Student representative, this guide is for you! It includes information and tools to support you in your advocacy work at the University, current news and events for student representatives as well as materials produced by HYY. We want the guide to be useful for you and will update it continuously – please give us feedback if you have any wishes for it!
We students have our own positions in the University’s arenas of power – from the steering groups of degree programmes to the University’s highest decision-making bodies. The student representatives in these positions voice students’ opinions in meetings and advance and defend issues that are important to students. This way, in cooperation with the staff, we develop the University to look increasingly like its students.
We hope you stay motivated and have success with changing the University! Remember that you never have to do advocacy work alone. Students have power in numbers!
Are you interested in making studies run smoother or having a say in the University’s major policies? Would you like to act as the voice of your fellow students in the University’s decision-making processes as well as influence matters behind the curtain?
If you answered yes to even one of the above questions, you have what it takes to become a student representative! All students completing a degree at the University of Helsinki who have registered for attendance may apply to become a student representative. Further information on open positions for student representatives is available in the calls for applications published in the autumn.
The idea is to always improve both which common issues are advanced and how.
Are you confused by the University’s organisational structure and the relationships between different administrative bodies? Where are different things decided and what are the differences between deans, rectors and chancellors? No worries!
The University’s structure can be divided to the unit level – individual faculties and separate institutes – and the university level, where the University’s operations are developed as a whole. The University’s organisation as well as the powers and responsibilities of different bodies are defined in the University’s Regulations.
There are student representatives at all levels of the University, in both official administrative bodies and temporary working groups. The best way to influence matters that concern students at large is through cooperation between different bodies. This is why we recommend that you get to know and keep in contact with other student representatives!
At the end of this guide, we also have a glossary for student representatives, where we explain certain terms related to University administration.
Prepare well! When you get a meeting agenda and its attachments in your email, you should go through them attentively as soon as possible. If you need additional information on any of the issues to be discussed, you will still have time to get it from the person presenting the matter. You will also have time to chat with other student representatives on their views and proposed amendments. If needed, you could even ask whether the Student Union or the student representatives of other administrative bodies have any background information for you. For instance, the steering groups of degree programmes prepare matters for faculty councils, while larger issues, such as the University’s Strategic Plan, are processed in several different bodies at the University.
By staying up to date on current issues, you can also start influencing matters when they are still in preparation by contacting the presenters, the dean or other relevant parties. The earlier we bring students’ views forward, the likelier it is that the end result reflects them.
Do not hesitate to open your mouth! The meetings are a forum for exchanging thoughts and discussing matters. Students’ perspective matters and is often even separately asked for. You can also plan your comments in advance if you are unsure of talking spontaneously.
The number of decisions made in the meetings varies depending on the administrative body. In most matters, the presenter is the person who has been responsible for preparing the matter, often a member of the University’s administrative personnel. They will answer any questions that arise both in the meeting and before it. The agenda usually includes a few discussion items – these are items on which no actual decision is made. Most of the time in the meeting is spent on discussing these items. We recommend that you bring up students’ perspectives especially on discussion items. If you are unsure about the order in which matters are processed, the right to speak, how to shelve matters or anything else related to meeting technique, you can always read up on these issues from the University’s instructions on meeting procedures.
Tell others what happened in the meeting! Communicating to students or even other student representatives through suitable routes is a good way of keeping others up to date on what is going on. The Facebook groups on the study affairs of the faculty or HYY, for instance, are well-suited for this purpose. After one matter has been under discussion, other related matters may well come up to be decided later. It is a good idea to collect opinions and also simply show that student representatives are being active. This makes other people interested in advocacy work and makes it easier to find successors when your term is ending.
The University is always responsible for official communication on various changes, but it is important for students’ influencing opportunities that they know what is going on in the preparation of decisions. This way, students are able to express their views before the decisions are made.
As a rule of thumb, the subjects discussed in meetings and the contents of the discussion in them are public information, whereas information on who said what is not. You can thus summarise what was discussed in the meetings on a general level but should not quote the comments of individual members after the meeting. Also, you should not describe matters concerning individual students (such as discussion on theses) in a way that makes it possible to identify the student.
If you are unsure what you can disclose about the matters discussed in the meeting, just ask for advice from the chair or secretary of the meeting. Being careful when dealing with confidential matters deserves respect and should not be a bother to anyone.
Communicating about ongoing processes is not easy, and misunderstandings can occasionally give rise to unsubstantiated rumours. To avoid this, you should contextualise the discussion: why have certain matters been discussed now, is it an initial discussion or a final decision and what is the next step in the process?
It is always better to communicate briefly than not at all. Brief, concise communication is also generally considered more interesting. Encouraging people to ask further questions and make comments creates interaction, which also provides you with valuable information for your advocacy work!
Follow these channels to keep up to date with changes taking place at the University, the preparation work for decision-making processes as well as HYY’s advocacy work!
We support students’ opportunities to influence matters at the University by collecting useful sources of information for student advocates as well as the materials from training events organised by HYY into one place.
Did you miss out on a training event? No worries! Here, you will find material from HYY’s training and information events for student representatives, study advisors and everyone else interested in study affairs as well as the guides published by HYY. The guide on student representatives’ work aimed at international students also serves as a useful info package for Finnish- and Swedish-speaking representatives and those aiming to become one!
The University Collegium is a forum representing the entire University – its members include professors, other university personnel and students from all faculties of the University. The duties of the Collegium include appointing members from outside the University community to the University Board, appointing the Chancellor of the University and the university auditors as well as confirming the university’s financial statements and annual report. The duties are described in more detail in the Universities Act and the University Statutes. 15 of the Collegium’s 50 members are students. Students can also act as the chair of the Collegium. In addition to its actual meetings, the Collegium also meets outside them to discuss the University’s broader development, on which it has a lot of influence.
The Board is the highest decision-making body in the University. It has both internal members (see tripartite principle) and members from outside the University representing diverse societal expertise, with the latter group appointed by the University Collegium. The Board has 13 members, two of whom are student members. The Board decides on issues such as the University’s Strategy and financial objectives, approves significant agreements and issues the University’s statements on major matters of principle. The Board’s duties are described in more detail in the Universities Act and the University Statutes.
The rector and the vice rectors are referred to collectively as the Rectorate.
The Academic Affairs Council is an administrative body led by the vice rector in charge of academic affairs. It brings together the vice deans in charge of teaching at faculties and experts in academic administration. Students are represented on the council by HYY’s specialist in educational policy and one student representative. The Academic Affairs Council is a crucial place for advocacy work, as most of those rector’s and vice rector’s decisions related to teaching and policies on processes for developing teaching that concern the entire University are prepared in the council.
The Scientific Council is an administrative body led by the vice rector in charge of research matters. It brings together the vice deans in charge of research matters at faculties as well as the directors of research institutes. Doctoral students (postgraduate students / young researchers) are represented on the council by one student representative. The Scientific Council develops matters related to the University’s common research policy and research activities, such as doctoral education, research careers, research infrastructure, strategic research areas, research assessment and issues related to the societal impact of research.
The Societal Interaction Council is an administrative body led by the vice rector in charge of societal interaction. It brings together the vice deans or deans in charge of societal interaction in faculties. The council is the highest committee in charge of the directing, strategic planning and implementation of the University’s activities related to societal interaction. Its task is to strengthen the impact and consistency of the University’s actions in relation to societal interaction. Students are represented on the council by HYY’s specialist in educational policy.
The Internationalisation Council is an administrative body led by the vice rector in charge of international affairs. It brings together the vice deans or deans in charge of internationality in faculties as well as experts in university administration. There is also one student representative on the council. The council is in charge of managing the University’s internationalisation as a whole, and it also makes policy decisions on issues such as international partnerships and education export as well as promotes the realisation of the University’s global responsibility.
The University has 11 faculties, which have authority over their own finances and teaching within the limits set by the Board and the rector. Each faculty has a faculty council, which has student representation. The faculties decide on their division into departments or other smaller units themselves. The Swedish School of Social Science is a separate unit that corresponds to the faculties and also has student representation on its board.
The faculty councils are the highest decision-making bodies in faculties, and they are led by the deans. They develop the faculty’s operations based on goals set by the faculty itself as well as the University. Their duties include selecting the dean, deciding on the faculty’s budgets and implementation plans as well as the curricula prepared by the steering groups of degree programmes. They also issue the faculty’s official statements on developing the University. The size of the faculty councils varies, but they always have tripartite representation and either three or five student representatives along with their vice members.
Some faculties are divided into smaller operating units, which are usually called departments. In many faculties, the personnel structure and supervisory relationships are based on departmental divisions. Departments and other smaller units in the faculties do not have their own budgets, nor do they have students under their direction. Instead, they use funds within the limits set by the faculty council, whereas students always belong to degree programmes.
All students study in degree programmes, most of which are divided into study tracks. Each bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programme has a director and an steering group with student representatives to develop teaching in the degree programme. Degree programmes can belong to one faculty or be shared by several faculties. However, all degree programmes have one faculty that is named in charge of them – administratively, the degree programme belongs to this faculty.
Students belong not only to degree programmes, but in most degree programmes also to more specialised study tracks. Specialisation into study tracks takes place either right at the beginning of studies or at a later point during them.
Degree programmes have steering groups that are appointed by the dean and include two student representatives and their vice members. The steering groups make proposals on curricula that are in effect for several years as well as decide on the annual teaching schedule – this makes it the most important administrative body from the perspective of everyday studies.
The steering groups of degree programmes may sometimes be called executive groups as a direct translation from Finnish. The terms ‘steering group’ or ’executive group’ can also refer to other groups than the steering groups of degree programmes – for instance, the executive or management group of the University, which includes the rectors, the director of administration, the directors of different sectors and one dean from each campus; the executive group of a faculty; or the executive group of doctoral education within the entire University, for which the student representatives are chosen by the University of Helsinki PhD Students.
All doctoral programmes (see degree programme) belong to one of the University’s four doctoral schools. Closely related disciplines belong to the same school, such as the Doctoral School in Humanities and Social Sciences. Further information is available on the University’s website.
Independent institutes are units at the University that produce various services for the entire University as well as the society at large. They include the Open University, the Language Centre, UniSport, the Helsinki University Library, the National Library, the Helsinki University Museum and the Finnish Museum of Natural History LUOMUS. All independent institutes have their own boards, which also have student representation.
The Language Centre is an independent institute within the University. It provides language and communication teaching in all faculties and degree programmes, provides language and translation services and develops and studies language teaching. The Board of the Language Centre has two student representatives along with their vice members.
The Open University is an independent institute within the University. It provides university instruction to everyone, including those who are not completing a degree at the University. However, degree students can also utilise the instruction provided by the Open University. The Board of the Open University has one student representative along with their personal vice member.
University Services is the unit that employs all administrative personnel at the University. The administrative personnel make our University’s entire operation possible. University Services is divided into different sectors: teaching and learning services, HR services, financial services, research services, communications and community relations, facilities and properties and administrative services. Each sector has its own director. Further information on the operations of University Services is available in Flamma.
The Rector directs the University and is responsible for the University’s duties being carried out in a financial, efficient and profitable manner. The Rector represents the University in public and decides on matters that have not been designated as the duty of the University’s administrative bodies or other directors. The Rector’s decisions often deal with matters that concern the entire University as well as issues such as establishing new degree programmes and hiring new professors. The University’s Board appoints the Rector for a term of five years at a time at the most.
The Board appoints vice rectors for the University based on the Rector’s proposal. One of the vice rectors must hold a Swedish-language professor’s post. The vice rectors are in charge of their own areas of responsibility and, for instance, chair the highest councils operating in the areas – the Academic Affairs Council, the Scientific Council, the Societal Interaction Council and the Internationalisation Council – all of which also have student representation. Like the rector, the vice rectors are appointed for one five-year term at a time.
The Director of Administration directs University Services – that is, the administration of the entire University. The Director of Administration supports the Rector in directing the University and acts as the secretary general for the Board of the University.
The chief financial officer of the University of Helsinki forms the management of the University group together with the Board, the Rector and the Director of Administration.
Director of the faculty appointed by the faculty council from among the professors in the faculty. The dean is in charge of the faculty’s operations and finances to the extent that the duties have not been assigned to the faculty council or some other administrative body by the University Statutes, the Rector’s decisions or some other regulations. The dean is appointed for a term of five years at a time at the most.
Faculties have one or more vice deans, according to the dean’s decision. The vice deans act in their own areas of responsibility in the faculty and as representatives of the faculty in society and the University’s various councils: the vice dean in charge of teaching in the Academic Affairs Council, the vice dean in charge of research in the Scientific Council, the vice dean in charge of societal interaction in the Societal Interaction Council and the vice dean in charge of international affairs in the Internationalisation Council.
Each faculty has a designated head of academic affairs in charge of directing the faculty’s study administration. The heads of academic affairs are also in charge of matters related to students’ legal protection.
The Universities Act provides regulations on the Finnish universities, their duties and the self-governance, or autonomy, of universities. Universities’ operations must adhere to the Universities Act as well as certain decrees issued by the government and the Ministry of Education and Culture. In addition to this, universities are governed by legislation such as the Non-Discrimination Act, the Equality Act and the Act on the Openness of Government Activities.
The University’s administrative bodies generally have representatives from three groups that belong to the University community and are defined in the Universities Act (Section 15): 1) professors, 2) the ‘middle group’, or other teaching and research personnel as well as other personnel, which consists primarily of the personnel of University Services, and 3) students. This division is referred to as the tripartite system, and bodies based on this kind of representation of the university community follow the tripartite principle.
When all groups of the university community have the same number of representatives in an administrative body, we have what is known as the tripartite system with equal representation. This is not the case at the University of Helsinki – professors are in the majority in the administrative bodies that follow the tripartite system. HYY’s goal is to get the tripartite system with equal representation adopted at the University of Helsinki, too.
The Strategic Plan is the highest document guiding the University’s operations. It is drafted for a period of several years, such as 2021–2030. When drafting the strategic plan or updating it during the strategy period, faculty councils comment on it according to their own goals, and students can also comment on it, even directly. The strategic plan is implemented through annual implementation plans.
The University’s Strategic Plan is implemented according to annually drafted implementation plans. Faculties and independent institutes have their own annual implementation plans that follow both the Strategic Plan and their own policies, such as programmes of objectives.
University Regulations, also translated as the Statutes of the University of Helsinki define how the University operates: its administrative structure, the duties of different directors and administrative bodies, the required qualifications for different positions, the status of the Swedish language at the University and much more. In addition to the highest statute, the most important document guiding the University’s operations from a student perspective is the Regulations on Degrees and the Protection of Students’ Rights at the University of Helsinki, which student representatives should definitely get acquainted with. The Board decides on the University Statutes, and when the statutes are being renewed, extensive comment rounds are held for faculty councils, for instance.
In addition to the University Statutes, the University’s operations are guided by individual decisions. The decisions made by the rectors and certain other university-level directors are also available for everyone to read. As a student or student representative, you can appeal to these decisions if, for instance, a teacher decides to organise teaching during the afternoon of the opening day of the academic year – and in several more important issues, as well. In faculties, these decisions are made by the dean, among others, whereas in independent institutes, they are made by the institutes’ directors.
The steering groups of degree programmes annually decide on the teaching schedule for the next academic year. The teaching schedule determines the study units offered during the academic year, including their time, methods of completion and supervising teachers.
The curriculum of a degree programme or, for instance, the Language Centre, is a three-year plan that sets out matters such as the programme’s degree structure and the study modules and individual study units it includes along with their learning objectives and evaluation methods. The faculty councils decide on the curricula, but the best way to influence them as a student representative is in the steering groups of degree programmes, which prepare the curricula for the faculty councils.
When curricula change, a transition period that usually lasts the duration of one curriculum period (3 years) begins. During this period, it is still possible to study and graduate according to the requirements of the previous curriculum.
When you move from an old curriculum to a new one, the courses you have already completed that adhere to the old curriculum can be used to replace the courses that adhere to the new curriculum according to certain transition rules. The transition rules are always approved in connection with the new curriculum, which means that they are prepared in the steering groups of degree programmes and decided by the faculty councils.
Whenever wondering something related to being a student representative, don't hesitate to contact our student representative specialist.
Higher education policy, student representatives, students' legal protection
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