Tag Archives: rector

Making brave recruitments

There is an old wisdom that the only wise decisions universities need to make are those related to recruitment – of staff and students alike.  Success in these is likely to translate into success in general.

Last week, staff recruitment was extensively discussed between heads of faculties, departments and independent institutes in a seminar aimed at the UEF leadership. According to my understanding, there was a wide consensus on moving from recruitments that are based on curricula and academic subjects to those that are based on the university’s strategy and its thematic entities. If the strategy doesn’t guide our recruitments, then there is no need for it.

Heads of faculties, departments and units need to have access to the big picture about staff and funding in order to do real strategic HR planning. A mere review of annual vacancies is not enough.

Furthermore, our recruitment processes need to become increasingly flexible and faster. It is not likely that we are able to attract top players if it takes months or even years to make the recruitment decision. However, this is something that we can change by streamlining our own instructions and practices, and this is also something the Finnish legal framework allows us to do.

With a clear idea of the kind of expertise, orientation, social skills, etc., expected of the candidate, we are more likely to succeed in our recruitments compared to just publishing a public notice of vacancy and seeing what kinds of applicants it attracts. This calls for active recruitment: following the doings of potential candidates in several channels and over a longer period of time – and our own networks also come in handy. Furthermore, experts from outside Finland are not likely to venture to a new country and new university without any prior knowledge of the destination and people there, so communicating actively on both sides before the recruitment is essential.

Whether to invest in recruiting people from outside or from within the organisation is a topic of much discussion when it comes to recruitment. The fact remains that Finnish universities tend to recruit too much from within, and there is too little national and international mobility – which are essentially important. However, quality should be the decisive factor also here. No matter where the candidate comes from, we need to make sure that we hire the best and most committed individual.

Thanks to profiling funding obtained from the Academy of Finland and our own strategic funding, we are in a position to make a significant number of new recruitments in the near future. Succeeding in these will affect our success in the long run, so what we need now is an active, flexible and quality driven approach.

Jukka_Monkkonen_100X130Jukka Mönkkönen
Rector

 

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

Problematics of university rankings

I got an SMS late in the evening congratulating me for our university’s ranking success. I was a little baffled about the timing of the message, but thought that the person sending it wanted to take part in the joy we had felt at the university for the past week due to our excellent performance in a ranking list of the young universities. In the morning, when my brain worked faster, I remembered that a new ranking list had been published at midnight. Indeed: the sender’s home university had succeeded well and, for the first time in its history, they were ranked among the world’s leading universities. Our university didn’t do quite as well.

Although none of the rankings are perfect in terms of the data and methodology used, their significance for the reputation of universities is unpredictably great. They tell about something else, too. However, one should stop and think about whether they tell about genuine differences in quality, or about something that should not be forced on the same scale to begin with. Or whether they tell about overall indexes, which are basically indicative of nothing with real-life importance.

It is a known fact that measuring anything other than the number of scientific articles published in international journals is difficult. The quantitative indicators used in the first rankings were favourable to some fields, and this has now been corrected by introducing field-specific weightings which, in turn, can accumulate success for fields in which the competition isn’t that hard. The distortion caused by the weight of the quantitative indicators has also been tried to be fixed by various reputation surveys. A multidisciplinary university from a small language area faces inevitable disadvantage in the competition.

In my opinion, continued success in several different rankings constitutes a good goal for us. This year again, the UEF was one of the three Finnish universities which all the three major ranking list publishers (ARWU, QS and THE) recognise as being among the world’s leading 400 or 500 universities. It’s good to continue from here, and also to increase people’s awareness of us, which in our case has been a weak spot in all rankings.

PerttuVartiainen3_100x130px

Perttu Vartiainen

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