After an exceptionally hot summer, we will see for real what the new normal means. It continues to be uncertain to what extent we will return to workplaces and to what extent we will continue working remotely. The most probable option seems to be a return to a hybrid model where work continues to be done remotely more than before corona.
We have learned to organise conferences, seminars, and collaboration remotely, not to mention meetings. Moreover, remote teaching at universities, with its software and platforms, already functions quite well. Data systems and teaching materials are modified to be accessible to special groups and to those who have sensory limitations which, though, requires investments in subtitling software or assisting personnel, among other things. A record number of students are accepted to higher education and in the meantime, institutions of higher education are replacing their data systems. These reforms require some adaptation so that everyday life will start to run smoothly.
At the same time, funding should be sought from European sources more vigorously than before. At the beginning of the summer, the NextGenerationEU recovery programme was accepted for Finland too: extra funding will be coming to research infrastructures, to the green transition and to digitalisation. The implementation of the EU’s seven-year financial framework will also begin. It will bring more funding to research and teaching.
The parliamentary RDI group that was appointed during the Midsummer week, for its part, will consider long-term research and innovation activity funding that crosses parliamentary terms. The end result of the working group’s consideration will map the nation’s lines of development and greatly affect the future prospects of Finnish universities and universities of applied sciences.
The Finnish Union of University Professors has hoped that the extra funding would be channelled through existing organisations and instruments so that the funding lottery spectrum would not be extended further. Extensive communication between companies and the society requires flexibility, predictability, and long-term commitment. Our vision is consistent with the higher education sector and reports. Particularly long-term funding that universities can allocate freely should be increased, so that the diversifying tasks and increasing education figures can be handled in a high-quality manner.
The university is not complete yet. How will the extra work brought on by the new working method and extra investments be updated to working plans and budgets in the current funding framework? Moreover, matters that affect the working community are still unfinished, like equality and non-discrimination plans, checking shop steward agreements and copyright agreements and policies.
The solving of copyright issues will be affected by the directive on copyright which will be circulated for comment in September, and which will begin to directly affect the management of copyrights at universities.
A part of the aforementioned matters relates to collective bargaining, the goals of which the unions will set in the autumn. How will the bargaining take off in circumstances where large employers like the paper industry and the technology industry have aimed for local contracts? This will depend first and foremost on the representative of the employer.
In these circumstances, where remote work and learning have been taxing on both the personnel and the students, we need to remember to look out for the personnel’s abilities to influence their situation. This is what we have demanded for years.
Close and extensive local collaboration between university management and the unions that represent the university community is on a critical path. On the one hand, the goal is a good, rewarding salary solution and on the other hand, better working circumstances in the new normal. Matters that remain outside the collective bargaining will need to be resolved in the best interest of the university community and the society by taking into account the local circumstances and the best international practices.
Translation: Elina Siltanen
Chair, The Finnish Union of University Professors
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