Tag Archives: quality

Weighing quality

This week, two years of preparatory work will come to a culmination, as UEF is being audited by an international team of auditors from the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre, FINEEC. Finnish universities are required by law to undergo auditing every six years, and this takes plenty of effort from staff members and students alike, with everything led and coordinated by the university’s Quality Manager.

A positive thing about the current audit method is self-evaluation, forcing us to critically evaluate our own activities. Combined with benchmarking, this constitutes an efficient way to make changes to processes where change is needed. Another good thing about the audit is the university’s opportunity to select an optional audit target, which is our case is international student mobility. This provides us with an external evaluation of the current state of our activities, as well as novel ideas for development, which we might not come up with on our own.

Having said that, not everything about the audit is positive. The entire preparation process and the background materials required by FINEEC are disproportionate to the objective – whose value as such of course isn’t being denied by anyone. For instance, having to deliver all materials to FINEEC in ten printed copies is not a modern way of doing things. Moreover, as I mentioned in the beginning, the audit preparations tie down a significant amount of the university’s resources for a long time. It almost feels like quality management thinking has been forgotten in the actual audit process. Luckily, the delivery of materials will become easier in the future, as materials can be submitted electronically.

Quality work is not something that can be separated from the university’s other activities. It can be justifiably said that here at UEF, quality is directly and elegantly integrated into our everyday operational processes. We are also confident about our performance in the audit – we’ve done everything that can be done, and we feel that our activities stand any scrutiny, any time. This is not to say that we are indifferent to the audit, as we definitely want to pass it. The audit results will be published in spring 2017, and we’ll be wiser then.

meriläinen tuomo-100x130Tuomo Meriläinen
Director of Administration

Students make the university

A research institute is an organisation with active scientists working on chosen scientific fields and topics. Based on that, any university is also a research institute. In UEF, the Faculty of Science and Forestry can call itself an intensive research institute.   An institute with teaching activity is traditionally called a school. A university also has a commitment to teaching its students. Actually, through teaching universities educate new researchers and professionals. As research and teaching are thus linked, to be a true university, both activities must be in order. In the strategy of UEF, both missions are appreciated and ideas for development are provided. My faculty makes 2/3 of its income from output that is related to research. It does not mean that our departments with a high level of research can ignore teaching; instead we must make a significant effort in the development of teaching to be convincing as a university faculty.  The development of learning environments is not the only instrument that is needed for future success in teaching.

In UEF, university students will judge if our teaching activities are of high quality. Students can also tell us potential flaws in our teaching arrangements and practices. Therefore, students’ feedback, and our analysis of that feedback should provide the basis for the development of our teaching activities. The feedback should not only guide us for the optimal development of our teaching system as a whole, but also help individual teachers to develop their own ways of teaching. As many of us recognise, the university’s feedback systems may not be optimal and development is obviously needed. However, I am sure that useful feedback can be received any moment provided that we appreciate its importance, have regular contacts and informal relationships with our students.  The quality system of UEF, when functioning as expected, will certainly pinpoint potential problems in teaching.

In natural sciences, the recruitment of new, talented students is a true challenge. We have to work in many ways to be successful in the future. To help ourselves, we need the support of our present students. Their positive experience and satisfaction with the university education they have received serves as the most important basis for success in the competition for future students.

Jukka Jurvelin

Jukka Jurvelin
Dean of the Faculty of Science and Forestry

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