European Trade Unions Paid Us a Visit
The conference of the Higher Education & Research Standing Committee (HERSC) of Education International Europe (EIE) was arranged in Helsinki on 15-16 of April. These conferences are usually arranged twice a year, and this was the first one to take place in Finland.
Over 40 representatives from trade unions of different countries were present, all the way from Portugal and Moldova. The conference was hosted by the Trade Union of Education in Finland (OAJ), the Finnish Union of University Professors (FUUP) and the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers (FUURT).
The purpose of HERSC is to act as a common forum between trade unions of different countries, as well as to convey information and provide comparative monitoring of the implementation of various incentives, programs and directives.
It also functions as the follower of various programs, such as Lifelong learning, the Bologna-process, or the creation of a good and encouraging working environment. If necessary, it urges the responsible quarters to action.
In the beginning of the conference, the director general Anita Lehikoinen from the Ministry of Education and Culture discussed the present state of the Finnish organization of universities and universities of applied sciences and provided an overview of the reforms underway. For the Finnish participants, the material was predominantly familiar, but the representatives of other countries inquired eagerly about why and how the universities were detached from state administration and how their funding in this new system does function. Lehikoinen’s presentation gave perhaps a bit rosy picture of the state of affairs, and it became the target of a lot of corridor gossip.
This time, none of the items on the agenda produced alarmed statements from the participants. One of the concerns of HERSC has been to secure the position of young researchers preparing their PhDs. In the Helsinki conference this came up on several occasions. Last year, a process for compiling a policy paper on the position of postgraduate researchers and those with recent PhDs was launched. Drafts of the paper were discussed and guidelines for further action were agreed upon in a small group. The paper should be ready by the end of September.
Another issue for discussion in small groups was quality and its assessment in the performance of universities. The assessment of quality by quantitative indicators is a fairly common practice, but on the basis of the discussions in Helsinki, it seems that Finland is among the top countries in this respect.
The issues of employment, unemployment, and the compatibility between expertise and its demand were also discussed, as were salaries. Compiling international comparisons is not easy; there are no simple instruments for comparing salaries, for instance.