Baba Lybeck: “Belittling science is irresponsible”

Baba Lybeck, an alumna of the University of Helsinki, wishes to contribute to supporting science and her home university.

Journalist and presenter Baba Lybeck already knew her future profession in her last year of secondary school in 1985: she applied to and was hired by Radio City, a legendary local radio station.

“I thought I was going to do office work, but I got a show of my own, entitled Havis Amanda,” Lybeck recalls.

“At first, I was petrified. To begin with, the work was very exciting and hard, but I quickly found my groove. I realised that this was the kind of work I wanted and liked to do.”

Subsequently, Lybeck has worked on various shows in radio and television. She is best known as the long-time presenter of Uutisvuoto (based on the British Have I Got News for You format) and a news anchor for the Finnish television channel Nelonen.

General knowledge from the university

In her 20s, Lybeck began studying comparative literature at the University of Helsinki alongside her job.

“To do good work as a reporter, I felt I needed to broaden my general knowledge. Reading has always been a hobby close to my heart, which is why comparative literature felt like a good choice.”

Ancient classics were indeed rewarding to read, but the outdated teaching methods of the late 1980s, based on mass lectures, and boring structuralist theories did not excite her.

“Lectures given to hundreds of students did not spark profound discussion. My interest waned and I transferred to the Swedish School of Social Science to study communications theory and political science.”

From there, Lybeck went on a student exchange to Denmark, gaining excellent training in the practicalities of television reporting. On her return to Finland, she moved on to TV work, leaving her studies behind.

“However, I had made up my mind to graduate before turning 40. I restarted my studies in literature, this time as a hobby balancing my professional life. Studying served as an extremely productive counterbalance to the hectic topicality of news reporting.”

To her delight, Lybeck also noticed that teaching methods had been modernised. Thanks to new online courses, Lybeck had the opportunity to work in news and study at the same time.

As for her master’s thesis, Lybeck wrote it on the series of memoirs authored by her grandfather Tito Colliander. She focused on how the search for identity by Colliander, who fled the revolution from St Petersburg to Finland, was expressed in his works.

“Fragmented identities are very common among people with refugee backgrounds and migrants who have suddenly had to abandon the landscape and culture of their childhood.”

Work on her thesis also taught Lybeck a lot about herself.

“It began to dawn on me how certain attitudes have persisted in our family for a long time: earthly possessions are of no use, as everything is ephemeral, uncertainty is the only certainty, and so on. I've imbibed these notions with my mother's milk.”

“I had not given it any consideration earlier, but reading Tito’s memoirs I realised that this was my entire world view, captured in writing.”

Science is valuable

For science and her home university, Lybeck shows unreserved support.

“The marginalisation of researchers’ authority in society, a rising trend in recent years, is an extremely worrying phenomenon. It must be fought by any means necessary,” Lybeck emphasises.

“It was shocking to hear Prime Minister Juha Sipilä utter his infamous quip about ‘all kinds of docents’ on the magazine programme A-studio. I was and still am deeply offended by it. It’s absolutely unforgivable for a person in such a position to have the temerity to belittle our academic system and to encourage unscientific thinking for his personal political motives.”

Lybeck believes it is an entirely different matter to consider how university education and science could be further improved.

“Of course renewal is needed from time to time. And yet, even when faced with challenges posed by funding cuts, we should never forget the principal mission of universities, which is to promote unrestricted research and produce high-quality science for our society.”