The Director's Review

2010 was the first year of the "new" university after the major structural university reform but this did not cause any significant adjustments to the Language Centre activities. The transition from civil service to contractual employment relationships took place smoothly. The Language Centre's status as an independent institute remained the same and there was no call for internal organizational reform. An important addition was the establishment of the unit for Support for Teaching and Learning when the Language Centre officially acquired the new post of senior lecturer in university pedagogy at the beginning of August. This new unit of expertise is now able to offer even better support to active teaching development work and research in the field in close conjunction with the longstanding teaching development committee and other working groups.

The core activity of the Language Centre is the provision of language and communication studies to university undergraduate students and this has proceeded exemplarily. It has been possible to meet all the demands for teaching and, in addition, the language revision and translation services required by the university community have also been dealt with expertly. The financial situation remained balanced.

In the early spring the Language Centre took part in the university's internal performance evaluation of teaching quality. From the point of view of our own development work, it was important that the efforts and achievements made in various areas should be documented in the proposal. It creates a common feeling of satisfaction in moving forward and attaining objectives. In May 2010, when the Rector then named the Language Centre as one of the University's centres of excellence in teaching for the period 2010-12, it was gratifying to note that the reward was seen as both a collective and an individual success: every bit of good work had its own significance.

According to the official evaluation, "In its proposal the Language Centre demonstrated its strong focus on the development of teaching and fostering a cooperative leadership culture. It has made systematic long-term investments in community processes and the target-focused development of operations, which can be seen in the excellent commitment of the entire personnel. Students have also been included in all the development work. The Language Centre has implemented changes to its practices based on previous evaluations and feedback. The proposal conveys the community's motivation and genuine engagement in changing the operating culture".

In early September, the Language Centre, together with the Network of Finnish University Language Centres (FINELC), organized the 11th International CercleS Conference, which gathered together more than 320 delegates from 25 countries. The conference was a great success, both in content and organization. Language Centre staff members gave presentations in the various focus sessions and the poster exhibition. The conference advanced international networking and also demonstrated the sound expertise of Finnish language centres.

As a consequence of the age structure of the Language Centre, retirements and the recruitment of new staff continued. The transfer of tacit knowledge and the orientation of new staff members were much in evidence and new orientation procedures came into use. New activities, such as the setting up of the unit Services for Native Language Communication Studies complete with new teachers, complemented the overall expertise of the Language Centre and the expanding coverage of services. From the standpoint of the teaching of language and communications in the university, it remains worrying that at the secondary level of education the choice of languages is narrowing and the level of skills is declining as a result. This puts pressure on the university language centres to continue with beginners' level courses and also to maintain a wide range of languages. The compiling of the proposed national strategy for languages may in itself result in a clarification of the objectives of language education and the distribution of responsibilities. The decrease in the number of majors offered by the university and the renewal of the Bachelor's degree may result in the content of language and communication studies for specific subjects becoming more diffuse target-group packages. The language needs of post-graduates and doctoral students also require closer investigation. The Language Centre cannot currently meet all these demands.

From the future perspective, it is crucial that the Language Centre continues to maintain the quality of its operations, to cultivate its expertise and to use this for the benefit of the whole university by predicting the growing needs for language and communication education and related services. Being pro-active, showing a willingness to adapt to the changing operational environment, and being capable of reacting to new challenges, strengthens not just the university but the Language Centre itself. While similar institutions in many universities have had to make cuts in their operations, it is most gratifying that the Language Centre has been able to reinforce the activities that promote internationalization, which is one of the targets that Helsinki University has been forcefully promoting. One example of this which took place in 2010 is the consolidation of the language support for the English-medium Master's programmes throughout the university.

Helsinki University Language Centre is dedicated to continue to be a collaborative, strong and dynamic centre of expertise both within its own university as well as nationally and internationally.

Ulla-Kristiina Tuomi

Director of the Language Centre