The Circle Goes Around

The work of a teacher and a researcher is cyclical: the circle starts again in the beginning of every academic year, new students and courses. Even though the work might be cyclical, career advancement, however, is primarily linear: one proceeds towards more demanding tasks, and the increased demands show in the wages. This is the challenge: how to make progress?

A central part of the meaningfulness of work is not just the opportunity to make progress but also continuity: the cycle can also break. The number of fixed-term faculty members is growing due to a variety of career systems that favour impermanence. Senior lecturers’ and professors’ open-ended contract positions are increasingly being filled with a variety of tenure track positions that are exclusively research-oriented and fixed-term.

The educational responsibility is, nevertheless, permanent, and the starting point should be that open-ended contracts are used to fill permanent teaching positions. The majority of teaching and research faculty at universities are already, at present, in fixed-term contracts, and we cannot afford to make this situation any worse.

In the four-stage career model, progress is clearly made through research merits. Teaching merits and merits in societal interaction are viewed as just small additions in an otherwise research-weighted progress system. This does not, however, treat everyone in teaching-weighted positions equally, because working time is not reserved for research in all units or positions. Funding channels further differentiate teaching and research. Thus, it is essential that career progress would be possible even in a teaching-weighted position.

However, even long-term work experience in a teaching-weighted position is apparently not cause for career advancement or wage progression in universities. Work experience is, nevertheless, a central element of the salary system in many fields, for example in the salary system of teachers in universities of applied sciences.

In order to dismantle these problems, the Union for University Teachers and Researchers in Finland (YLL) has developed the teacher’s career model to accompany the research career models. This contains a variety of criteria that could be appealed to so that someone in a teaching-weighted position could also make career progress. In addition to the aforementioned work experience, growing and documenting one’s pedagogical competence is central, as well as developing teaching.

Many universities prescribe the completion of pedagogical studies for teaching and research staff that is recruited as a requirement that needs to be completed in a certain amount of time after the beginning of employment. Increased competence is not, however, directly a cause or a criterion for advancement.

The same is true for acquiring the pedagogical qualifications that are determined by a regulation, and which it is also possible to complete through university pedagogical studies in some universities. Pedagogically qualified teaching also plays an important role in producing good researchers. In the career model, thesis supervision is also central, as are expert tasks relevant to the university community and to society. The four-stage career model in particular recognises the latter only to a small extent. As for research, as the difficulty of the position increases, the teacher’s career model includes elements where, for example, research emerges for example through the teacher’s own postgraduate degree or docentship.

Teachers deserve to be able to progress through teaching merits also in universities.

Santeri Palviainen
Chair, The Union for University Teachers and Researchers in Finland, YLL

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