The Ability to Compete Successfully

In the summertime, thoughts can run free and discover new paths. At its best, this is a time of regeneration in university work. In the summer it is conventionally quieter on the news front as well. At times it feels as though there were two worlds and the work year alternated between them.

While researchers and teachers were focusing on their own basic tasks, a lot was going on on the labour market. The competitiveness pact was particularised on a sectoral level. We know now how competitiveness is intended to be improved in our work. This knowledge is a little confusing.

At universities, the total working time will be 1624 hours. This is aligned with the national agreement that working time should be increased by 6 minutes per day. This is an abstract number, university employees have been working well over the requisite 1600 hours per year already before this. According to working hours monitoring conducted by Statistics Finland about ten years ago, professors’ actual working time was approximately 2250 hours. The 24 hour change that has now been agreed on is not really convincing as something that would increase competitiveness.

The increase of working time allocated to teaching has been explicitly spelled out in the agreement. The maximum amount of my own teaching will rise by two hours, up to 142. I don’t believe many university employees track the use of their working time this closely.

The numbers of hours that have been agreed on do not greatly change current practices, but it would also be good to take competitiveness seriously. Competitiveness does concern the entire Finland and it would, of course, be good to take measures that truly improve competitiveness on each sector.

The agreement that was reached during the summer aims at improving competitiveness through increasing employees’ fees and respectively lowering employers’ costs. It is extremely exceptional that such an agreement was widely accepted by the labour organisations. In practice, the solution was a result of the fact that the mandatory laws that were the alternative would have been even worse and also unequal.

When the solution was reached, the financial situation of universities should have eased a little. And because labour costs are the most significant of university costs, the increased amount of money should have been almost directly visible in employment contracts and recruitment. At the moment, however, it is unclear whether the university gets to keep its increased resources or whether the government will cut university funding by a corresponding amount.

This kind of thinking is guided by an unclear conception of the nature of a university, which can be, depending on the situation, viewed as a part of the state or as private. Bilateral negotiations become trilateral. The state is increasingly a party in matters that pertain to employees and employers.

Universities operate in tough open international competition. As the share of the manufacturing industry in the production of national economy lowers, true growth is created through new research, innovations and, through these, through increased productivity. This requires good resources as well as wage competition. The competitiveness pact, however, is characteristically tailored for manufacturing industry work. We try to respond to the challenge posed by countries where labour costs are cheaper by lowering the costs. This is a competition that Finland is unlikely to win.

The focus and growth of Finland’s national economy have already moved from traditional manufacturing industry to information-intensive and high technology service production. Truly increasing competitiveness requires that public research and development investments are increased, not cut. The society and the decision-makers need to understand what research and development as well as technology mean to our ability to compete.

Kaarle Hämeri
President, The Finnish Union of University Professors

Painetussa lehdessä sivu 40