In his speech, Rector Niemelä mentioned the number of challenges that humanity is currently facing, including extreme weather phenomena, technological advances, health and income inequality as well as struggling political systems. Niemelä pointed out that solving global problems requires cooperation.
“The University of Helsinki is capable of providing research-based knowledge to mitigate climate change, to engender sustainable urban development and to utilise artificial intelligence. Indeed, I wish to challenge society – and its decision-makers in particular – to cooperate with universities in solving these global challenges,” Niemelä states.
He went on to say that amidst upheavals, the importance of the University’s mission is further highlighted. Niemelä urged universities to remain vigilant in reiterating the importance of the University and its educational mission. Especially in European discourse, universities are considered significant integrators of society as well as maintainers of togetherness and solidarity.
“You could say that universities serve as beacons of scientific thinking, reflecting the light of education and defending the shared European value base, which comprises respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law,” Niemelä says.
Universities challenged by the transformation of studying and knowledge acquisition
The educational mission of universities is rapidly changing, and the transformation of studying and knowledge acquisition is challenging universities. Students acquire their knowledge and skills also in ways other than traditional studying: information is sought online, from peers and through practical work.
“In an era of knowledge fragmentation, the educational attraction of universities is based on research of a high standard. Reliance on research separates university instruction from knowledge acquired from the internet or peers, or that based on personal experience,” says Rector Niemelä.
“Universities are generators of skills-based immigration”
Niemelä noted that as younger age groups become smaller and skilled workers age, universities must also attract students and skilled workers from abroad.
“Universities are generators of skills-based immigration. I hope the transition to professional life will be made as attractive and smooth as possible for international students,” he suggests.
Niemelä also brought up the responsibility of universities to support universities and societies that start from less favourable conditions.
“Finland should strengthen its global status in solving the crisis in learning in developing countries. Bearing its responsibility for global affairs, the University of Helsinki is contributing to this important work, which highlights the sustainable development goals of the United Nations.”
Chair of the Board Tommi Kokkonen, The Helsinki University Researchers’ and Teachers’ Association, and Chair of the Board Laura Wathén, The Student Union of the University of Helsinki: Speech at the opening ceremony of the University’s academic year, 2 September 2019