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  • Writer's pictureJosé-Carlos García-Rosell

ABC for Leading and Coordinating a Master's Degree Program - Experiences from a Finnish University

Taking responsibility for a master's degree program requires a holistic approach, combining effective leadership, strategic planning, and a commitment to providing a high-quality educational experience for students. It's essential to remain adaptable and responsive to the evolving needs of students, the latest developments in academia, and the job market. Drawing on my ten years of experience spearheading an international master’s degree program at a Finnish University, I have compiled a list of key considerations that are essential for successfully planning, coordinating, and leading such an educational program.

These are a few of the lessons I gained while directing the Master's program in "Tourism, Culture, and International Management" at the University of Lapland:

Program Objectives: Clearly define the program's goals and objectives, including the expected learning outcomes for students. Potential applicants want to know what they will learn during their studies and what opportunities await them after graduation. Specify the professions they are being prepared for, as many applicants may not be familiar with the subject matter or the potential career paths associated with the degree. Avoid assuming applicants are familiar with the subject matter; offer comprehensive insights to guide their decision-making process.

Curriculum Design: Develop a well-structured curriculum that aligns with program objectives, covers relevant topics, and integrates current trends and research. The learning material must be connected to ongoing discussions, enabling students to relate to the content and grasp theoretical concepts more effectively. Base the curriculum on research conducted by the department or faculty overseeing the degree program. Creating a research-based curriculum boosts motivation among teaching staff, allowing them to share their expertise and engage students with the latest research insights. Avoid developing a curriculum that is disconnected from the department's research activities, as this can lead to increased workload and stress among staff members.

Application and Admissions Process: Establish clear and equitable admission criteria to attract candidates who align with the program's objectives. The admission criteria should also facilitate the evaluation of applicants' skills and suitability for the educational program. For instance, incorporating a brief task (such as an essay or video) can aid in assessing critical thinking, writing/oral, and analytical skills, as well as areas of personal interest. Throughout the application and admission process, ensure constant support is provided to applicants by addressing their inquiries and offering guidance. This also presents an opportunity to gain further insights into prospective applicants.

Student Support: Provide academic advising, counseling, and resources to support students throughout their studies. In particular, during the first academic year, students will require assistance in crafting study plans and becoming acquainted with the university and its curriculum. A best practice is to distribute responsibilities for student support among various stakeholders, including university personnel, degree coordinators, and student tutors. It's important to note that student support should extend beyond formal meetings and practices; continuous communication should convey to students that assistance is readily available whenever needed.

Assessment and Evaluation: Implement methods to regularly assess and evaluate the program's effectiveness, including student performance and program outcomes. This involves ongoing monitoring of student performance, program outcomes, and overall student satisfaction. Regular assessment allows for the identification of strengths and areas for improvement within the program. It enables faculty and administrators to gather valuable feedback from students, identify trends, and make informed decisions to enhance the learning experience. Don't wait until students complete the degree to gather feedback, as this will be too late.

Continuous Improvement: Continuously monitor and update the program to adapt to changing needs, technology, and industry trends. Recognize that a superior program not only imparts theoretical knowledge but also equips students for the challenges of the modern job market. Utilizing case studies, simulations, and technology-driven tools like digital collaborative platforms and living labs fosters the acquisition of skills crucial in a rapidly evolving market landscape, integrating technological advancements effectively. Keep in mind that students are consistently drawn to practical applications, seeking concrete tools and models they can readily apply in real-world scenarios.

Partnerships and Collaborations: Explore opportunities for collaboration with other academic institutions or industry partners to enhance the program's offerings. Bringing scholars from partner universities to lecture or incorporate courses in the curriculum can enrich academic diversity and create opportunities for internationalization. Similarly, fostering collaborations with companies proves valuable. They can provide practical insights, offer internship opportunities, and facilitate thesis research. When considering academic-industry partnerships, ensure collaborators align with the vision, mission, and values of the program.

Student Engagement: Encourage student involvement in program development and decision-making processes to foster a sense of ownership and community. Beyond teaching, integrate social activities into the program to foster connections among students and between students and staff members. Arrange social gatherings and events that cultivate a sense of belonging and community, fostering lasting relationships beyond the program's duration. This will also help establish an alumni network, which can be advantageous for both current students and the program's reputation.

These are some of the critical considerations necessary for crafting an educational program that captivates and attracts applicants. It's important to emphasize that the journey to a successful master's degree program is not a sprint but a marathon. It demands perseverance and unwavering commitment from both the academic staff and the university hosting the program. All this will guarantee that the program stands the test of time and leaves a lasting impact on society.


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