Why are you unnecessarily opening the Universities Act?
The Ministry of Education and Culture launched the Vision for Higher Education 2030 project this spring, inviting people from universities and universities of applied sciences as well as central interest groups from various sectors of society to participate. The premises for the vision work were promising, as the development of universities in recent years has been unstable and tied to government terms.
In the final stretch of the vision work, the Ministry of Education has proposed moving legislation concerning universities and universities of applied sciences under a single act on higher education institutions (Helsingin Sanomat 4.9.2017 http://www.hs.fi/politiikka/art-2000005352698.html). This proposal has previously not been on the table in any public events – instead, the Ministry has come out with the theme without hearing the communities of universities and universities of applied sciences at all.
The Ministry has been silent on its concrete goals, with the exception of the possibility of joining universities and universities of applied sciences together. The Ministry’s proposal now casts doubts on whether it means to completely rewrite the entire Universities Act.
Many goals worth supporting have been proposed in connection with the Vision for Higher Education project. These include increasing the share of population with higher education to half of each age group, increasingly extensive multidisciplinary degree programmes and increasingly flexible mobility between programmes and higher education institutions.
None of these goals requires new legislation. They can be reached perfectly well without completely reforming the Universities Act and the Universities of Applied Sciences Act.
Increasing – or even maintaining – the share of population with higher education requires taking back the disastrous cuts to education and reinstating public, index-linked funding for universities, which was abolished during the previous university reform in 2009–2010.
Multidisciplinary degree programmes and increased mobility, on the other hand, require replacing cooperation negotiations and savings with peace at the higher education institutions to allow personnel to genuinely have time and resources for long-term development work. The University of Helsinki, for instance, has only just completed an ambitious degree programme reform aimed specifically at establishing broader-based and more multidisciplinary degree programmes than before.
Is the Ministry of Education looking for something entirely different by reforming the Universities Act, then? Are universities and universities of applied sciences being brought closer to each other step by step, making them lose their respective profiles, orientation towards research and working life, in the process? Is the plan to set up tuition fees for second degrees or even for Master’s studies? Or is the aim to change the statutory status of student unions and the principles of university democracy?
Our questions are genuine, as neither the Vision for Higher Education nor the Ministry of Education’s proposal for a legislative reform provides any answers.
We respectfully ask Minister of Education Sanni Grahn-Laasonen the following: could we abandon legislative reforms dictated from above and focus on developing operations in cooperation with the entire higher education community – in other words, involving students and staff in the process, too?
Laura Luoto, HYY Chair of the Board
+35 850 543 9610