Professional higher education – higher education with passion and the mission to support businesses

While writing our book Professional Higher Education Management - Best Practices from Finland we came across the argument that the term professional higher education “is not to be defined because it is a ‘passe-partout’ word for educational programmes that exist under different education structures in most European countries”. (Camilleri et al 2013). We don’t think this is a sufficient reason to leave a principal sector of higher education without a well-deserved definition.

The role and importance of professional higher education has grown in recent decades and professional higher education will surely continue to play an important role in building businesses in the new world after Covid-19. Many businesses have a genuine need for support and higher education institutions can help in the form of co-provider.

Based on our 30 years of experience in the education business as well as the research we did in the writing of our book, we want to offer some essential perspectives on what professional higher education is really is about. We want to emphasize that the term should above all be defined by means of the role it has in carrying out its mission:

Professional higher education is higher education with a strong mission to promote businesses and regions in their development challenges.

Fulfilling this mission means a) providing the kind of skills and competences that enable the creation of necessary expertise for tomorrow’s businesses and b) collaborating with businesses in RDI projects to create tomorrow’s products, services and operating models. We use the term ’businesses’ here to refer to private, public and third-sector organizations.

It is true, of course, that higher education practices vary across countries depending on their own unique traditions, legislations and operating environments. The names for professional higher education institutions vary from country to country, with the term university of applied sciences gradually becoming the norm. But these are not essential to the core mission.

In our study we found that time after time success in professional higher education is based on close cooperation with businesses. This can take many forms and, indeed, our study identified more than ten different kinds of business collaboration. We found that successful business cooperation is deep and sustainable in nature. In most cases, cooperation begins with internships, student projects and theses. After this, collaboration ideally deepens towards strategic cooperation in research, development and innovation.


According to our study, professional higher education institutions are well managed. They have also adopted a broad sense of accountability. They have a broad set of stakeholders and relationships, which multiplies the scope of accountability. (Elken and Røsdal 2017).


It is crucial that today’s professional higher education institutions have the distinct mission and clear objectives to serve local businesses and regional development.

Ritva Laakso-Manninen ja Lauri Tuomi





Delplace, Stefan (2013) What is meant by professional higher education (PHE)? in Camilleri, Anthony F., Delplace, Stephan, Frankowicz, Marek, Hudak, Raimund (2013) Profile of Professional Higher Education in Europe. Knowledge Innovation Centre (Malta) on behalf of EURASHE.

(Read 11.7.2020)

Elken, Mari and Røsdal Trude (2017) professional higher education institutions as organizational actors. Tertiary Education and management, 2017. Vol. 23, No. 4, 376-387, (Read 11.7.2020)

Laakso-Manninen, Ritva and Tuomi, Lauri (2020) Professional Higher Education Management. Best practices from Finland. Professional Publishing Finland Ltd.  (Read 11.7.2020)


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