The Real Enemies Of Finnish Higher Education
I welcome the response by anonymous in Acatiimi (9/2015) to my article which appeared in Acatiimi (7/2015). Given the importance of higher education to the global image of Finland, it was refreshing not to be met with the usual 'silent treatment.'
Anonymous and I at least agree on who the real enemies of Finnish higher education are: The oligarchy - a network dominated by well-connected Finnish men who scheme together to keep an ironclad control of the system by ensuring that their preferred candidates get the best paid and most secure jobs at Finnish universities. The oligarchy is not dissimilar to "the Establishment ", a term thought to have been coined by the British political journalist and social critic Henry Fairlie: "By the 'Establishment', I do not only mean the centres of official power-though they are certainly part of it-but rather the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised."
When challenged about its antics, the oligarchy schemes to throw its critics off the scent with the worst kind of hypocritical and sanctimonious tripe: bombastic statements on Finnish university websites and puff pieces in the heavily censored Finnish media. For years, Helsingin Sanomat have done worse than repudiate that they are fighting a losing battle to quell the critics of Finnish higher education: They have duped themselves into thinking that the majority of their readers still take them seriously. Hungry for better quality and more balanced journalism, many of my Finnish friends told me that they will continue to consult other media sources for news and information.
The concept of "international academic" is indeed one of the challenges at the core of the problem which I addressed. Many Finnish universities do well to pay lip service to internationalization, but there is little evidence to suggest that they have actually delivered anything substantial. Prima facie being international is a state of mind.
If pressed to be more specific I would hold that George Orwell was onto something when he said that it matters "not what you think but how you think." The oligarchy who are currently presiding over "the corruption and cronyism" in Finnish higher education exemplify the worst kind of thinking; they have every intention of continuing to use their power and influence to suck dwindling resources dry to ensure that the system is reproduced for and, in the longer term, by their chosen few. There is more breadth of mind, liberty and opportunity in my Marimekko curtains!
Anonymous was correct to make the most obvious point that, recruiting non-Finns - those born and educated outside Finland - is not the only way to internationalise Finnish academia. One alternative is to encourage more Finnish academics to study abroad, say, after their Bachelor's degrees and encourage them to return to Finland to feed their experiences back into Finnish higher education.
However, spending part of one's academic career abroad doesn't automatically mean that they will eschew the provincial thinking which is most damaging to Finnish higher education. A very prominent Finnish scientist once emailed me to explain why there were so few foreign academics with permanent contracts working in Finnish higher education: ". almost all foreign applicants for positions in Finnish universities and research organizations are those who have found difficulties in finding a job in their home country or who are married to a Finn. Neither of these backgrounds makes them more competitive against Finnish applicants."
I am not sure if readers will be more shocked by the purity of this arrogance or that said scientist spent many years working outside of Finland.
I realised that my proposed remedy was far from perfect before I wrote it, but it would at least be an improvement on the current inhibiting situation. Many scholars working in Finnish universities continue to tell me that when it comes to their careers they do not trust the sanctimonious and pompous oligarchy to play fair. The most talented academics fear that this mendacity will inevitably end their careers in Finnish academia.
And then there are the cuts. According to the Keskisuomalainen paper, some 280€ million have been slashed from Finland's education budget. It is unfortunate that many hundreds of people will be losing their jobs, but everyone knows that those who are least favoured by the oligarchy will be the first out through the university doors. I wonder how many international scholars will survive the cull?
The bigger challenge has yet to come. The Finnish Government has decided to introduce a minimum annual tuition fee of 1500€ for non-EU/EEA students, starting from August 2017 at the latest. This means that Finnish higher education will become a product which will need to be sold on the competitive global market that currently turns on the English language.
To get a profitable share of this international pie, are Finnish staff at Finnish universities going to offer more courses in English across a range of academic disciplines, or do they have some better strategy other than to further casualize the already marginalized workforce of native English speakers? I also wonder (echoing a smart friend) how knowing that the Finnish higher education sold to international students has a sell-by date in Finnish society and that international researchers and scholars also have use-by dates, could influence those students and their parents' decisions to buy?
At their summer cottages the real enemies of Finnish higher education may be able to move with aplomb between the sauna and the lake before gathering around the fire to hold forth about their reluctance to make changes to the rigid system.
I have some advice for those who care enough to see a Finnish higher education more associated with an internationalization worthy of its name: Don't let anyone find you guilty of propping up "the corruption and cronyism of Finnish academia"; the real fun begins when you put your head above the parapet to take up the cudgels for those who wish to see a more meritocratic system. Those who are afraid to do nothing will be wholly at the mercy of the oligarchy and the institutional violence which they so coldly dish out.
Finally, I would like to sincerely thank and applaud anonymous for joining this important debate. And long may it continue to improve Finnish higher education for more of those talented academics who are not favoured by the oligarchy.