Content First in the Vision Work

The vision work that the Ministry of Education and Culture launched last year will proceed to working groups considering the realisation of the vision this year. The uniting goal is to raise the share of public and private RDI funding to four per cent of the gross national product and to give more than half of the young age groups a higher education degree. The objective of the working groups is to create a roadmap for change.

Expressed in numbers, the objectives will hardly generate a lot of resistance within the science community. On the contrary, they testify to the appreciation of education and research. At the moment, friction between the upper level of science and higher education politics and those who realise it in practice is rather caused by the methods of change.

The methods are not at their best when there are questions about the lawfulness of it all. For instance, the University of Eastern Finland received reproofs from the Parliamentary Ombudsman last autumn, because they had organised ICT teaching in a way that was not allowed by the current legislation. The constitutional problems that the Constitutional Law Committee noticed in conjunction with the so-called Tampere3 legislation caused a larger discussion.

These activities are rushed not just to get a good head start. “A constitutional problem” is often a euphemism for how someone is taking on power that does not belong to them, or that someone’s rights are in danger of being violated.

The current legislation does not always show a place for resolving disputes. The university board, for example, decides on the university regulation, but what to do if someone suspects that the regulation is against the University Act or even the constitution? No solution that works in practice exists for this.

Luckily, the central principles have also been made clearer. The Constitutional Law Committee and recently Professor Emeritus Tarmo Miettinen in his statement released by the Finnish Union of University Professors have stated that the autonomy of universities is still a true autonomy of the members of the university community. If this is not understood, the same obstacles will be stumbling blocks again and again.

The system reformers also do not have a real need for this. Members of the university community have many times and in many cities displayed their ability to change. The collaboration between universities and universities of applied sciences has already been taken far, not to mention the changes inside universities. Organisational change, however, cannot be the main task of universities and not even the second most important.

Nevertheless, for example the division of labour between universities and universities of applied sciences should be the topic of a dispassionate, even detailed discussion. On the field of higher education, there are many different needs and relations to the working life and to areas, and in addition to universities of applied sciences, universities also prepare students primarily for the working life.

A high level vision is a challenging model for university administration, and not just because members of the university community have been trained to be critical of upper level visions. The objectives and impacts of research and education are too diverse to be simplified into one view.

Regardless of visions, those who attract inventive people to join them and take care of their employees in the long run will ultimately be the winners. What is attractive about universities is not really what they are as organisations but what they work for. The idea of people and communities who seriously aim to make the world a better place has always been inviting. Education and research give concrete proof of this aim. This kind of a community can be a route towards scientific fame and honour for few people, but for many more than them, it can be a route to developing themselves and the world through knowledge.

Rovaniemi, 18 January 2018

Petri Koikkalainen
Chair, The Finnish Union of University Research ers and Teachers

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