Tag Archives: academic_rector

Dark clouds over Turkish and UK Academia

Visitors to Istanbul often first go to see the eighth wonder of the world, Hagia Sophia. This is also what my research group did – actually several times – in connection with joint research meetings with our Turkish partners. Hagia Sophia has a history of being a Byzantine church for over 900 years, then it was used as an Ottoman mosque for over 480 years, and in 1935 it was converted to a secular museum. For over 10 years, we have worked together with our Turkish partners to find secular solutions for the production of renewable energy carriers. During these years, we have learned to appreciate the excellent research quality and true commitment of our Turkish friends. The research exchanges can be counted in years.

The news from Turkey this summer after the failed coup trial have been very confusing and discouraging: the attacks on academic freedom and putting the education sector under a tight control. This has been demonstrated by sacking large numbers of Turkish university staff, academics from abroad have been told to return home, and bans on international travel have been set. It is very important that the European University Association, followed promptly by Universities Finland UNIFI among other organisations, have called on European universities and scholars to speak against these crude developments.

The withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union has been another headline in this summer’s world news. Brexit is going to have widespread consequences – and not least for European science. Seven UK academies in their open letter to the new UK administration expressed their concern that Brexit is putting UK science at a serious risk. This warning is warranted already from the funding perspective alone. A Royal Society publication from 2015 reports that the UK contributed to the EU 7th Framework Programme by 5.4 billion euros, whilst it received 8.8 billion euros. As first aid to UK scientists, the UK government announced this weekend that Horizon research funding granted before leaving the EU will be guaranteed.

UK universities are dominating the top of the best universities in Europe as measured by various ranking systems. Times Higher Education, for example, lists the best 200 European universities, and UK universities take four out of five top positions and they also represent one quarter of the overall list. These figures alone show that the contribution of UK universities to European science and innovation must be very significant. Therefore, the risk caused by Brexit is not limited to UK science but that of the European Union – and we Finns are not outside the risk zone. Over the years, Finnish university scientists have established mutually fruitful co-operation with UK universities – typically with the help of EU funded projects.

In addition to scientific contributions, the UK’s involvement in the development of the EU’s science policy has been instrumental. At present, EU funding decisions are based on scientific criteria. This policy has been strongly influenced by the UK together with several other countries including Finland. How will this be after Brexit? Possible science policy changes after the UK’s withdrawal could also be detrimental to our opportunities and successes in sustaining future funding.

Going back to Istanbul. We have team photos from Hagia Sophia by the wishing column with a bronze-covered hole in the wall. The advice given by our friends was to put a thumb in the hole, rotate the thumb a complete 360-degree tour inside the hole and at the same time, make a wish. According to the legend, there is a tendency for the wish to come true. Applying this method is not going to be enough for clearing the present challenges around academic life in Turkey. More secular actions are needed. In addition to political statements and sympathies, practical solutions by universities and especially at research team level are needed. First, securing our Turkish visitors the continuums of conducting research in our laboratories and groups.  It is important to find ways of pursuing active research relations over the difficult times.

As for cooperation with UK partners, our researchers should take every effort to maintain and further strengthen research ties. And for politicians, actions towards sustaining the UK’s contributions to the EU’s competitiveness through science and innovation just makes sense.

Jaakko_Puhakka_TTY_100x130_3Jaakko Puhakka
Academic rector

 

 

 

 

Tuition fees are coming, will students follow?

Ossi Lindqvist, Emeritus Rector of the University of Kuopio, which was a predecessor of UEF, actively follows international higher education policy and kindly sends us current Rectors topical articles with an endnote saying “just so you know, Ossi L.”. A couple of weeks ago, he mailed us Manolo Abella’s article Global Competition for Brains and Talent (Journal of International Affairs 2015), which  looks into the development of the international higher education market. According to the article, there were a total of 5.2 million international students in the world in 2014, which is close to that of Finland’s entire population. By 2025, the number of international students is estimated to grow to 8 million globally. In other words, the international higher education market is big and growing fast. The attitudes towards international students are positive in most OECD countries, as manifested by student-friendly immigration and post-graduation work permit policies.  A driving force behind this is the countries’ desire to attract young, talented and skilled workforce to promote welfare and to take care of the ageing population, among other things.

So, how are the Finnish universities doing in the international higher education market? According to the statistics of University Admissions Finland, 20,000 foreign students are enrolled in the universities’ international Master’s degree programmes. This means that Finland’s share of the international degree-seeking student population is less than 0.4%.

Moreover, it’s good to note that the largest group applying for admission to Master’s degree programmes taught in English here in Finland are Finns. The next largest groups are Pakistani, Nigerian, Chinese and Ghanaian students. The number of international students is quite modest, but even more modest is our ability to offer opportunities for employment after graduation.

But what’s the situation with international student numbers here at UEF? Currently, we offer 32 Master’s degree programmes taught in English with approximately 1,150 international students enrolled in them. Around 130 of these students are Russian and 76 come from China. When looking at the EU countries, the majority of students hail from Germany. To sum up: UEF’s share of international degree students is less than 6% and, considering our size, we are below the average among Finnish universities.

In many countries, international students constitute an established and significant source of income for universities. Paying tuition fees is something I, too, am familiar with, as my own daughters ended up studying abroad – one in Australia and the other in the UK. Admittedly, this was felt in the wallet, but the fact that Anna and Noora were pleased with their universities considerably eased my pain.

So far, studying in Finland has been free of charge for everyone.  In the near future, however, tuition fees will be imposed on non-EU and non-EEA students, and this has sparked a lively debate with arguments for and against. Most of the comparisons have focused on experiences from the other Nordic Countries – and for a good reason, as tuition fees were adopted in the other Nordic Countries a couple of years ago, and this makes for example Sweden a good point of comparison.

Sweden imposed tuition fees on non-EU and non-EEA students in 2011. There, too, the decision to adopt tuition fees is linked to cuts in the universities’ basic funding from the government. According to University World News, Sweden experienced a drop of 80% in student numbers, and this is something that is often brought up here in Finland as well. In the academic year 2014-2015, however, the student numbers took a significant turn for the better. When looking at the situation in Sweden, it’s good to note that half of students who pay tuition fees study in four universities (Lund, KTH, Chalmers and Uppsala), and the other half in the remaining 25 universities and other tertiary institutions.  The range of tuition fees in Sweden is between 8,000 and 15,000 euros per year. Maintaining the diversity of the student body is seen as one of the biggest challenges, as studying will no longer be financially possible for everyone.

UEF’s vision of the future is to be an internationally attractive university. Keeping this in mind, we need to step up in attracting international experts, including international students. However, increasing the number of international students while adopting tuition fees is challenging, and wise decisions are needed.

The point of departure is that all Master’s degree programmes taught in English are of a high standard and provide students with specific skills needed in working life. This brings back a lively memory from when I was teaching in the US. There, lectures used to continue with a discussion that went on for as long as it took for things to be understood. Usually the initiative came from students, but it was equally inspiring for the teacher as well. Their reasoning was: “I need this knowledge in exchange for my tuition fee.”

UEF’s international Master’s degree programmes are currently under review. The objective is to ensure that they are sufficiently large and unique.  In Finland, there is no point in creating programmes that compete with one another. In addition, our programmes need to support our strategy. I have a feeling that UEF will have 15-20 strong programmes that are appealing to international students. In today’s economic reality, there is no point in thinking about these programmes as separate entities; instead they should rather be seen as a supplementary intake to the university’s Master’s level education. This is how programmes at our Faculty of Science and Forestry, for example, are working already.

And finally, I get to the issue that sparks many emotions: tuition fees. In fact, I’m returning to what I started this post with. First of all, the global market for international students is growing rapidly. Second, we need young and talented people here in Finland to ensure our competitiveness and support our ageing population. Third, Finnish academic education is of a high level and internationally competitive. These are the points that should be taken into consideration when thinking about tuition fees to be imposed on non-EU/EEA students – a profitability aspect. A scholarship scheme may be in place in specific cases, and the logic will be the same as for Finnish students: After graduation, the skills obtained are put to use for the benefit of the country and society. In the name of safeguarding equal opportunities for studying, could for example development cooperation funds be used to financially support students selected from developing countries?  When it comes to development cooperation that is rooted in education, Finland has been a source of many success stories ever since the 1980s.

Jaakko_Puhakka_TTY_100x130_3Jaakko Puhakka
Academic rector

Societal Impact from cradle to grave

The weekly programme for many of us UEF people involves hitting the winding road between the Joensuu and Kuopio campuses. This two hour drive allows time for chatting. One of my recent discussions touched upon the societal impact of the university. Soili Makkonen, our development director, talked about two practical examples. The graduates from our theological programmes are involved in people’s lives from cradle to grave, while our teacher graduates take care of our children from their first steps of learning all the way to university graduation. There’s no doubt about this impact.

The basic mission for universities is scientific research and research-based education. During the last decade, Finnish universities were given a third mission: societal impact, i.e. supporting the development of wider society. How does our university contribute to society, and how does it rank in terms of this among Finnish universities? Comparisons with universities based on scientific and educational outcomes are much easier to make. As a result, this is used for the funding of universities. One way of estimating societal impact is to think about how Joensuu, Kuopio and the whole of Eastern Finland would look today without the UEF and her predecessors the University of Joensuu and the University of Kuopio.

The long-term medical research by our university on the health and diseases of the population of Eastern Finland is a global success story and continues to be so. The practical outcome is longer life expectancy and healthier lives for the people of Eastern Finland. Our research saves lives! Many modern companies in Eastern Finland in areas such as medical technology, photonics and ICT are doing very well. Their home base for ideas and personnel is usually the university. Another example is the National Service Centres, which find their way to Eastern Finland. One of the key grounds for the siting of these offices is the availability of highly skilled professionals in the area – here, again because of the university. We will continue to contribute to the society in the future. One of the cornerstones of Eastern Finland has always been its forest resources and their refinement of a variety of products. This research area is one of UEF’s strengths and will definitely be one of the boosters of the North Karelian and Savonian bioeconomy in the future. This is just one example.

Today, UEF is seeking donations and has launched a fundraising campaign. The donations will be complemented by the government in the form of grants of up to three euros for each euro donated to the university. This matched funding scheme will multiply the effect of the fundraising. This support is important for UEF to achieve the strategic goals set for research and education. There’s no doubt that this campaign will also end up improving the lives and successes of us Eastern Finns. It’s time to be smart.

Jaakko_Puhakka_TTY_100x130_3Jaakko Puhakka

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