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Team Academy – trip to the wild west of management education

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In the 21st century, few universities see themselves as solely imparting knowledge. A key aim is that students should leave with skills that employers will find attractive. In the UK particularly, employability is seen as the key to competitiveness.

So, what about a university degree that does not merely foster employability skills, but also future employers? Such a place can be found in the midst of the lakes and forests of Finland – Team Academy or Tiimiakatemia, to give it its Finnish name – described by management guru and organizational theorist Peter Senge as "the future of management education".

Photo: Figure 1. Team Academy.

Figure 1. Team Academy

Team Academy is part of Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences (JUA), and is housed in an old plywood factory. Universities of applied sciences are former polytechnics, and like many similar organizations in the UK, retain a strongly regional and practical focus.

However, Team Academy (TA) is unique in Finland for its highly practical approach to business education. It is a place where live projects constitute the entire syllabus and not merely a small part of the course; where students create companies rather than work for them; and where there are no teachers, only coaches.


Its origins lie in a story of a disillusioned teacher. Johannes Partanen taught marketing in a "normal" school, but got bored with teaching the same things year after year, to students who never learned. He also noticed that once he stopped teaching and began listening to students, learning started to happen.

And that, too, was when he had his big idea – learning should happen when people are doing things as part of a team. So, he posted a notice on the school noticeboard inviting people on a round-the-world trip, during which they would "learn some marketing on the side". The first team comprised 24 people, and they carried out projects such as World Rally Finland in the centre of Jyväskylä, a network gathering for all Finland's 10,000 polytechnic students, a Christmas market, and a lot of marketing research and sales for companies. They made enough money to finance their reward, a seven week round-the-world trip.

This took place in 1993, and now TA is 15 years old. Aside from a "Learning Expedition", a three day "taster" of the learning approach, there are two main programmes, the undergraduate Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), and the Team-Entrepreneurs' Leadership Programme (TELP).

In total, around 1,000 people have either graduated or are currently on one of the TA programmes. At the time of writing (December 2008), there were 200 people (60 a year) on the three-and-a-half year BBA programme, most of whom were in their early 20s.

The TELP programme (currently being piloted) is designed on similar principles to the BBA, but lasts six months and is aimed at BBA or equivalent level students (it is worth over 60 ECTS credits). Each TELP has 15-21 students who all work together as a large team. The present group is very diverse, comprising an MBA graduate who has been working for Deloitte, several Erasmus exchange students, and an actor. It is truly international and the language is English.