Tag Archives: uef

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

 

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

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

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