Back to the Basics

In the late summer, the media offered lots of tips to help getting back to work go smoother. One should feel fresh and well rested upon return from summer break. It may be a good sign if one has forgotten one’s email password.

Not everyone, though, was able to have a paid holiday. Many temporary employees have spent the summer without pay, supported by various benefits and uncertain about whether work will continue. At universities, the proportion of temporary staff is inhumanely high. This, if anything, is in need of structural development.

The beginning of the semester is a moment of getting back to the basics — what were they again? Keeping up with the publication race and success in the competition for funding? Or the connection between basic research and teaching? Credits that have been produced with the least possible resources? Or blended learning?

Do the discussions in the coffee room this semester revolve around entrepreneurship and startup ecosystems? Or encounters between teachers, researchers, services and students?

The teaching and research functions of universities diversify and broaden as the society changes. As teaching becomes ever more blended, the personnel needs to continuously improve their knowledge. Time should be reserved for this in the work plans. There is a desire to increase the amount of digital teaching and teachers are encouraged to use online tools. Digitalisation can be partly advanced by ensuring that there is no need to constantly argue about the related working time questions.

People generally emphasise different goals every semester regarding their professional development. One cannot focus on everything during the same academic year. The selection of emphases can, however, be complicated by conflicting expectations. Blended learning is only one thing that can require learning something new. On the other hand, teachers may be expected to acquire funding for their own research as a sign of them becoming qualified. It is difficult to regard this as justified.

When about 10 % of research funding applications go through, there is cause for a more general discussion on how appropriate it is to expect personnel that teach a lot to acquire outside funding. Would working time be used more efficiently if it was focused solely on teaching and research through basic funding? If 90 % of applications do not lead to a positive funding decision, opening significant funding proportions for competition may also partly cause inefficiency.

A part of the significance of research shows through teaching, so in that sense, too, the basic research done by teaching personnel is significant.

These days every semester also involves uncertainty about how the structures of the university field will next be turned upside down. The Ministry of Education and Culture’s Vision 2030 should be ready in September. At the same time, subject departments and faculties are removed from universities’ internal structures, even fields of study are questioned. That is, the very things that members of the university community identify with.

Instead of moving structures around, it would be worthwhile to ever more strongly encourage people to search partners from the other side of “the fence” and from interest groups, also from public players. Networking happens all the time, but it can also be encouraged more and more.

Challenge Pitching competitions have also landed in universities. Bringing branches of science together, however, also requires forums with a lower threshold and incentives. Such incentives might include support for joint projects between different branches of science and further strengthening the connection between teaching and research.

Seppo Sainio
Chair, The Union for University Teachers and Researchers in Finland, YLL

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