torstai 8. maaliskuuta 2012

Higher education research in Finland - Emerging structures and contemporary issues

Suomalaisissa korkeakouluissa on tapahtunut monenmoista mullistusta 2000-luvulla. Aihepiiriä tutkitaan monilla eri tahoilla ja tieteenaloilla. Korkeakoulututkimuksen ajankohtaisista teemoista on ilmestynyt tuore kirja Higher education research in Finland - Emerging structures and contemporary issues (Jyväskylän yliopisto, Koulutuksen tutkimuslaitos, 2012).

Kirja tuo esille erilaisia lähestymistapoja ja traditioita korkeakoulututkimukseen ja pyrkii edistämään tieteidenvälistä vuoropuhelua. Koska kirja on englanninkielinen, samoin kuin merkittävä osa potentiaalista kuulijakuntaa, kirjoitin tämän kirja-arvio englanniksi.


Sakari Ahola and David M. Hoffman have edited a rewarding yearbook, in which higher education specialists inside Finland focus on its’ lesser reported higher education landscape: Higher education research in Finland - Emerging structures and contemporary issues (Finnish Institute for Educational Research, 2012; ISBN 978-951-39-4647-0).

During the last decade, there has been a lot of interest globally in the Finnish education system, as it appears to be a success story. In this book specialist look at higher education from the inside, making a closer look. What are the findings?

Here is some background about the book: “In Finland, research on higher education is spread out amongst various disciplines and locations, blending national traditions and addressing international trends. Since the beginning of 2000, the Consortium of Higher Education Researchers in Finland (CHERIF) has made an effort to present a current understanding and platform of communication about phenomenon linked to Finnish higher education.”

But let’s go to the articles and discuss some of the key themes of the book.

Jussi Välimaa discusses the relationship with the research and the subject of research, Finnish higher education. Here Välimaa gives the Ministry of Education and Culture positive feedback: “The support from the MOE should also be mentioned here, as the ministry, generally have respected the aims of building a higher education research community as an academic community, rather than using academic research as a purely instrumental tool of the ministry.”

However, even sound research and well-made plans may not be taken into account, as reported by Osmo Kivinen and Päivi Kaipainen, related to a proposal for a dual HE system in the turn of 1990s: “Namely, when the relevant preparation documents and proposal drafted by the ministry of education were presented to the parliament, almost all carefully prepared evidence-based guidelines were forgotten when members of the parliament eagerly began to drive the interests of their own electoral district. As a result, Finland got a hugely oversized and scattered non-university system that only recently has been taken under objective evaluation and consequent implementations.”

Jussi Kivistö and Jarkko Tirronen discuss Aalto university from the viewpoint of “new elitism”. In the turn of the millennium universities faced challenges of globalization, digitalization and marketization, resulting in a new policy environment: ‘”New higher education policy” is based on the incorporation of knowledge, research and innovations. In this policy, universities are primarily instruments of economic growth through knowledge production, innovation transfer and capitalizing processes.”

Also, a new kind of elitism appeared on the scene: ‘Unlike the traditional elitism, which was dealing with the privilege of few students, the new elitism is referring to the privilege of a few institutions, based on past prestige, current merits or future prospects. The main function of the new elitism is to pick out (as the original Latin word “eligere” implies) by ranking institutions deemed to be world class universities.’

Establishment of the Finnish Aalto University is given as an example of the instrumental function of the new elitism: “to gain competitive advantage over the other post-industrialized knowledge societies”.

On the topic of applied vs. basic research, Oili-Helena Ylijoki, Liisa Marttila and Anu Lyytinen find evidence of a strong personal interest by researchers for combining applied and basic research: “[T]he role of basic research nonetheless seems to be strong in Finnish universities, indicating that basic research continues to have appeal among academics, including junior researchers whose overall university experience is different from senior academics.”

And in the Nordic countries it seems that there is emerging a counter-movement from the emphasis on applications: “the rhetoric pendulum seems to be swinging back to an emphasis on a traditional notion of basic research.”

But what about the topic of financial autonomy since the recent university reform in Finland? Vuokko Kohtamäki discusses this topic and finds that context matters: “Financial autonomy takes on different meanings in situations when resources are abundant and available, compared to situations where resources are limited.” Given that Finnish universities confronted their new financial autonomy alongside a major economic crisis, it remains to be seen how the situation develops in the longer run.

All in all, this book is an excellent review of the topical questions of Finnish higher education institutions, and I’m sure it will find a lot of readers also outside Finland.

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