Half a Century for Research

On the 20th of October 1967, exactly 50 years before this magazine is published, the founding document of the “Assistant Union of Universities” was signed. The union had one particular goal: the thoroughly pitiable wages of assistants needed to be rectified.

Today, The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers is more diverse in terms of its members and goals than the Assistant Union was back then. In addition to current researchers who are working on their dissertations, there are many doctors and docents; a continuously growing group of top professional specialists has grown to exist alongside those who work in teaching and research. Some hairs may be grey already, as is probably appropriate for a 50-yearold, but we have not been able to shake the precarity of the labour market position. It has even been made worse by the cuts of the current government.

What about the wages? The assistants of the 60s fought to get themselves a raise, although it was more modest than it was hoped. When used properly, the current wage system also gives the personnel a chance to affect the fairness of wages through the evaluation groups. In the 2000s, the salary levels improved before the scantiness of the last few years, but in the negotiation round that is currently in progress, we should find a growth groove again.

There is a bad political problem behind the stagnation, and even decrease, of wages: the government has repeatedly broken its promise of the fixed resource allocation of universities. The freezing of the university index has become a habit, and the government’s cut decisions turned a slow withering into mass dismissals.

This is how a research professional has become a highly educated vagrant on the job market, one who does not have a regular income, employer or a job. Even though universities have not always earned the loyalty of research professionals, we must hold on to our pride over our own knowledge. This is something that the Union wants to support, and to respond to the changing needs of its members through properly allocated services.

Luckily, solidarity between research professionals has lasted. Even though cuts and hasty decisions have, at times, beaten one university or a field harder than another, the union is not about fights between the centre and the periphery or hard and soft sciences — there is a common cause.

The limits of mental and physical coping are even better visible in the problems of the members. The majority is burdened with the uncertainty of temporary work, and the stressfulness of the funding system adds to this. Many people are applying for funding for their own wages instead of doing what they have been hired to do. There may be way too much work.

This is not made easier by the fact that on the highest level of politics, the visionary work of the spring was changed, in the autumn, to a project for a unified higher education legislation that would allow complete fusions of universities and polytechnic colleges. Was it decided that, in the absence of a content vision, an organisational reform is needed again? An entirely new legislation right after the University Act of 2010 seems oversized. How many times in a century – or a decade – are we meant to perform “the university reform of the century”?

The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers has always had long-standing active members. The generation of founders and starters joined in in the 1960s and 70s. Many of those who have been influential and in charge recently joined in the activities in the 80s and 90s, among them Eeva Rantala, our well-liked and respected General Manager, who is now retiring. The generation that will next assume responsibility has learned to survive in conditions that are characterized by the globalisation of science and a continuously tightening competition. Even though the Union is aging, in the following years the face of it will likely be younger.

Petri Koikkalainen
Chair, The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers

Painetussa lehdessä sivu 48