSRS? What is the point of BSRS?

MSc Baltic Sea Studies! The course everyone thinks you are doing!

What is BSRS? Why BSRS? What is the point of BSRS?

A triumvirate of questions of which you may laugh at, gasp at or think irrelevant to yourselves as students on the MA Baltic Sea Region Studies programme.

Think again! Quiz any current or former member of the small but proud BSRS department fraternity, and they will smile and tell you that these questions are three of the most popular questions one gets asked when explaining your choice of studies here at Turku University.

As the title above suggests, you are often initially placed into the category of Science student, due to the “mishear” that is the title of our course.  People hear Baltic Sea Region Studies and automatically eliminate the ‘region’ part for reasons still unclear to my good self, and then immediately have you pegged down as a budding hotshot marine biologist who is out to become the David Attenborough of the Baltic Region.  And as appealing and financially rewarding as this sounds, you must then gently let them down explaining your love of the humanities and social sciences.

Now that you have established yourself as a lover of social sciences and humanities with a penchant for essay writing over lab experiments, the questions above come at you rapid-fire like a news reporter who is still looking for ways to explain your first answer.

I must confess a dash of hyperbole may have been used throughout, but if esteemed students and colleagues within the academic family are asking the questions above, a safe bet would be that future employers will be asking the same questions also.

So think hard on what you are studying, why you are studying BSRS, and what is the point of you studying BSRS!

With the experience of my first year of studies over, I will give my own insight into this trio of questions and offer up my answers to them in my next blog…

© Pravin Bjarni Ramdin


What has the EU ever done for us?

Brexit evokes concerns everywhere in Europe. Pravin Ramdin, BSRS student from the UK, wrote a blog post about the topic in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum on June 23rd.


Out of the ashes of WWII there arose a noble ideal, that the continent of Europe would never again see such bloodshed, collective trauma, upheaval and devastation as had been witnessed prior to 1945.

From the treaty of Paris 1951 through to the Treaty of Lisbon 2007 the overriding desire has been to maintain peace and stability within Europe through economic, political, social and judicial collaboration, is that not noble enough an ideal to warrant support?

Prior to the European Union project Europe was in a state of perpetual war and peace, a constant jockeying of position between Europe’s great powers often leading to conflict and the spilt blood of her ordinary citizens.

When countries in Europe had their sovereignty in tact, was it a safer place? Was it a place free from hatred? Was it a place at peace?

When nationalism was allowed to flourish, was Europe a place that welcomed everyone? Was it a place that created equal rights for all its residents?

The history books tell us this was not the case.

That a portion of my countries sovereignty has been deferred to Europe does not have to be a bad thing. That the highest court in my country is now the European Courts of Justice and Human rights does not have to be a bad thing.

If the legislation and judgements born out of these institutions eradicate past injustices, illuminate and enlighten our understanding, surely this is a good thing?

If, together as Europeans we can advance ourselves in a constructive and peaceful manner, and through continued cooperation eradicate the evils of nationalism and xenophobia, the institutions that help us to do this should be celebrated and not despised, they should be reformed but not rejected.

The European Union provides an open and equal market for all residents, students, workers, tourists and those unfortunate enough to be on welfare.  It provides funding to deprived areas in all corners of it’s member states, and for all its failings has helped maintain an unbroken peace within the continent since 1951.


©Pravin Bjarki Ramdin www.brownviking.com 

Wave Riders are here!

Wave Riders are here!

Last autumn was active time at the University of Turku in terms of gathering together researchers interested in marine and maritime issues university-wide. This was related to the strategy of the university: in the new strategy sea and maritime issues are recognized as one of the six main thematic areas of research at the Turku University.

The university-wide collaboration on the topic initiated cooperation among the humanists at UTU previously weakly informed by the marine research that was done at the Faculty of humanities. We met several times and compiled together e.g. an impressive list of our publications related to the topic. We realized that we share a common deep interest in the topic, and also a desire to advance the development of this particular research area within our faculty and our university across humanistic and social scientific disciplines. Thus, in February we established a research (and teaching) laboratory Wave Riders (AHA–Aallonharjalle in Finnish), a community that brings together researchers from the humanities and social sciences at the University of Turku specializing in the study of marine and other water systems. The introduction of AHA on the website (see aallonharjalle.wordpress.com) says the following: “Its (AHA’s) goal is to gather together researchers whose research is related to the maritime and shipping-thematic collaboration in the University of Turku’s new strategy.)

Last Friday we held a first seminar on the topic. The seminar (which was held in Finnish) was very successful and gained a lot of interest even among the local media. Now we have a proper overview of what kind of research is being done here and in what kind of issues people share an interest.The next phase of our work is to start planning a joint research project and a funding application. There are a great number of ideas for new projects, let’s see which of them realise…

Tuition fees – on what cost?

Now that the government has decided to charge non-EU/ETA students for their degree, the University of Turku is discussing what the appropriate tuition fee would be and what kind of pressures for the development of international degree programmes the introduction of tuition fees brings along. In general, Finnish universities are talking about a fee of ca. 10 000 euro. In the discussions, the ranking of the university as well as the (Nordic?) competition have been taken as criteria for defining the fee; very seldom one sees discussion on if the fee should somehow be compared with the employment prospects in the field and the level of income of the profession that the students get by taking the degree in question. Yet there is a difference in these prospects depending on whether the student gains the Master of Arts degree or the Master of Laws, for instance.

No matter if the fee is 7000 or 12 000 euro, it is a huge amount of money the pay of which, from the viewpoint of the student-customer, can be seen as a legitimization of the demand for the very 1st level quality education. The customer needs to get his/her money’s worth. Unfortunately, the experience from tuition fees shows that most of the tuition income goes into admin costs, not in the development of the programmes or the recruitment of the best possible staff. But the fact is that, as a degree programme becomes a product for the university, it cannot be the same programme which used to be without cost. The product needs to be innovative and appealing to the customers, and, therefore, money and effort needs to be invested in teaching which actually forms the core of the product that the students pay for. More staff in general and more English-speaking staff recruited from abroad in particular, and more pedagogical support for the teachers. (I am not sure if these concerns and pedagogical needs have been taken into account when calculating the profitability of the charged programmes.)

Even if the challenges of 1st quality offering were met, it is still precarious whether the introduction of the tuition fees actually creates more costs than income for the universities in Finland. The costs may also be immaterial: the interaction of foreign and Finnish students in the framework of international master’s programmes has served as an easy way of internationalization for the Finnish students.  Accordingly, the decreasing number of foreign students which is to be expected as a result of the tuition fees decreases the possibilities of Finnish students for gaining international experience during their studies. In the times of economic difficulties which make going abroad a less probable option for a Finnish student, this is sad.

Further read about the tuition fees in Finland: http://www.studyinfinland.fi/tuitionfees

Employ your expertise on the Baltic Sea region

Interreg Baltic Sea Region is an EU funding programme that facilitates transnational cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region. It has been offering funding for transnational projects since 1997. At the moment it is one of the financing mechanisms of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR). The Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme 2014-2020 “supports integrated territorial development and cooperation for a more innovative, better accessible and sustainable Baltic Sea region”. Recently, 35 projects contributing to the priorities of the Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme 2014-2020 – capacity for innovation, efficient management of natural resources and sustainable transport – were approved by the programme. Altogether, EUR 90 million were allocated to these projects. The projects are hosted by authorities from local, regional and national levels, research and training institutions, sectoral agencies and associations, NGOs and enterprises from around the Baltic Sea. The list of the projects can be found on the project webpage of the Interreg Baltic Sea Region.

The Interreg Baltic Sea Region funding is mainly directed at public authorities, research and training institutions, NGOs, sectoral agencies and associations, and enterprises. How could you, as an expert on the Baltic Sea region, possibly benefit from this funding opportunity in future? That is something worth thinking about – good ideas will always fly.

The Arctic is the new Baltic? Expertise on both is needed!

These utmost Arctic weather conditions that we are experiencing at the moment raised a couple of thoughts about the Arctic.

The Arctic is becoming an integrated part of the global economy. Many positive visions regarding the economic prospects of Arctic resources and sea routes are linked to this globalization. In addition to the coastal states, the economic security and welfare of the local populations and indigenous peoples are expected to benefit. At the same time, attention towards the Arctic raises concern over the sustainability and ethics of Arctic energy exploration and its linkages to exacerbating climate change.

The ambassador of Finland to Norway Erik Lundberg wrote about the Norwegian interest for the Arctic, and the call for Finnish know-how (in Finnish, see Pulloposti 3/2016). True, as Finland possesses one of the northernmost areas in the world with a permanent population, there no doubt is different kind of expertise regarding life in northern conditions. Northern know-how is very much needed now that the Arctic ‘hype’ is here and everyone wants to have its piece of the ‘Arctic cake’. For us, this know-how perhaps does not appear as anything exotic, but as part of our everyday practice. The needed know-how is not only technical or economic in character – also know-how on e.g. the political, social and cultural conditions of life in the northern areas is very much needed. In this context, we can take advantage of our good experience from regional cooperation within the Baltic Sea region rather than reinvent the wheel. By being an expert on the Baltic Sea region, you’re halfway to becoming an expert on the Arctic, too.

P.S. Freezing over? Check the tips on how to survive winter in Finland and enjoy it!