Making the Possibilities of Collaboration Visible
The university sector is currently taking concrete steps to increase collaboration between organisers of education. Increased collaboration can also open up outlooks on developing teachers' competence.
Communication about this has, however, been insufficient thus far. Many teachers and researchers are completely unaware of what a collaboration contract that their own university has signed with another university involves and what it means in practice.
The strategic collaboration of five universities (U5) aims at, for example, joint degrees and the promotion of education export. Increasing this kind of collaboration can have a lot of impact on the work of teachers and researchers.
On the level of organisation and data systems, combining functions is to some extent simpler than creating joint educational programs, even though institutional cultures and data systems differ.
Increased collaboration needs to begin with the goal of realising the basic tasks of universities even better. A well-functioning administration and other staff should not be lost in the middle of reforms due to hasty staff cuts. Teachers and researchers should also not be invisibly burdened with increased workloads. It is safest to enter times of change with the entire existing staff, not with a diminished organisation.
The risks and possibilities that are related to teaching and research should be discussed on a more concrete level than what is currently done. In teaching, risks are perceived to relate to the control and ownership of one's own work. Participation in both planning and implementing teaching forms the core of a teacher's work. Vaguely defined objectives relating to the allocation of teachers' work into new educational programs are likely to cause resistance to change - maybe for a reason, maybe not. If the objectives of reforms are not known or assessments of their effects are vague, reforms are frowned upon. At the same time, dissatisfaction with an authoritarian institutional culture gains more weight.
A teachers' work consists of his or her own research and content that arises from it, planning responsibility, teaching philosophy and the freedom to put the curriculum into action. These cannot be joined together in the same way and as quickly as organisations.
From the point of view of a student, increasing the course offerings could add to the appeal of a university. But what does aiming at increasing the mobility of teachers and students mean in practice for a teacher's work? And what about attempts to create study paths that are independent of divisions between universities?
Discussing the division of educational work requires the participation of teaching and research staff, so that decisions that are unwise and too formulaic on a national level will not be made. Moreover, in the possible reconciliation of educational content, the real experts of that content are needed.
The brainstorming and planning phases require more encouragement to participate and assessment of the effects on the content of the work. Does collaboration bring effectiveness and savings? How? How could it help to free up time for planning teaching? How does it contribute to teachers' research work and possibilities for other scientific activities? Is the employer committed to jobs?
Communication about increasing collaboration between universities needs to happen in such a way that the staff gets a clear idea of what is to be gained from it. The expertise of staff needs to be used in the planning and implementation in order to aim at impact. And most importantly, enough time needs to be reserved for this.
Seppo Sainio Chair, The Union for University Teachers and Researchers in Finland, YLL