Tag Archives: future

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

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

Finnish Universities seeking new directions for the study of languages and cultures

All Finnish universities providing teaching in languages and linguistics as academic subjects have for some time now been involved in discussions on how to improve their mutual cooperation and division of labour in this area. Started by the Universities Finland organisation (UNIFI) and at least “encouraged” if not directly ordered by the Ministry of Education, similar rounds of discussions have been going on in many other fields, with reports from most of the discussion groups coming out this spring.

The languages and cultures group has all but completed its work and produced a memorandum outlining several ways in which universities could develop their teaching of, and research on, languages and cultures. Societal needs are of course the prime factor determining what kinds of teaching and research should be provided and how it should be organised within each university and between the universities. Since most language departments or units are relatively small by international standards, the need for cooperation between universities is evident. It is also clear that language subjects cannot isolate themselves from other fields of study; this calls for new approaches and new study programmes combining language studies with social sciences, business or law studies – something which has been successfully done in many other countries, especially in the Anglo-American world.

Perhaps the most problematic issue in the discussions has been the division of labour between universities when it comes to reducing the numbers of student intake or even the number of universities providing teaching in some of the less studied languages such as German, French, and Russian. With the numbers of school students opting for these languages on a decline in recent years, universities are now finding it hard to attract enough students capable of taking up the study of these subjects. This in turn leads to small units becoming even smaller and less viable both financially and academically.

The decrease in numbers of students in these subjects is rather paradoxical in view of the fact that the demand in the labour market for people mastering, e.g. German or French, continues to be high in business life, the financial sector, and in the EU context. For German, this should not be surprising as Germany is our largest trading partner, not to mention the long-standing cultural, historical and other relationships between the two countries. Yet there are fewer and fewer students choosing to learn German in Finnish schools. The proximity of Russia and the close trading and other relationships makes the demand for knowledge of Russian among Finns even more obvious. Finns have, however, been rather slow in developing interest in learning Russian. At present English is the sole foreign language of choice for an increasing number of students, which threatens to leave the other languages and knowledge of them in a very marginal position in schools, and as a consequence, in universities and the whole society.

The next stage in the inter-university discussions will no doubt be the most difficult one as universities will be expected to implement at least the most important changes proposed in the memoranda. It may mean having to give up something but also gaining something else in return. No matter what will happen to the proposed changes concerning the study of languages and cultures, it is to be hoped that we hold on to at least our present level and repertoire of knowledge of languages as a nation.

filppula

Markku 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

 

 

 

 

 

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