On the Difficulty of Change

When I began my university studies sometime in the mid-1980s, Finland and also the university institution looked very different. Universities were stable institutions, having taken shape over a long history. The variety of subjects or the number and location of universities did not concern me very much. I supposed that the process had become appropriately balanced over time.

Then the new millennium came. Globalization rolled in from everywhere and the university also looked more fragile. Maybe at this stage the change in my own position had some effect. As a professor, I was the one in charge in many roles and the world seemed harsher, more arduous.

Today, the higher education sector has truly changed. The reform of legislation has changed the internal ordinance, and moreover, power and responsibility have largely been redistributed. Former tripartite arrangements have now become hierarchical management structures. The number of universities and universities of applied sciences has decreased, although mainly through mergers. This development is nearly breath-taking in the perspective of the 376-year history of the Finnish university institution. Hardly anyone can keep up with the changes. The political decision-makers, however, have felt that the changes are not enough. More and more is asked for and demanded.

Today, changes happen particularly between universities and universities of applied sciences. The University of Lapland and Lappeenranta University of Technology have already formed joint consortiums with local universities of applied sciences. Both of them believe in a shared future.

Over the past few months, the Tampere initiative has gotten the most attention. Originally, two universities and one university of applied sciences were to be united. Later, it was noticed that universities and universities of applied sciences are governed by different legislations. And the project was also otherwise quite challenging in Finland, where the dual model is the norm. They decided to plan a joint consortium, where a true merger would take place between the two universities.

The merger process between the University of Tampere and Tampere University of Technology, which has required a great deal of planning and thinking, has been rockier than people may have thought. Now we are at a point when the planning has taken a time out. Hopefully the time out will not be very long, because Tampere deserves a university that is strong in its profile and size.

From a distance, it seems that the initiative is hindered by the differing legislations and management systems of a public university and a foundation university. Even though the new university legislation has only been in effect for about six years, the current public university and foundation university have drifted into their own corners. If and when a fusion is being built, one of the first questions will be which university’s operations model will be followed, or would there be possibilities for new thinking. The university legislation does enable many kinds of practical solutions.

According to the university legislation, the board of a public university needs to have representatives from professors, other teaching and research staff, other staff and students. A foundation university presents fewer restrictions for its board, and the law neither demands nor prevents representatives of the university community from participating in the board of the foundation.

Could the composition of the board of the new foundation university differ from the composition of the current TUT board? Could there be representatives from the university community in the board of the new foundation? The founders of the foundation need to have a strong presence, but in an expert organisation, hearing out the personnel is also an asset.

(November 21, 2016)

Kaarle Hämeri
President, The Finnish Union of University Professors

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