Category Archives: Jukka Jurvelin

Natural sciences – A joint challenge in Finland

Last week, the Deans of universities offering natural sciences in Finland came together in Kuopio to discuss the challenges we are facing in university level education. A common view on the challenging situation of natural sciences in Finland was shared, and universities are also seeking ways to improve the attractiveness of natural sciences in the Finnish school system in general. At all levels of education, starting from the elementary school, there are serious attempts also by UEF to contribute to a better future of natural sciences in Finland. As a negative mood or giving up is not helping us, we must seek new ideas and practices, even if everything we try may not be a success.

The development of Bachelor’s programmes with a wide scope and, subsequently, highly focused Master’s programmes is a strategic approach in the Faculty of Science and Forestry in UEF. However, we should probably think the scope of our Bachelor’s programmes similarly as they do in the University of Helsinki. At the first stage of planning in UEF, these programmes were planned to include a maximum number of compulsory courses for all students. However, following the Helsinki model, at Bachelor’s level, the contents should be based on the individual choices of each student. Of course, we have to link the contents of the Bachelor’s programmes to the Master’s programmes the student is eligible to take later on. Personal guidance and supervision of each student then plays a critical role.

We have to share experiences from the initiatives of other Finnish universities and apply the good practices we learn from each other. Indeed, this is a learning process for us all, and failures will be part of the game. At the Master’s level, we have to design programmes that are unique to UEF, build on the strengths of our university and address problems of the modern world. Then, I believe, the programmes can be attractive also to future students of UEF.  Based on the discussion in the Deans’ meeting, I am confident that the faculties of natural sciences in Finnish universities will do their part to promote the importance of education, also in the field of natural sciences, for the success of future societies.

Jukka Jurvelin
Dean

Students make the university

A research institute is an organisation with active scientists working on chosen scientific fields and topics. Based on that, any university is also a research institute. In UEF, the Faculty of Science and Forestry can call itself an intensive research institute.   An institute with teaching activity is traditionally called a school. A university also has a commitment to teaching its students. Actually, through teaching universities educate new researchers and professionals. As research and teaching are thus linked, to be a true university, both activities must be in order. In the strategy of UEF, both missions are appreciated and ideas for development are provided. My faculty makes 2/3 of its income from output that is related to research. It does not mean that our departments with a high level of research can ignore teaching; instead we must make a significant effort in the development of teaching to be convincing as a university faculty.  The development of learning environments is not the only instrument that is needed for future success in teaching.

In UEF, university students will judge if our teaching activities are of high quality. Students can also tell us potential flaws in our teaching arrangements and practices. Therefore, students’ feedback, and our analysis of that feedback should provide the basis for the development of our teaching activities. The feedback should not only guide us for the optimal development of our teaching system as a whole, but also help individual teachers to develop their own ways of teaching. As many of us recognise, the university’s feedback systems may not be optimal and development is obviously needed. However, I am sure that useful feedback can be received any moment provided that we appreciate its importance, have regular contacts and informal relationships with our students.  The quality system of UEF, when functioning as expected, will certainly pinpoint potential problems in teaching.

In natural sciences, the recruitment of new, talented students is a true challenge. We have to work in many ways to be successful in the future. To help ourselves, we need the support of our present students. Their positive experience and satisfaction with the university education they have received serves as the most important basis for success in the competition for future students.

Jukka Jurvelin

Jukka Jurvelin
Dean of the Faculty of Science and Forestry

Excellence – something to strive for

In Finland, we tend to see excellence in our activities. A good example is our education system, the best in the world in our minds. In many cases, although certainly not in all, this is also true in the light of international comparisons. In industry, we respect innovation and manufacturing of high-quality products, instead of bulk products that make financial profit only when sold in high quantities. Finnish design is a trademark of high quality, too.

In universities, we must also strive for excellence, both in education and research. Carrying out our academic activities at a level comparable to the highest international standards is also a way to financial success.  In the UEF strategy, the development of learning environments and international-level research areas is also pointing in the right direction. The funding system of universities in Finland relies on indicators that measure, directly or indirectly, the quality of our actions.  Success in these indicators determines our future success, not only financially but also in terms of our international reputation. Indeed, Academy of Finland professors, FiDiPro professors, ERC grants and centres of excellence (CoEs) in UEF are indicators of excellence in research. They are the flagships that can make the university famous for research.

A centre of excellence (CoE) is a team, a shared facility or an entity that provides leadership, best practices, research, support and/or training for a focus area (Wikipedia).  The Academy of Finland’s CoEs represent the very cutting edge of science in their fields, developing creative research environments and training new talented researchers for the Finnish research system and Finnish business and industry (http://www.aka.fi/en/research-and-science-policy/centres-of-excellence/). The call for letters of intent for the new CoE programme will open in April 2016. According to the Academy of Finland, the new CoE programme enables the renewal of science, with improved support to utilise research findings in society. The CoE programme 2018-2025 is expected to include new research groups, new research themes and new openings embracing a high gain-high risk approach. What does this mean? Does this offer new possibilities for UEF researchers? We will learn more during this spring. Let’s actively collect all the information available to find out what we can expect from this round and prepare ourselves for tough competition.

Indeed, it is time to establish consortiums that will be competitive in the coming application round.  Most importantly, competitive consortiums must include not only a high quality director, research groups and members, but also fresh research ideas with potential for new scientific openings and breakthroughs. Obviously, UEF researchers have to collaborate with top scientists in other national and international research organisations. Even the weakest partner in a consortium must be strong enough. Typically, only the maximum grades in the review process are good enough for success. Also typically, the director of a CoE is a prominent, experienced researcher of the highest international level. It is interesting to see if younger candidates will be considered more seriously as directors for the next long programme term (2018-2025). A young director cannot have hundreds of scientific papers, as is characteristic of directors of the present CoE programmes.  Let’s hope that also young talents have chances for success.

Jukka JurvelinJukka Jurvelin
dean, Faculty of Science and Forestry

Get exited – about something!

“I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it, I’m about to lose control and I think I like it…” For some reason, that song by Pointer Sisters was ringing in my ears last summer when I was riding my motorbike along Road 92 in Finnish Lapland. It made me think about the things that I’m excited about. Getting immersed in my thoughts while riding through beautiful summer scenery is definitely on the top of the list: that’s truly exciting and empowering.

Excitement should also be something one associates with working, at least from time to time. Although I’ve heard that in research, excitement is not enough, one needs to have passion. Passion makes people do incredible things, sometimes downright crazy ones. When passion is in play, one doesn’t count the hours. That’s what has happened to many researchers and they’ve been able to keep that passion alive year in, year out. That’s all great, but I think a word of warning is in place. Every now and then, it’s good to stop and think about time management, as when we get older, our bodies can remind us that too much is too much. It’s wise to pay close attention to these signals.

My faculty, the Faculty of Science and Forestry, succeeded very well in acquiring Academy of Finland funding this spring. This compensates for our weaker performance in earlier years, and hopefully will help us get through some difficult times. Success is a source of excitement and it builds faith in the things we are doing. As the Dean of the faculty, I’m proud of and grateful to our staff.

So, get excited about something. Finding that one source of inspiration is a resource each and every one of us should have. It serves as a motor for everything we do and also helps us cope at work. For many people here at the university, work can be major resource, but most of us also need something else. Holidays are often revitalising, especially if one has something exciting to do. I’m already waiting for mine.

Jukka JurvelinJukka Jurvelin
Dean, Faculty of Science and Forestry

University – yesterday, today and tomorrow

The role of universities is traditional: they are sources of education at the highest level and they promote scientific research.  It is a proven fact that universities create well-being around them, and this is also true for the University of Eastern Finland.  A couple of years ago, the foundations for the activities of Finnish universities changed.  The country’s Universities Act was reformed and this was followed by the Ministry of Education and Culture introducing a new, performance-based funding model.

Although the ministry’s field-specific funding is slightly favourable to natural sciences, the fact remains that the majority of our funding is acquired as a result of our performance, not through empty promises or negotiation skills.  It is our performance that pays our salaries, and there is no separate money chest on which the Dean is sitting out of mere malice.

Furthermore, it is impossible to acquire sufficient funding, if the responsibility for it lies on the shoulders of the “chosen few”. We are the UEF orchestra. Each member of this orchestra plays an important role – or instrument, if you will – and only harmonious tunes translate into good performance.

In the light of the current situation, natural sciences (and many other fields, too) face major challenges when it comes to succeeding in university economy. Funding for the upcoming years is tied to previous years’ performance. In the ministry’s model, funding for 2015 is allocated on the basis of our performance in 2011–2013. In other words, we now have to lie in a bed we made back then.

Anyone will tell you that we’ve worked hard, and I, too, believe this is true.  Our faculty has also acquired ever so important external funding for the purposes on making our activities increasingly effective.  But why does it seem that our performance isn’t quite enough and that our costs easily exceed our income? Are we doing things correctly? Do we have the right people doing the right things?  Is external funding the right kind of funding for achieving performance that is observed in the ministry’s funding model? Or is this funding used in an optimal way?

As the people who do things and achieve results, we need to think about these things, because it is our joint performance that keeps the UEF ship afloat. If we only seek to create savings and cut our costs, we may drive ourselves to a situation where it no longer is possible to perform well. What is good about the situation is the fact that these more efficient measures need to be targeted at the very things the university is supposed to be doing: cost-efficient and high level of education and research.

We all need to be aware of today’s realities. We may not have understood in 2011 that our performance back then would be decisive three years later. Now we can’t afford to wake up in a couple of years’ time to realise that we should have been doing something different in 2014.

We have plenty of potential; we just need to focus on doing the right things. And this takes courage – the worst we can do is to sweep things under the rug.

Jukka JurvelinJukka Jurvelin