Rector Kola: universities must specialise more clearly 

According to Rector Jukka Kola, international funding received by one university benefits the whole  Finnish university sector. In his speech at the opening of the University of Helsinki’s academic year, Kola also called for a clearer division of responsibilities between institutions of higher education and a more prominent standing for higher education.

Speaking at the opening of the University of Helsinki’s academic year on 4 September, Rector Jukka Kola called for more higher education graduates and improvements to the quality of the education.

“The objective should be that at least half of young adults complete a higher education degree by 2030,” stated the rector.

During the coming decades, employment and society at large will undergo rapid, extensive changes. Many traditional occupations will disappear and competence will be emphasised more than degree diplomas. According to Kola, high-standard research and the teaching based on it create a good position for meeting changes in the future. 

 “What is crucial is to build up such expertise and competence which will allow students to continue learning and creating new solutions. Lifelong learning will become even more important,” emphasises Kola. 

In addition to increasing the quantity of higher education graduates, quality is at least of equal concern: the quality of education, the content of studies as well as teaching and learning methods call for attention. 

“We must develop student admissions and ensure a smoother transition from secondary to higher education. Admissions based on matriculation examination results alone may not be enough to ensure a motivated student body pursuing studies in fields which interest them, so we must continue to develop our admission processes,” Kola says.

As it is unlikely that available student places will increase significantly in the future, Kola emphasises the importance of enabling a clear study path and increasing supervision of studies, theses and dissertations. Kola would like to involve students in research at the basic studies stage, to increase their motivation and enthusiasm. 

A clearer division of responsibilities between institutions of higher education

According to Kola, closer regional cooperation among universities, universities of applied science, research institutes and companies as well as institutions of secondary education would yield considerable benefit and wellbeing, even on the national level. Regional division of responsibilities is as important as developing a national profile. 

 “Regardless of the funding situation, but especially because of the limitations it poses, we need more explicit, effective specialisation and profile building throughout higher education. This, in turn, requires collaboration, but above all a clear division of responsibilities,” says Kola.

Universities will have to be more successful in international funding rounds, which requires focusing on the strengths of their research. High-quality, high-impact research is a requirement for applying and receiving international research funding, and it cannot be generated with scattered resources. 

“Mutual competition for limited national resources does not bring in more funds. Instead, Finland’s entire university sector will benefit from international funding granted to an individual university,” Kola points out.

According to its strategy, the University of Helsinki is seeking funding from international foundations with the goal of acquiring significant, long-term investments in research. They would help improve the University’s research and its competitiveness.

“Our recent position at No 56 in the Shanghai academic ranking is also testament to the excellent work of our research and teaching staff as well as support staff,” Kola points out.

Aiming for a quiet year after major changes

Despite the financial troubles of the past few years, the University of Helsinki has made significant investments in internal reforms and research profiling. 

“During the coming academic year, we will focus primarily on further implementing the changes that are already in effect. For example, we will continue the implementation of the Big Wheel reform and the development of new procedures for University Services. After a year of major changes, all staff need to be able to do their jobs in peace, from University Services employees to our academic staff,” says Kola.

During the week preceding the opening ceremony, the rector greeted new students who are beginning their studies this year.  

“Many told me that being admitted to the University of Helsinki was a dream come true. It is now our responsibility to make sure that they pursue the next dream after attaining this one. The more than 3,000 Master’s and doctoral degree holders who graduate from the University each year are the greatest social impact that we can make, each and every day.”

Speech by Rector Jukka Kola

Speech by the chair of the University of Helsinki lecturers’ association Inkeri Ruokonen  

Speech by the chair of the University of Helsinki Student Union’s Board, Laura Luoto