Democracy needs its champions


University democracy is a source of pride for the Finnish university system and education for democracy.


I first got involved in student advocacy work by coincidence. I was at an afterparty and got talked into applying to become a student representative on the University Collegium. At first, I was somewhat wary of the idea but decided to apply in the end. After all, I felt I had a lot to offer, and I had nothing to lose by applying. I ended up being selected for the position. I was about to dive in at the deep end.

The first meeting has stuck to my mind particularly well. Most of the other student representatives were veterans in student advocacy work. Even though there was a lot to absorb at short notice, I still managed to get a grip on the most important subjects under discussion in the student group and the collegium itself in a relatively short time. Every single one of these subjects could be derived from one broader theme: democracy.

Finnish academic tradition includes an exceptionally strong emphasis on different groups’ opportunities to influence matters at the University. In part, this is purely tradition, but it is still something I think we should be proud of. In Finland, we understand how important something like student participation in University administration is for the entire community.

The sustainable operation of the University community requires student participation. Students build the foundation for academic continuity and, in the long term, the University’s societal impact. On many fields, student participation is well taken care of simply due to their nature and traditions. In the grand scheme of things, however, the work on increasing student participation in the University community is more challenging and requires more established practices.

Democracy is not something we can take for granted – it is a value and operating method that requires an arduous long-term process to adopt and reinforce. Science and education also play an important role in strengthening democracy, as they lay the foundation for the society we are building and for our perception of the relevance of society.

We live in a rapidly changing world in which many democracies that have long been considered stable are now under threat. One factor that the development of these societies clearly has in common is the way in which freedom of speech, and academic freedom and freedom of the media in particular, has been restricted in them. Authoritarian movements methodically and characteristically aim to silence critical voices and thinking. It is important to recognise this alarming development and to understand its disastrous effects.

It is now more crucial than ever for us students to act as the voice of democracy, education and freedom, both at the University and in society.


Onni Nyman

Member of the Board in charge of educational policy