Money talks, university walks, the old jungle saying goes. This includes the idea that operation requires money. One might think that this would be axiomatic, but many phenomena in the discussions that circle around the university sector contain the basic assumption that things happen without resources and effort. Magic words (digitalisation, continuous learning, preview courses for upper secondary level students etc.) are floated around without a clear plan for their implementation.
Every study credit and module has its price. A funding model that is geared towards the production of degrees does not easily conform to smaller modules. Updating and developing knowledge to adjust to the needs of the working life requires, however, structures that the current funding model does not present.
Upper secondary level students’ higher education preview courses also need to be discussed from the point of view of regional equality and resourcing. Regional equality should be a particular cause for concern: in practice, only students who live in cities with higher education institutions have a chance to participate in contact teaching implementations. Online implementations, on the other hand, would need separate investments.
There are plenty of good examples of collaboration between schools and universities. It is, however, a different issue to offer opportunities to take studies on a large scale. It would be unreasonable to demand that the teacher is left to consider how to manage the extra workload. The idea that the student listens passively to a 90 minute monologue is, of course, in the past; there are multiple different ways to collaborate with the student during the learning process. To actively meet the learner in person or virtually does, however, require resources. Often project funding is limited in duration and funds. When the project funds that have been granted for development have been eaten up, one would wish that activities that have been established would find a corresponding resource in the basic funding as well. In the same way, the demand for various support services grows in the same proportion; these tasks have been run down and/or been transferred to the teaching and research staff, but clearly they belong to competent support staff.
The budget proposal is currently being discussed in the Parliament. Even though investments in knowledge and research have been increased for instance in terms of the Academy of Finland funding, the totality can, in many ways, be thought of as a disappointment, because the central aims of the university sector were not fully met: in university funding, the index freeze was still not withdrawn and in many other issues, we were left empty-handed.
Even though money talk is constantly present in the discussions of the higher education sector, positive things can also be brought up. Work around the vision for higher education 2030 has brought up the need to discuss how universities could be turned into the best workplaces in Finland. In my view, this work starts with empowering each teacher and researcher with regard to their own work. There is scarcely a need to discuss teachers’ and researchers’ inner motivation – often we speak of vocations – so reasons for the decrease in work satisfaction and well-being at work might be sought in the changed operational environment.
The work of shop stewards and industrial safety delegates seems to have become more difficult in many situations, and a negotiation environment seems to have been replaced with a dictation environment. Finding appropriate ground rules together with the employer side is not a question of costs.
Turning this development into a positive one and returning optimism to the work is crucially important. The best workplaces in Finland are still a long way ahead.
Chair, The Union for University Teachers and Researchers in Finland, YLL
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