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

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

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

Historical perspective

Today, as I’m writing this post, it’s been exactly 70 years since the Invasion of Normandy.  Reflections from that day are still present in the society we live in today. The Invasion of Normandy led to the collapse of Nazi Germany, and various courses development and different reasons also led to the collapse of one the era’s other dictatorships, Soviet Union, at the turn of the 1990s.

The end of World War II laid the foundations for a new Europe, which is based on mutual trust and peaceful coexistence. Later on, the principle of free movement became an integral part of the new Europe. This has also been significant to universities. Today, we take the free movement of researchers – and the highest level of knowledge they represent – for  granted. This might not be the case, had the development of democracy in the West followed another course. The great scientific breakthroughs witnessed over the past few decades and the emergence of the information society are consequences of this democratic development.

In my opinion, it is extremely important that tolerance towards different cultures and ethnic groups has gained permanent footing. International cooperation is an asset everywhere, including here in Finland. As part of this idea, the University of Eastern Finland wants to be, as defined in its strategy, an international, multidisciplinary and student-centered university. By opening our doors to everyone, we’ll achieve the best results.

meriläinen tuomo-100x130Tuomo Meriläinen

MEP elections – who’s interested in education and research?

I couldn’t resist the temptation to try out a voting advice application. YLE, the Finnish Broadcasting Company, has made its voting advice application into a nice entertainment package that one can enjoy with or without sound.

Peace, security, jobs, equality, federal state, climate change, economy, debt and tax paradises are words frequently found in the descriptions of the MEP candidates in YLE’s voting advice application. I read through three election promises from 200 Finnish MEP candidates, and only two of them mention education and one mentions research.

“We need to ensure a high level of education and research – for growth and employment,” says a candidate of the Swedish People’s Party of Finland.  “I promise to promote tuition-free education in the EU and to defend tuition-free education in Finland,” says a candidate of the Left Alliance.

Are things really so well in Europe that education and research are nowhere near the top of the priority list? Or are they just being taken for granted? Or do we have other, more pressing problems that need solving? Or is it just safer to address the same trendy themes as everybody else?

We shouldn’t forget that education and research play a role in creating the foundations for peace, security, equality, stable economic development, innovations and new jobs.

On the other hand, the EU offers funding opportunities for education and research, and we have just witnessed the launch of the Erasmus+ and Horizon2020 programmes. The door to internationalisation, networking and conducting research is open. All we have to do is to seize this opportunity.

Although the Finnish MEP candidates don’t seem to be that much interested in issues of importance to the academic community, I encourage everyone to vote nonetheless. It’s important to have skilled people in the European Parliament.

Hilkka Soininen (2) Hilkka Soininen

 

 

 

 

 

Reputation is a long-term project

Years ago, I participated in a world conference on environmental history at St Andrews. To my surprise, the train from Edinburgh did not arrive at St Andrews town centre, but at a stop in the middle of a vast field. The silhouette of a small coastal town located on a cape opened up in the horizon.

Was this really the home of the well-known educational institution found among the UK’s top six universities? The combination of a small town with less than 20,000 inhabitants and a university with 8,000 students seemed unreal. The University of St Andrews has turned its small size and remote location into attraction factors in its marketing, as can be seen in the following passage taken from the university’s website: “Why study at University of St Andrews? A small place, where you can get to know almost everyone – but with big ambitions in every shape from teaching and research to sport, music, drama, volunteering and charities.” St Andrews places emphasis on tradition and quality by reminding us that it is the third oldest university in the English-speaking world. Globally, there are several similar examples of small yet well-known universities, and perhaps we could learn something from them.

In university rankings, our performance is negatively affected by the fact that we are not particularly well-known. Within the scientific community, the quality and extensiveness of our research and the level of our research environments are factors through which we can raise awareness of our activities. Active publishing, working abroad, networking and participation in international conferences are excellent ways to spread the word about us. The decline in the interest of first- and second-degree students and doctoral students to study and work abroad is a concerning recent trend.

In the recently closed admission round, the attractiveness of the University of Eastern Finland as a place to study in continued to grow. However, we could do much better by using the positive images related to our education provision and our campuses to make up for the negative images related to our location. Without proper understanding of who we are and what we do, the location of our campuses gets more attention than our education provision. This is my conclusion of the results presented in the Kun koulu loppuu (Once School is Out) report by the Economic Information Office of Finland charting upper secondary school students’ future plans and images of Finnish higher education institutions. On a positive note, those interested in the University of Eastern Finland were clearly thirstier for knowledge and more appreciative of education than those interested in the other universities included in the survey.

Based on this survey, a rapid improvement of our national reputation is a challenging task. Over the past year, we have sought to raise awareness of who we are and what we do through UEF student ambassadors visiting upper secondary schools. Alongside students who are happy to study with us and positive media coverage, the development of alumni activities gives us tools to disseminate up-to-date information about our university to prospective students, their parents and main stakeholder groups alike. Our alumni constitute a resource we haven’t fully used yet.

The University of Eastern Finland, even when taking the history of its predecessors into consideration, is a young player in the international field. Standing out from the mass through determined definition of profile is a way to promote our reputation among colleagues, decision-makers and the general public. This makes location less important than knowledge and expertise, which are something students and researchers have been attracted by throughout centuries.

harri_siiskonenHarri Siiskonen

Where have all the passion people gone (from universities)?

A high-end bicycle component manufacturer uses the slogan The Passion People for themselves and the bikers who buy their products. I would love to see the same description used for us all in Finnish academia, however the reality may not quite measure up to that. A recent article in a Finnish evening newspaper (Iltalehti 22.3.) features a scientist who at the age of 38 got utterly disillusioned by the uncertainty of jobs and research funding in academia and finally decided to leave in order to pursue a career in a completely different field. The same article reports on a survey carried out by the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers Union, which revealed that as many as some two-thirds of the under-forties of their membership were contemplating doing the same. A common complaint amongst them was that the Finnish university reform of 2009 has changed universities into business enterprises which have started to work according to the rules of market economy and don’t care enough about their employees anymore. Some go so far as to describe this development as ‘academic capitalism’.

In their article in American Academic (1,1, 2004: 37), Sheila Slaughter and Gary Rhoades define academic capitalism as “a regime that entails colleges and universities engaging in market and market like behaviors”. They argue that universities today are “seeking to generate revenue from their core educational, research and service functions”, which then leaves no room for what used to be seen as the primary function of universities, viz. “the unfettered expansion of knowledge”.

I wouldn’t say that Finnish higher education institutions would have moved quite so far in the direction of American-style academic capitalism and, indeed, doubt (and certainly don’t hope) that they ever will. But the above-mentioned survey of young academics (which dates back to 2010, so doesn’t necessarily depict the current situation very accurately) should awaken us to realise that, unless some positive measures are taken to fight against the widespread disillusionment amongst our young scholars, there will soon be an acute shortage of the type of ‘passion people’ every university needs. This is all the more necessary in view of the recent increase in academic unemployment.

filppulaMarkku Filppula

A university that takes a stand

When the University of Eastern Finland was being established, the university’s leadership saw the university’s Intranet not only as a channel for disseminating and seeking information, but also as an arena for dialogue within the academic community. This is not something I can say we have particularly excelled in. Yes, we have dialogue, but it primarily takes place elsewhere in the Internet, in social media, and in channels of print media.

This is the background against which the UEF Leadership Group chose to relocate its blog from the Intranet to the university’s public website. I hope that in the future we’ll also be able to reach readers visiting our website for the very first time.

Obviously, the audiences reading our Finnish and English websites are different, and this is why our two blogs, one in Finnish and the other in English, will live lives of their own. The idea is for our Finnish blog to be updated on a weekly basis, and our English one once a month.

Moreover, the idea is not to give readers a pre-defined “leadership opinion”, as the very essence of universities is to be critical and to take a stand. As representatives of the UEF’s leadership, this means that each author will take a stand in the area he or she is an expert in.

An interesting text is usually one seasoned with a personal approach, and I’m happy to welcome posts more critical than we’re used to seeing in the Finnish discussion culture.

You see, we Finns tend to regard dissenting opinions as invitations to debate. This can, of course, be explained by our largely analytic tradition in philosophy. Without falling victim to glorifying the university institution as it used to be when I was young, i.e. one taking a stand, I personally am a big fan of an atmosphere that encourages researchers, teachers and students to participate in social dialogue.

PerttuVartiainen3_100x130pxPerttu Vartiainen