The Effectiveness of University Work under Scrutiny

Public discussion has lately been evaluating the effectiveness of university activities. Effectiveness, however, is not easy to measure from the point of view of teaching, research and forwarding all-round education. These, after all, are the mission of universities.

The discussion has confused the concepts of effectiveness, productivity and working time. The competitiveness pact adds six minutes to the amount of daily working hours. And the government took away from the universities, contrary to agreement, the reduction in employers’ contributions, which was a competitiveness benefit that the competitiveness pact had given.

Even though there are efforts to help university employees assimilate to and accustom to concepts of the marketplace, the same profitability indicators that are used for the manufacturing industry are not sensible to use for education.

According to the Work Efficiency Institute, productive and effective work is work that has a purpose. Work should be suitably challenging and well organized. It is enjoyable and generates results.

Working can be regarded as effective, if 80 % of working time is spent on the core task. However, for instance tasks of teaching and student services are increasingly transferred to teachers’ working time, which is already quite fragmented.

University administration and services staff has received unreasonable and unfounded criticism. Layoffs have mostly been targeted at other staff. Their burden and workload is also in some cases increasing uncontrollably.

If we want to reduce administration, we need to reduce administrative processes. For instance the amount of reporting and tracking is not the employees’ decision; it is what the funding bodies want. If there is too much of it, we need to make determined efforts to reduce it. Employees who are labelled as ineffective have usually not been the ones deciding about the arrangements of work at the workplace.

The effectiveness of work can be increased by focusing on skills, new technology and new ways of working. Lay-off do not increase effectiveness, they only decrease the amount of people who do the work.

The functionality of a university requires that people in all working roles are appreciated and the value of their skills and their work is recognized. The employer should invest in a functional orientation system, good leadership and wellbeing at work. This is especially true in states of change.

The length of the summer recess from teaching is regularly scolded. But university management and staff understand that the academic year is a whole: there is enough long-term knowledge work and networking to go around for the summer too. Research and planning teaching can only be done without interruption during the summer recess.

The sorely needed teachers’ career model falls due to lack of appreciation for teaching and the difficulty of measuring the productivity of teaching. Indirect indicators are also not readily used. Minor signals may be used to remind people of “inefficiency”, but when it comes to rewarding, the results of teaching work or significance or the teacher’s development in his or her work is seen as something that cannot be evaluated. This is unmotivating.

Productivity is closely connected to the quality of work. None of the quality management systems that are used at universities prevent cuts. They do not sound an alarm when the gap between teaching and research grows even wider. Do they sound an alarm when the workload of the personnel increases to an intolerable level?

In principle, the employer defines, through the available resources, what kind of a level of work is desired. When employees are committed and motivated, they want to turn in good results. They should have a real opportunity to do that.


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

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