The New Normal in Finland’s Higher Education

It seems like a good idea, doesn’t it? Take knowledge (science) and know-how (engineering/technology) and add a bit of beauty and humanity (art and design) and wrap it up for a profitable sale (“economics”). Et VOILÀ: Aalto University!

Finland no longer lives off the forest (paper and pulp manufacturing has shifted to the Global South even if not everyone in Finland appreciates this – nice pdf on the topic here). “Nokia” was not actually proof that Finland is the pinnacle of evolution, but more an accident (serendipity if you want to be polite). Panic!?

Response: old waffle about the triple-helix of university-government-business and endless creative-economy-babble.  This passes for political rhetoric these days in Finland, not least in Helsinki. The Finnish capital is governed according to an ideology that presses everyone to be entrepreneurial and design-oriented, one that’s fuelled further by the global non-event of Helsinki being design capital of the world 2012. (I mean, had you heard of a design capital before Helsinki?)

Anyway, Aalto University was created, synthesising the ingredients you need to create innovations  i.e. commercial opportunity. A long story, but many were angered as legislation on higher education and university staff was totally overhauled. The critics lost, and the new institution opened for business (I think that’s the right word), at the start of the year. Since then humanities and social research have been identified as good places to make savings in the national budget and are set to atrophy across the country. (Odd – it’s quite cheap to study humanities.)

Alas, not only does it look like it’s hard work for the institutions and their top-dogs to adapt to the new situation, the student unions too are fighting amongst themselves. Over money. Actually, it’s mainly the two institutions who have any, the engineers and the business schoolers or economist-types. It appears that the latter were shrewd enough to transfer some of their abundant wealth into a place where the others couldn’t get a hold of it, and since June many people, including lawyers, have been trying to figure out what happened and whether there is a way out of the impasse. A cynic might note that the “territorial pissing” of the leadership has been well learned by the student body. On the other hand,  The Usual reports that a recent meeting on the topic did hear tired but wise words from one of those involved:

JHJ’s translation:

“We were given a unique opportunity. We got to build a new students union. We failed totally”.

By “us” he means the older engineering and economics students.

And “he” is a Markus Heimonen, former chair of the Student Union of the Helsinki University of Technology [in Espoo, JHJ.]

So it’s no surprise then that the debate about any future campus construction is being postponed. University building has been quite a lucrative business for architects and regenerators in recent years, though as with so much capital-intensive building, it’ll remain to be seen whether the new capacity turns out to be over-capacity. So thank goodness we don’t need to worry, just yet, about how the new beast will shape our shared environment.

Interesting thought that universities might face a property bubble. In Britain, say, not everyone will choose university at £9000 a pop.

And so British students, of course, are vocal about their anger. It was from an article in today’s Guardian on that topic that I found the idea that we’re being asked to live a “new normal”.  Things we recently took to be obscene or scary are not just justified are now offered to us as Good Things. Or at least the least bad option.


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