Tag Archives: university funding

The Decline or Rise of the Humanities?

Recent reports on Finnish universities’ plans to cut humanities degree programmes have aroused fears that the humanities as a whole are in a state of a free fall. What has been of particular concern for many is the allegedly rushed, undemocratic, and almost random manner in which decisions on these cuts are now being carried out. Or rather, are said to be carried out as, in fact, at the time of writing this blog hardly any such decisions have yet been taken by those universities that have so far been mentioned in this context, including UEF. Yet it should be evident to all who have followed the discussions on universities’ structural reforms over the last couple of years that some changes are under way in the humanities just as well as in several other fields of study. Since this topic is likely to occupy front-page headlines in both national and local news media for some time to come, it is worthwhile having a look at the reasons behind these developments.

One is the diminishing demand for labour in some areas of the humanities. Teachers of most foreign languages except English are one example. This is a reflection of the rapidly declining numbers of school-students opting for these subjects in school, not to mention those of school-students choosing them as one of the subjects for their Matriculation Exams. For example, the number of pupils taking the exam in German Language (Advanced and Short courses combined) dropped from 6,038 in the year 2007 to 2,296 in 2015, so down to about one third in less than a decade. The figures for French Language reveal a more or less similar development. What is worse, this downward trend is set to continue unless some drastic steps are taken especially in areas outside the major cities to enable and encourage school-students to pick up German or French as one of their subjects. Now almost half of the examinees in these subjects come from Helsinki and the province of Uusimaa. In the light of these statistics it is not surprising that the numbers of applicants wanting to study these subjects at university are declining. The reality is that universities now find themselves struggling to fill their student quotas in some of these subjects, which forces them to make adjustments to their study programmes.

Apart from language subjects, some other arts and humanities subjects have also witnessed a decline in numbers of applicants but so have some of the sciences as well. Yet the pressure for cuts appears to have been much greater on humanities programmes than those in other fields. This is then easily interpreted as showing that the humanities are in a “crisis”, as has been done in some recent newspaper reports on higher education. What seems to support this is the reportedly similar situation in many other countries if not worldwide even. You only need to google “humanities cutbacks” and several hits come up referring to cutbacks in humanities programmes in Norway, Germany, the UK, Israel, Japan, and the US, to list but a few. More often than not, these measures are accompanied by curtailment of funding for those programmes that have remained.

Are the humanities then doomed to be wiped out altogether? The true picture may, after all, be less negative than it seems at first glance. I recently came across an essay entitled “The Rise of the Humanities” by Peter Mandler, Professor of Cultural History at Cambridge University (available at https://aeon.co/essays/the-humanities-are-booming-only-the-professors-can-t-see-it ). In this essay he analyses the situation in the humanities especially with respect to student enrollment numbers in the UK, US, and Australia. Mandler notes, first, that the talk of a crisis in the humanities has become so customary, an “orthodoxy”, to use his expression, that few have bothered to find out if there is real evidence to back up such rhetoric. Mandler himself has conducted a longitudinal study of the enrollments in humanities in the English-speaking world for over the last half-century. His results show that there has been hardly any change in the proportion of students studying humanities within that period. Indeed, in absolute numbers and despite fluctuations over the years, there are now more humanities students in the English-speaking world than ever before. In the US, as Mandler writes, the proportion of humanities degrees has remained stable at 10-12 per cent of all degrees ever since the 1950s. The only major change occurred in the 1960s and 1970s at the time which saw a significant influx of women into higher education. In the subsequent decades the situation changed only in that women turned in increasing numbers to more “professional” fields of study such as business, journalism, communication studies, and social work, while men continued to maintain their interest in humanities at the same level as before. Mandler’s conclusion, therefore, is that there is no real basis for the talk of a crisis, and that the humanities have proved resilient enough even in the face of tough competition from other, seemingly more attractive and financially more tempting, fields of study. That in itself shows that the humanities continue to be capable of serving important cultural and societal needs in the rapidly changing world.

Turning back to the current situation in Finland, the need for changes and possible cutbacks in the universities’ offering of courses in the humanities should be assessed against their wider background, and the consequences of any drastic changes should be carefully analysed before implementing them. Needless to say, rushed decisions and measures on the part of universities and other policy-makers can be irreversible and carry the risk of destroying something that will cause permanent damage to some areas of scholarship. Even those areas that at first glance look too small to be viable may play an important role as part of a larger and meaningful field of research or study programme. As for humanists themselves, rather than surrendering to the rhetoric of “crisis”, they should find ways of renewing their disciplines, by seeking points of connection and concrete forms of collaboration with other disciplines and study programmes – something that they have already begun doing and should continue to do.

filppulaMarkku Filppula
dean, Philosophical Faculty

Excellence – something to strive for

In Finland, we tend to see excellence in our activities. A good example is our education system, the best in the world in our minds. In many cases, although certainly not in all, this is also true in the light of international comparisons. In industry, we respect innovation and manufacturing of high-quality products, instead of bulk products that make financial profit only when sold in high quantities. Finnish design is a trademark of high quality, too.

In universities, we must also strive for excellence, both in education and research. Carrying out our academic activities at a level comparable to the highest international standards is also a way to financial success.  In the UEF strategy, the development of learning environments and international-level research areas is also pointing in the right direction. The funding system of universities in Finland relies on indicators that measure, directly or indirectly, the quality of our actions.  Success in these indicators determines our future success, not only financially but also in terms of our international reputation. Indeed, Academy of Finland professors, FiDiPro professors, ERC grants and centres of excellence (CoEs) in UEF are indicators of excellence in research. They are the flagships that can make the university famous for research.

A centre of excellence (CoE) is a team, a shared facility or an entity that provides leadership, best practices, research, support and/or training for a focus area (Wikipedia).  The Academy of Finland’s CoEs represent the very cutting edge of science in their fields, developing creative research environments and training new talented researchers for the Finnish research system and Finnish business and industry (http://www.aka.fi/en/research-and-science-policy/centres-of-excellence/). The call for letters of intent for the new CoE programme will open in April 2016. According to the Academy of Finland, the new CoE programme enables the renewal of science, with improved support to utilise research findings in society. The CoE programme 2018-2025 is expected to include new research groups, new research themes and new openings embracing a high gain-high risk approach. What does this mean? Does this offer new possibilities for UEF researchers? We will learn more during this spring. Let’s actively collect all the information available to find out what we can expect from this round and prepare ourselves for tough competition.

Indeed, it is time to establish consortiums that will be competitive in the coming application round.  Most importantly, competitive consortiums must include not only a high quality director, research groups and members, but also fresh research ideas with potential for new scientific openings and breakthroughs. Obviously, UEF researchers have to collaborate with top scientists in other national and international research organisations. Even the weakest partner in a consortium must be strong enough. Typically, only the maximum grades in the review process are good enough for success. Also typically, the director of a CoE is a prominent, experienced researcher of the highest international level. It is interesting to see if younger candidates will be considered more seriously as directors for the next long programme term (2018-2025). A young director cannot have hundreds of scientific papers, as is characteristic of directors of the present CoE programmes.  Let’s hope that also young talents have chances for success.

Jukka JurvelinJukka Jurvelin
dean, Faculty of Science and Forestry

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