The Universities Act must be reformed – better influencing opportunities for the staff
MAY BE PUBLISHED ON 15 SEPTEMBER 2016 AT 10:00 A.M.
The impact evaluation of the Universities Act reform was published today. The evaluation makes clear beyond any doubt that differences of opinion between the university management and staff have worsened. The conclusions of the final report stress that the university community’s perception of having less involvement in decision-making cannot be disregarded as mere normal resistance to change and that one of the key challenges in the future is to ensure the university community’s stronger feeling of participation.
“In nearly all statements of the evaluation report, the opinions of especially professors and other teaching and research staff about the effects of the Universities Act differ radically from the opinions of the university management. Now it is high time to take the feedback seriously, reform the Universities Act and improve the influencing opportunities of the staff,” stress the Finnish Union of University Professors and the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers.
According to the report commissioned from Owal Group Oy by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, no less than 72 per cent of professors and other teaching and research staff disagreed fully or to some extent with the statement “The units at the different levels of the university can exert sufficient influence on the content of our university’s strategy”.
The Finnish Union of University Professors and the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers consider it absolutely necessary that the staff’s participation and influencing opportunities are improved in the overall strategic planning related to universities. The importance of the collegiate body should be increased in university administration. According to the evaluation report, the role of the university collegiate body is unclear and poorly defined in many universities. Under the current Act, the responsibilities of the collegiate body include the confirmation of the financial statements and the annual report.
“The Universities Act should be amended so that the approval of the university’s strategy, the budget prepared by the Board and the action and economic plan as well as the confirmation of the university regulations are added to the tasks of the collegiate body.”
Proposed amendments related to the responsibilities of the collegiate body mainly apply to public universities, but similar amendments that allow the staff to have more of an influence should also be implemented in foundation universities.
Now two evaluations have been carried out into the Universities Act, which entered into force in early 2010. After the previous (2013) evaluation, the Education and Culture Committee of the Parliament commented that universities’ decision-making should make more use of the extensive expertise found in universities. It also noted that, in order to be realised, high-level strategic solutions and longer-term plans require broad support from the university community and the internalisation of goals which can only be reached with sufficient regard for the staff’s views and a well-functioning co-operation.
Serious messages with regard to work motivation
In addition to shortcomings in university administration, the evaluation report also provided serious feedback on stress caused by university work, coping with work and work motivation.
A total of 64 per cent of professors and other teaching and research staff were of the opinion that the new Universities Act has had a very or rather negative effect on stress caused by work. 60 per cent of them considered that the impact of the Universities Act on work motivation was very or rather negative.
In open questions, the staff were asked about the single factor that has caused most changes in their own well-being at work. Increasing workload was mentioned 164 times, weaker influencing opportunities 115 times, funding-related changes 96 times, uncertainty with regard to one’s own work 69 times and statutory co-operation negotiations 60 times. A total of 690 persons who had worked for more than five years in the same university responded to the question.
“The evaluation report states several times that the increased criticism from the staff is partly due to the general economic situation and statutory co-operation negotiations at universities. This is probably true, but this should be considered a sort of stress test. Testing the act and the new form of universities in these circumstances revealed weaknesses that should be rectified rather sooner than later,” notes Kaarle Hämeri, Chairman of the Finnish Union of University Professors.
Kaarle Hämeri, Chairman (Finnish Union of University Professors), +358 (0)40 568 4487;
Petri Koikkalainen, Chairman (Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers), +358 (0)50 544 7442;
Tarja Niemelä, General Manager (Finnish Union of University Professors), +358 (0)50 3402 725;
Eeva Rantala, General Manager (Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers), +358 (0)40 7508 284.
The final report of the impact evaluation of the Universities Act reform can be found on the Ministry of Education and Culture website at http://www.minedu.fi/OPM/Julkaisut/2016/yliopistolaki.html?lang=en.