“Grow or die” – a favourite motto in the world of business consultants. Science has probably already proven it to be wrong, but there may be some truth to it. An organisation tends to grow or shrink. Results, too, tend to increase or decrease. It is difficult to hit zero – there are too many numbers around it.
The Finnish university has long been steered towards a path of shrinkage. As a consequence of the pressure, the university functions like a company suffering from a decline in revenue. Intensification is sought through downsizing, reducing the supply and developing processes. If need be, the employees are viewed as an expense and the number of employees and the amount of salary are used to balance the return and balance sheet. The amount of teaching and research and possibilities for choice are decreased. Processes are developed, which is in principle a good thing. The development work, however, is done alongside other work, which uses up resources that have already been decreased and overloaded.
From outside the university, the pressure is increased with numbers that have been sought from elsewhere in the world and that are often not suitable for direct comparison. Contemporary mantras include adaptation, intensification, strategic leadership, specialisation, difficult decisions, responsible players, focusing, profiling and top. The ethos of professional leadership is pushed for management. According to that, a leader needs to have the power and responsibility to make difficult strategic decisions, because members of the university community are not believed to be capable of doing them themselves.
Universities and their employees are said to be the masters of adjustment. This is easy to see, even though one limit was reached on the 28th of February. A Finnish university is breathtakingly effective in relation to the money that is available. In proportion to the population, it is also one of the top players in the world in rankings.
The opposite of a shrinking organisation is a growing and developing organisation. It has sufficient funding and the possibility to invest in its development. It has room to breathe. It functions efficiently and focuses only on its essential tasks. It listens and understands what is happening around it, but does not let outsiders interfere with its core tasks. It does not promise or do everything for everyone. As a community, it is strong and conscious of both itself and its mission.
If someone has forgotten the mission of a Finnish university, it can be checked from Section 2 of the Universities Act: “The mission of the universities is to promote independent academic research as well as academic and artistic education, to provide researchbased higher education and to educate students to serve their country and humanity at large. In carrying out their mission, the universities shall promote lifelong learning, interact with the surrounding society and promote the social impact of university research findings and artistic activities.” There are, then, those things that are the mission of a university. Then there are those other things that just need to be advanced alongside fostering the mission. There is an important difference between the two.
The Finnish economy is already on a growth track, and the university deserves to be directed to the same track. The argument where university funding cannot be increased because of problems in public economy is a visionless argument. It withers Finland into an unskilled cheap labour country. It is far from the Vision for Higher Education and Research. It is equally far from the Vision and roadmap of the Research and Innovation Council.
Finland needs new power for research and for educating new skilled people. Right now there need to be more investments in universities than ever. The restitution of the university index would be a good start.
Chair, The Finnish Union of University Professors
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