Tag Archives: dean

Universities on the way from strategy-driven to ranking-driven institutions?

Higher education institutions (HEIs) all over the world have become accustomed to planning their long-term goals in the form of strategies, accompanied by detailed plans for action based on them. The contents of such strategies are usually determined by specific research goals, educational and societal needs, the future labour market, and so forth. While all these are still widely considered to be some of the major factors behind the goals laid out in a typical HEI strategy, recent years have witnessed the arrival of yet another factor which is becoming increasingly powerful in defining a HEI’s profile and global position in the academic world, viz. international rankings of HEIs.

The European University Association (EUA) has just published a study entitled Rankings in Institutional Strategies and Processes: Impact or Illusion? (EUA Publications 2014). It is said to be the first pan-European study of the impact and influence of rankings on HEIs and their strategic planning procedures. This study brings to light some interesting results. Although rankings have received a lot of criticism from HEIs and individual academics, this study finds that over 60 per cent of the 171 HEIs examined use rankings to inform their strategic decision-making and this figure rises to over 70 per cent when various organisational, managerial, and academic actions are included. The vast majority of HEIs regularly monitor their placement in rankings and also use them in their bench-marking, branding and marketing efforts.

Use of rankings is by no means restricted to HEI officials or academics. According to the study, prospective students looking to find a suitable place to study, and especially those from outside Europe, were among the most active users of ranking lists. The same was also true for universities’ partner institutions and government ministries. All in all, one is left in no doubt as to the growing importance of rankings, which have clearly become a fact of life and have to be accepted as such. Also, HEIs cannot really be blamed for making use of them in their efforts to define and improve their global position. But we may have reason to worry if ranking lists start setting the parameters for what kinds of research are conducted in a university, what kinds of education it should offer, or what kinds of research or educational partnerships are possible between HEIs. Already there is evidence that ranking lists have begun to form obstacles to institutional collaborations even when such a need would be obvious and beneficial for all parties concerned on academic grounds. In such cases one wonders whether the tail has started to wag the dog and not the other way round.

filppulaMarkku Filppula

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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