Lifelong Learning – Who Benefits?

Competence and lifelong learning are currently at the center of discussions on educational policy. They are large, hard-to-grasp lumps on which many quarters have visions, but thus far, there is unfortunately rather little substance on a larger level.

Universities and universities of applied sciences have already been harnessed to the task, and there have been attempts to add a funding component for lifelong learning to the new funding model that begins in 2021. The many tasks of institutions of higher education, like increasing the admissions quota for young people, increasing the competence levels of the adult population, increasing collaboration between institutions of higher education in teaching and developing research activities into many directions are all, however, things that require resourcing, but not much of this is forthcoming, only the famous peanuts. In the new funding model, funding from first degrees will be transferred to educating the adult population. Resources are diminished from everyone due to the variety of tasks – from undergraduate students as well as from people who are already in the working life and wish to develop their competence. Universities and universities of applies sciences will gladly take on a stronger role in the education and career guidance of the working-age population, but this work requires recruiting extra staff.

Many recipes have been offered for the development of competence – validating learning at work, recognition of prior learning, digitalisation, the revolution of learning, etc. The defenders of teaching are not widely represented in these discussions. This is why it is a pleasant surprise to read the point of view of the clientele (!), that is, students’ view of the importance of teaching: a statement from the Teacher Student Union of Finland (SOOL) outlines that one cannot learn to become a teacher on a correspondence course, instead teaching is needed. The aforementioned should not be taken as a demand to return to a time when teachers held monologues from their podiums. Clearly the pedagogical solutions of university teaching need to adapt to the times and develop. This poses the challenge to develop collective agreements accordingly, because the current collective agreement carries echoes from the time of podiums in this respect.

Increasing the volumes also challenges one to think about the student-to-teacher ratio, which in Finnish institutions of higher education is already quite high, that is, there is a significant number of students per one teacher. In discussions of Finnish higher education politics, this has not been brought up in a significant way, but it is time to bring it up again as the number of expected degrees increases and the number of staff decreases. Various guidance and counseling tasks that used to be centralised have been transferred to teacher advisors. These are often tasks for which no training exists or will be given. Similarly, there is pressure to transfer teaching to a format that can be scaled better, by which I mean various onlinebased implementations that require less of a teacher resource than before in the implementation phase. This will likely be marketed as flexibility, but flexibility here can probably only be viewed as flexibility with regard to the teacher’s working time and workload.

Clearly lifelong learning and developing competence will challenge the operational environments of universities in ways that we cannot even envision here. Obviously, however, the teaching staff needs to be awake, because teaching will inevitably become fragmented and partly detached from time and place. This situation will more clearly bring up the need for various periods of time where work is not placed in order to guarantee the well-being of teaching staff. As the representatives of the interests of teachers and researchers, we need to be vigilant.

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

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