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  • Maarit Valo
    Chair, The Finnish Union of University Professors


    Sauna, sisu, salmiakki, Sole and SAP

    University staff in Finland is internationalizing at fair speed. This is small surprise, as the current financial framework encourages Universities to recruit from abroad. The Finnish Union of University Professors has criticised the framework on the grounds that proficiency and expertise should surpass internationality as the criteria for recruiting academics.

    In 2010, 12 % of the researchers and teachers in Finnish Universities were of international background. The following year, the percentage had gone up to 13 and in the last year, it was already approaching 16. There is considerable variation in the percentage between Universities: In Åbo Akademi University, the number reached 21 last year, whereas in the University of the Arts Helsinki, only 1 % of the teaching personnel were of international background.

    The number of international employees is on the rise also among those working on funding from the Academy of Finland. The State of Scientific Research 2012 -report shows that in 2011, 20 % of Academy Research Fellows were from abroad. Accordingly, the report states that “especially the recruitment of post-doctoral researchers and professors in the early stages of their careers constitutes an efficient means of enhancing the international aspect of the Finnish Academic organization on the whole”. The Academy of Finland‘s interest in the international factor is continued in its forthcoming The State of Scientific Research 2014 -report, where there is a questionnaire concerning professors. The questionnaire is directed at the employers and aims to clarify the particular measures taken in order to make professorships internationally attractive.

    Universities and the ministry have designed a pact for the enhancement of international recruitment for the period of 2013—2016. The goal of Aalto University is even more ambitious: by the year 2020, one third of the professors and post-doctoral researchers should be of international background. Determining these objectives constitutes an interesting problem: What would be the proper proportion of international personnel in the Finnish Universities? While waiting for this to crystallize, we might as well turn our attention to the way international academics are received in Finland.

    The support and guidance offered to the incoming academics is often insufficient. We should first focus on very basic matters, such as the location of the nearest grocery store. The internet connection in the University quest house is not functioning and the toilet requires a new light bulb. A flat has to be found, as well as some kind of employment for the spouse. How does the taxation work? How to find a school for the children and general health care for the whole family? KELA (the Social Insurance Institution of Finland) usually sends their letters in Finnish. The banks are reluctant to grant personal online banking and telecom operators will not offer permanent mobile contracts.

    Scientific research is international and it is easy to become a member of the scientific community. However, other activities in the Universities require a lot of orientation: what, for instance, are the processes of decision making like? What exactly are the curriculum, work plan and syllabus like; what are the electronic platforms on which all these schemes and plans function? What is more, the teaching culture as a whole may be different. How to address a student? Why are they not purchasing course books? What exactly are home exams, essays, course diaries or group work? Am I supposed to have my office door closed or ajar when supervising a student?

    If there are no assisting personnel around, the immediate superior is bound to be bombarded with all these questions. Consequently, the orientation and guidance processes should be attended to properly. There should be a joint responsibility and transparency concerning them. Necessary contacts with incoming academics should be established before they actually arrive in Finland. Organizing some kind of mentoring apparatus could also be a good idea. Nevertheless, the thing to really begin with would be to place the information needed in practical daily work on the internet in English as well.

    Many incoming academics want to familiarize themselves with the Finnish or Swedish language. This is fine — a certain level of proficiency in the language of the host country is a prerequisite for an enjoyable long-term visit. Intensive courses could be offered as first aid, with more specifically targeted studies following. Basic knowledge of the culture is also required, whereas the maintenance and reinforcing of stereotypical cultural differences could be abandoned. Too many arriving academics have been fed the information that we Finns are overtly reserved and uncommunicative with no ability for engaging in proper discussion.

    Maarit Valo
    Chair, The Finnish Union of University Professors

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