Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Yes, professor

The curse of empty paper. Or screen, in this case. It can be very crippling sometimes, and can drive me up the wall. The good thing about this blog is that whenever I'm finding it difficult to start writing about something I've decided to write about, I can always switch to procrastination mode and write about the difficulty of writing about whatever it is I want to write about. Almost magic (if it weren't so sad :-) )!

OK, this time it's not really about where to start, but more about whether to write about this at all, whether I want to bring these themes to Planet P or not. What the heck...

The way universities are run in Finland makes no sense.

If you want to know what is going on in the uni or in any of its departments or faculties, you need to talk to the administrative staff. The numerous reforms and projects that the universities occupy themselves with are usually their pet peeves, but usually the nagging is semi-serious at most.

Something seems very different this time, though. I've now been here for two weeks. Or one, as I was in the Castle for a week, and actually have been working at home for most of the time, but there seems to be a theme emerging anyway. Everyone, and that is EVERYONE I talk to has something very negative to say about the recent big organisational changes or the way they've been implemented, or both. There is frustration, even despair, and while the university has been through rough times before (as in the mid 90's when the economic depression was squeezing the budgets) there is now the added frustration that this rough batch seems mostly self-inflicted, partly by the ministry, partly by the university.

These same themes have been prominent in the few chats I've had with the academic staff as well. I've heard a lot about the new IT systems and the new salary system, the re-organisation of administrative services, the refurbishments of the buildings and facilities. And in proportion very little about teaching or research. Not sure if anyone has time to do any of those anymore, with so many structural development projects and administrative exercises going on.

It's not just about using time on admin rather than research, as in every university, even in the very top ones, the academic staff has to do more than just teach or do research. But it is what this other time is used for. In most top universities it is used for fundraising or project proposals and applications. Frustrating, yes, but at least you can think that it benefits the faculty in the end. Here the benefits seems less... concrete. And fundraising wouldn't make any sense anyway, as the system actively discourages such activities. Since the uni is essentially a government office, the budget you get must be spent the same year, and it can't be saved for the future and definitely can't be set aside for worse times. So at the same time as there is a major squeeze on personnel and downsizing of administrative services and departments, loose cash is spent on frivolities just because not spending it would mean a smaller budget the next year. And no matter how big a fan of the public education system you are (and I'm pretty big), surely this makes no sense.

You could take "Yes, Minister" and adapt it to be "Yes, Professor" or "Yes, Chancellor" and it would fit perfectly.

I don't want to sound negative, because I'm still quite enthusiastic about this job and very keen to get on with it, but I can't help thinking about these things. Universities are about people, but here the priorities seem to be different. I hope I'm wrong, I hope it is just the way it seems.

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