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  • Seppo Sainio
    Chair, The Union for University Teachers and Researchers in Finland, YLL


    Non-verbal Agreements Are Falling Through

    Society is controlled by many statutes, but communal life is also based on many practices that have been found to be good. They are based on a common idea and mutual trust. For instance at the airport, we can trust that everyone will only take their own bag from the baggage claim belt. No commitments need to be signed for this, nor are guards hired to stand next to the belts.

    A non-verbal agreement is even more reliable than an agreement, because it is based on every party's will to act in a particular way. But we are living in a time of change. As the operational environment changes, many customary courses of action are being re-evaluated.

    University staff has viewed the parliament as a defender of education and knowledge. But now, from that very direction, universities are being damaged, even permanently. Education and research have percolated as targets of major cuts.

    One axiom in Finland has been that employers' and employees' organizations are the ones who make agreements about working conditions (though this is also supported by international labour legislation). The decision-makers have calculated it differently. Cutting salaries by 5 % is more valuable than trust capital. It seems that even mathematics can be interpreted in different ways.

    At workplaces, the starting point is that the employer commits to its employees. The University of Turku has been one of the few that truly set two choices for cooperation negotiations. It chose to preserve jobs. The employees surely value this, even though the pressure to save puts everyone through the hoops.

    The atmosphere in universities is widely melancholic. Election promises have been broken. Announcements about cooperation negotiations are being made constantly, a close colleague is sent packing. Those who are left are dealing with an even larger workload just with their basic tasks. They also always have to implement new reforms. At the same time, the menace that new cooperation negotiations might begin is upon them.

    The government could still think about what it is doing to universities. Economic disciplining sends the message that they do not really believe that solutions can be found in that particular direction. What, then, might be the significance of knowledge, education and research?

    Universities will not become innovation factories. Productization, commercialization and marketing are not the core of their operations. Companies do that. Surely there is not a prevailing misunderstanding about the essence of universities? That would take away the basis of the entire operations.

    The Ministry of Education and Culture's suggestion for the funding model in 2017-2020 states that the income of the public economy would not be enough to fund the current expenses even under normal economic and employment situation development. I guess we, at universities, can vouch that cuts have been made.

    Universities are expected to make even stronger strategic choices and to cooperate. National distribution of work (profiling) is expected to lead to efficiency and to improve quality.

    Does the profiling mean a new round of cooperation negotiations that aims at cutting jobs? There has not been a signal that universities would commit to preserving jobs together.

    Now we need messages that help people cope, be inspired and trust. An inspired staff will certainly rise up to challenges. This point of view could also be taken into account as a part of decision-making.

    Implementing the profiling in such a way that jobs are preserved would be a course of action that generates trust. A suitable way of implementing this would be a long-term recruitment strategy that is based on focus areas, instead of doing everything at once. The focus should also be turned towards quality issues in the everyday life at universities: as a result of the savings, many teachers are losing their research time altogether.

    Seppo Sainio
    Chair, The Union for University Teachers and Researchers in Finland, YLL

    • Painetussa lehdessä sivu 36