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    International academics in Finland - in the shadow of uncertainty

    Results from the survey for the international members of the union

    The challenges that international academics face in working life in Finland seem to fall under two themes: uncertainty because of extremely short fixed-term employment contracts and poor career opportunities in Finland, and lack of communication because of language barriers resulting in being excluded from important information and the work community.

    The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers FUURT conducted a survey for its international members in December 2014. The aim of the survey was to develop an understanding of the challenges that international researchers face in working life in Finland, and to receive feedback and suggestions for the Union to further develop its services.

    The survey was conducted as an anonymous online questionnaire, and it was sent to all 529 members who are not Finnish by nationality. The response rate of the survey was 39 %.

    Background information

    The respondents have lived in Finland on average 5,2 years (=median). Only 4 % plan to stay less than a year, and a remarkable 56 % do not have plans to move out of Finland at all.

    For 43 % the primary reason to move to Finland was to come to work on a specific post. 36 % came to study, 17 % for family reasons and 4 % for other reason. The respondents found Finland to be an attractive place to work or study mostly because of its research resources and reputation, interesting job offer or high quality free education.

    Interestingly, 64 % of the respondents who originally came to Finland to study are from countries outside the EU/ETA area. They represent 23 % of all the respondents, and they have lived in Finland on average 5,7 years and been employed or on a grant for 3,9 years. These results are quite interesting in terms of the discussion about the tuition fee for students outside the EU/ETA area and attracting international talent to Finland.

    Working contracts

    The respondents have worked for their current employer on average 3,6 years. Nevertheless, an alarming 91 % work on a fixed-term employment contract. Fixed-term contracts are known to be a huge problem in the university sector, but it seems that the international personnel are even more unlikely to get a permanent job. According to a FUURT membership survey conducted in 2013 in Finnish, 54 % of the union members have a fixed-term employment contract.

    However, as 83 % of international members are researchers, partly the difference derives from the work position rather than the origin of the employee, so therefore, it is more rationale to make the comparison according to work positions. In the category of researchers, the proportion of fixed-term contracts is 97 % for the international members and 81 % for all members of the union.

    For the international members, the average length of a working contract is 12 months. It is extremely short compared to all union members, as according to the 2013 membership survey, the average length of a fixed-term employment contract was 25 months. Hence, it seems that the international academics are suffering from even shorter employment contracts than the average.

    Working hours and work satisfaction

    The mean of weekly working hours estimated by the respondents is 40,9 hours/week for the employees and 40,7 hours/week for the grant-holders. The majority (73 %) of the employed respondents do overtime work without overtime compensation, and 61 % work at home in the evenings and/or weekends at least once a week.

    The respondents were asked to indicate their level of satisfaction to several work related issues on a Likert scale, where 1 = very dissatisfied and 5 = very satisfied. The results are presented in figure 1.


    The respondents are most satisfied with the content of the work (mean 4,2) and least satisfied with career opportunities (mean 2,9). The lack of career opportunities and glass ceiling for professional development were mentioned numerous times also in the open-ended question about the challenges in working life in Finland.

    Employer support

    The respondents who were either employed or on a grant were asked a set of questions about the support provided by their workplace. The results are presented in figure 2.


    Only 17 % of the respondents have received enough information about Finnish employment laws and regulations at their workplace, and an alarming 41 % have not received that information at all.

    48 % have been provided with sufficient information about Finland and the local culture, 42 % with sufficient administrative information and communications in English, and 44 % with enough information about research funding opportunities. So, there is a lot to improve.

    "Lack of communication with people on supportive or administrative functions results in time-consuming difficulties. Whenever available, information in English is much shorter and reduced compared to the Finnish one."

    57 % of the respondents have had sufficiently social events to interact with colleagues, and only 3 % have not had these opportunities at all. This result is very satisfying, as there is an evident demand for events to interact with colleagues. 82 % of the respondents, who were provided with these events, did participate.

    Only 32 % of the respondents have been provided enough opportunities to get Finnish language training, and unfortunately, 24 % have not been provided with an opportunity to learn Finnish at all. There should be no excuse not to provide language training for the international academics, as 73 % of the respondents, who have been provided with the opportunity, did participate the training.

    Social adjustment

    A vast majority of the respondents are well or quite well adjusted to Finland (84 %) and familiar with Finnish culture (88 %). Out of the 130 respondents who feel that they cannot speak much Finnish, 79 % want to learn it. And, out of the 72 respondents who already feel that they can speak Finnish, 89 % still want to learn more.

    58 % of the respondents find it easy or quite easy to form social relationships at work and only 41 % outside work. As much as 59 % of the respondents find it easier to interact with expatriates than with Finnish nationals.

    Challenges in Finland

    Using a list of pre-determined potential challenges, the respondents were asked to estimate to which extent they have faced these challenges in Finland on a scale, where 1 = not at all and 5 = very much. The results are presented in Figure 3.


    By far the greatest challenge for the international academics is uncertainty about the future. 40 % of the respondents have experienced very much uncertainty about the future and 23 % quite much. Only 3 % answered that they have not experienced uncertainty about the future at all.

    "It's impossible to plan in the long term not only in terms of personal life but in terms of professional life too."

    Language barriers and risk of losing the current position or employment are experienced quite or very much challenging by 44 % of the respondents. More than 30 % of the respondents have experienced quite or very much challenges relating to cultural differences, feeling of outsiderness and financial insecurity. And unfortunately, 17 % have experienced quite or very much inequality.

    "Language barriers, especially when spending time informally with colleagues, as they seldom switch to English if they have already started a conversation."

    The areas which are considered least challenging are problems with taxation and residence or work permits, difficulties to find accommodation and problems relating to social security system. Roughly half of the respondents have not encountered any problems in these areas, and only about 10 % have faced quite much or very much these challenges.

    The results of the survey for international members are presented in a seminar Communicate, influence and internationalize on 19th October. The results will also be published as a part of a master's thesis next spring.

    Text Sanna Hoikka

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