keskiviikko 4. huhtikuuta 2012

The University in the Making of the Welfare State - The 1970s Degree Reform in Finland

Marja Jalava has written an extremely interesting review of Finnish educational policies, focusing on the higher education reform in the 1970s but also providing a wider perspective on the Finnish university system: The University in the Making of the Welfare State - The 1970s Degree Reform in Finland
(Peter Lang, 2012; ISBN 978-3-631-58461-3).

One of the potential topics of discussion related to the Finnish university system is whether there is such a thing as “Nordic identity”. Here Jalava notes: ‘As such, regardless of whether a distinct “Nordic welfare regime” in the proper sense has ever existed or whether it has merely been a variation on common European patterns and themes, it has remained a powerful reality as the political and ideological discourse throughout the period in question.”

But lets go back in history a bit, to the early days of the Finnish university system.

In the 1800s Russia had a major influence on Finnish higher education: ‘In general, universities were looked upon as functions of the state, and from the perspective of economic advantage. As summed up in 1850 by the Russian Governor-General of Finland, Prince Aleksandr Menschikov, the “old-style” universities appeared to be disastrous for their respective countries, since they had failed to distinguish between the educational principle and social criticism.’

In the early 1900s, University of Helsinki player a major role in Finnish society: “The position of the University of Helsinki was further strengthened by the active political role of its professoriate. From 1918 to 1944, half of the Finnish prime ministers were or had been professors at the university, and during the same period, there was only one government that did not have at least one professor in its Cabinet.”

After the war, in 1950s and 1960s, it was realized that investing in research and education is not a sacrifice but a productive investment: ‘All in all, in less than ten years, the majority of leading Finnish politicians and experts, including the president of Finland, Urho Kekkonen, had made a U-turn in their attitude to higher education. The baby-boomer “student flood” was no longer considered a natural disaster threatening to break down the nation’s bearing capacity, but a national resource which, similar to water resources in Northern Finland, was highly valuable once harnessed to productive purposes.’

In the 1960s, President Kekkonen took an active role in educational policy, establishing a working group on higher education: “President Kekkonen staked his authority on the case by making a radio speech in the very same day as the group published its report. […] Kekkonen boldly concluded that he fully supported a law on the development of higher education and research training over the period of 1966-1980, brooking no bargaining over the issue or efforts to water it down.”

The Ministry of Education had a very strong position in the 1960s, and expanded its reach: “The centralization of higher education continued in 1971, when all universities came under control of the Ministry of Education despite the opposition of universities of technology, business schools, and the interest groups of industry and commerce, which, for good reasons, worried about the increasing interference of the civil servants in the university-industry research collaboration.”

In the early 1970s, there appeared a strong leftist movement of students: “Ironically, for many Finnish students with a bourgeois background, the decisive turning point to radicalization was an exchange student year in USA, based on the Fulbright Exchange Program initially established to strengthen the Western capitalist orientation in Europe.”

And the same time, educational policies shifted to the left, resulting in a very ambitious degree reform attempt. The various phases of the reform provide fascinating reading, but I won’t go into the details here.

However, gradually there appeared a strong unified opposition in the reform, and the final results were far from the initial wide-ranging plans: “After more than 3,000 people had worked on the reform five years more or less full-time, the end result eventually seemed to differ only slightly from the starting point regarding the bold ambition of reinventing higher education.”

However, this reform attempt did have a lasting effect, as the successors of the reformers invented new more effective ways of reforming the university system as a whole, and the new approach took shape in the 1980s, emphasizing accountability, quality and management by results.

Here is how Arvo Jäppinen, the future head of the Department for Higher Education and Science Policy at the Ministry described the new approach in 1989: “The overall starting point of the new policy is that the state allocates more resources and power of decisions to the universities, but at the same time, it expects of them profitable performance.”

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