Category Archives: Jukka Mönkkönen

Marching towards new learning environments

The above title is modified from the Marching Towards Mars learning environment symposium organised in connection with the SciFest 2017 fair at the Joensuu Campus last week, where our experts together with e.g. NASA astronauts discussed future innovative learning environments and technologies.

Globalisation, digitalisation and robotisation are changing societies, living environments, as well as working life faster than probably ever before in the history of humankind. These changes provide huge opportunities for us, but at the same time, they challenge our current way of life in all possible senses, including education.

We have to face these complicated challenges through thematic, multidisciplinary approaches to research and education. So far, the Finnish educational system has been very successful in providing discipline and subject specific expertise for its students. In addition to these skills, we have to equip our students with the skills needed for acting in multidisciplinary and multiprofessional groups working together to solve the great challenges.

UEF has set the goal to be the best academic learning environment in Finland. However, we cannot do it alone, and we need partners to form ecosystems to increase the societal impact of our education and research.

One exciting example of such an ecosystem is the NASA Epic Challenge programme, where our students, together with partners from companies and other universities, are seeking solutions for the mankind to conquer the planet Mars in 2030s.

We are also building the Global Education Park Finland together with the city of Joensuu and other collaborators to form a platform for the development of modern learning environments in Finnish primary schools.

Through these ecosystems, we also teach ourselves as an organisation to operate in open platforms that are essential in this increasingly complicated world.

Jukka Mönkkönen
Rector

Open your science or perish?

Daniel Sarewitz analysed excellently in May issue of Nature how the pressure to constantly increase the number of scientific publications pushes down quality. The number of publications continues to grow exponentially, and because we tend to think that more is good, this is considered to be favourable for science.

However, more could also be bad. It is widely accepted that an increased share of published research is unreliable. The production of poor-quality science, the responsibility to cite previous work and the compulsion to publish create “a vicious cycle” and decrease the overall reliability of research.

The quality problem has been recognised in biomedical sciences, but similar negative feedback also occurs in other areas of research. According to Sarewitz, the problem is likely to be worse in policy-relevant fields such as nutrition, education, epidemiology and economics, in which the science is often uncertain and the societal stakes can be high.

Sarewitz suggests that avoidance of this destiny would, in part, require less frequent and more selective publication. However, are the current publication practices overall appropriate and the most feasible way to make scientific research available? Should we adopt the context of Open Science in a wider perspective than just publishing in open access journals?

This would mean a shift from the standard practice of publishing results as an individual paper toward sharing and using all available knowledge at an earlier stage in the research process. That is for science what the internet has been for social and economic transactions: allowing colleagues to interpret the research and end users to be involved in the production of ideas, relations and services, and in doing so, enabling a new operational model for science.

Open Science in a wider sense is yet a very complicated and dimly seen entity, requiring numerous ethical, legal and technical issues to be clarified and solved. However, it requires a shift from the “publish or perish” to the “open your science or perish” culture, involving the indicators for scientists to merit in doing that.

Jukka_Monkkonen_100X130Jukka Mönkkönen

Rector

Making brave recruitments

There is an old wisdom that the only wise decisions universities need to make are those related to recruitment – of staff and students alike.  Success in these is likely to translate into success in general.

Last week, staff recruitment was extensively discussed between heads of faculties, departments and independent institutes in a seminar aimed at the UEF leadership. According to my understanding, there was a wide consensus on moving from recruitments that are based on curricula and academic subjects to those that are based on the university’s strategy and its thematic entities. If the strategy doesn’t guide our recruitments, then there is no need for it.

Heads of faculties, departments and units need to have access to the big picture about staff and funding in order to do real strategic HR planning. A mere review of annual vacancies is not enough.

Furthermore, our recruitment processes need to become increasingly flexible and faster. It is not likely that we are able to attract top players if it takes months or even years to make the recruitment decision. However, this is something that we can change by streamlining our own instructions and practices, and this is also something the Finnish legal framework allows us to do.

With a clear idea of the kind of expertise, orientation, social skills, etc., expected of the candidate, we are more likely to succeed in our recruitments compared to just publishing a public notice of vacancy and seeing what kinds of applicants it attracts. This calls for active recruitment: following the doings of potential candidates in several channels and over a longer period of time – and our own networks also come in handy. Furthermore, experts from outside Finland are not likely to venture to a new country and new university without any prior knowledge of the destination and people there, so communicating actively on both sides before the recruitment is essential.

Whether to invest in recruiting people from outside or from within the organisation is a topic of much discussion when it comes to recruitment. The fact remains that Finnish universities tend to recruit too much from within, and there is too little national and international mobility – which are essentially important. However, quality should be the decisive factor also here. No matter where the candidate comes from, we need to make sure that we hire the best and most committed individual.

Thanks to profiling funding obtained from the Academy of Finland and our own strategic funding, we are in a position to make a significant number of new recruitments in the near future. Succeeding in these will affect our success in the long run, so what we need now is an active, flexible and quality driven approach.

Jukka_Monkkonen_100X130Jukka Mönkkönen
Rector

 

Transnational education holds great potential

Finland’s new Government Programme will make significant cuts to universities’ state-allocated funding in the upcoming years. In addition to reforming our structures and activities, we need to seize every opportunity we find in order to safeguard jobs at the university in the future.

The greatest potential, perhaps, lies in transnational education. Academic education is a one-billion-euro business worldwide, and for example the UK and Australia have turned it into a significant industry.

Competition is tough, but not impossible – especially if we were to invest in such strength of our education as teacher training, forest sciences and the bioeconomy, for example.

The Finnish Government’s plan to introduce tuition fees to non-EU/EEA higher education students opens up great potential for transnational education. If Finnish universities succeed in attracting students to fee-charging programmes expectedly, that will translate into significant additional resources for universities and export revenues for Finland.

For some reason, the discussion around tuition fees is often fuelled by distorted ideas: tuition fees are seen as a gateway to introducing tuition fees to Finnish students as well, or as fees preventing exchange students from coming to Finland.

However, in all its simplicity, the proposed amendment to legislation would only allow the collection of tuition fees from non-EU/EEA students for degree-awarding programmes. At the same time, the amendment would facilitate transnational education. After all, at least the traditional economic theories regard the exchange of products against no fee as something not very profitable.

Another voiced concern is the potential drastic decline in the number of international students, as has happened in Sweden and Denmark after they introduced tuition fees. This is a likely first scenario here, too, when those who are attracted to Finland only by our free education choose not to come.

In the future, we need to be able to compete by quality, not by price. Finnish education is of such a high standard that we have every possibility to succeed. By focusing on our strengths and further improving the quality of the education we offer, the student numbers that are likely to decline as an initial reaction, will bounce back to their current level, and likely even higher.

Instead of focusing on the possible downsides of transnational education, we should seize the opportunities it offers. As our resources are getting scantier and our age groups smaller, transnational education may bring Finnish higher education institutions interesting, and international new jobs.

Jukka_Monkkonen_100X130Jukka Mönkkönen
Rector

UEF – State-of-the-Smart

We are currently renewing our visual image and the UEF brand. The objective of this process is to enhance our attractiveness, competitiveness and people’s awareness of us. The competition for the best students and staff is getting tighter, and we need a strong brand also in order to be able to recruit internationally.  We want to stand out in this competition by being a university that is academic with a laid-back twist, and where modern expertise and curiosity for new things meet a lively and human-oriented atmosphere.

The reputation and brand of universities is a sum of many things, the most important ones being the quality and content of research and education. However, universities aren’t exactly the best examples of branding, since they cannot be readily distinguished from one another on the basis of their brands. Thanks to the preparation of our new strategy, we now have an increasingly clear picture of our strengths, and we need a new brand to communicate these strengths both internally and externally – to create a strong UEF identity. State-of-the-Smart is a message telling that the UEF has something to give and something to say, that we take unique perspectives to things and, most importantly, that we know what we’re doing.

Sound familiar? I should hope so, because none of this will become alive until the entire academic community – all staff members and students – recognise the brand and feel like it’s their own. A brand is not created through speeches and blog posts; it’s created through our everyday work and activities. Appreciation for our own work, respect for the work of others, and nice and decent behaviour create a community we can genuinely be proud of.  And that’s when it’s easy to tell about it to others, too.

Jukka_Monkkonen_100X130Jukka Mönkkönen

From knowledge dosing to open access

A learning environment is a whole created by the physical, social and pedagogical environment, and on many levels, it affects what and how we learn. For the outcome, the way we learn is at least as important as the things we learn: it affects our ability to utilise the skills we have learned in working life later on.

Dating back to medieval convent schools, the traditional unidirectional teaching method in which the teacher transfers knowledge to the student continues to prevail, although the world around us has changed drastically. In some specific fields, this method can produce good individual players, but it doesn’t train the skills of collaborative working needed in today’s working life.

Thanks to digitization, the production and sharing of knowledge has experienced a revolution. This, too, calls for new skills which we do not gain from traditional learning methods. When working to solve complex problems, we need to be able to produce and share information both alone and together. We need expertise that is built on a diverse base combining formal knowledge, non-formal knowledge and experiential knowledge. In today’s world, lifelong learning is supplemented by lifewide learning.

We live in a world that is characterised by fundamentally open access to information, and we need to make fundamental changes to our philosophy of teaching and learning. We need to move from controlled, unidirectional dosing of knowledge to collaborative learning between teachers and learners, which enhances social sharing of knowledge, networked expertise and teamwork skills. Teaching facilities and technologies are tools we can use to support this, but first and foremost, we need to change our operating culture.

A change in the operating culture requires that we take an open attitude towards knowledge and that we have the courage to give our ideas to be tested in larger forums. An important task of the teachers is to encourage students to solve problems and help them mine their way through open and extensive data resources.

Jukka_Monkkonen_100X130Jukka Mönkkönen