Jaakko Kurhila: The University is opening up

In the future, career paths can be tailored individually. This openness allows the University and the student to engage in constant and flexible negotiations with each other: are we a good fit?

But why even apply to a university when there is a YouTube tutorial for virtually everything? This may seem like a strange question to a generation who has spent hour upon hour in lecture halls, but it is a valid consideration for the millennials who are energetically pursuing employment.

As an institution, universities are centuries old, but the open university is a relatively recent arrival: Finland has only offered open university education for some 40 years. The origins of the open university lie in the need to offer adult education to people whose study paths were cut short for one reason or another.

Over time, the challenges have evolved: education is already equal and available for all, regardless of background, but digitalisation is now challenging universities as we know them. The world of technological opportunities is progressing in leaps and bounds, bringing everything just a few clicks away. With the information highway open to all, universities must ensure that they retain their significance for different kinds of learners also in the future.

One way to achieve this is openness.

Future study paths are individually tailored

In my vision for the future, the entire University opens up. Instead of sitting entrance examinations, students wishing to pursue an academic career or a certain degree will be carefully selected based on the open courses they have completed. Thanks to various massive open online courses, or MOOCs, university education will be available for all – ambitious career builders looking for continuing education opportunities, scientists seeking an academic career and young people finding their way to their dream profession.

This scenario offers something for everyone. Those wanting to get ahead in their career are offered tailored courses that can be directly applied at work but do not require massive preparation for entering, and those bursting with motivation to pursue a degree or a career in academia get to prove their competence early on.

Openness goes hand in hand with selectiveness. Openness allows the University and the student to engage in continuous and flexible negotiations with each other: are we a good fit?

The combination of openness and selectiveness also fosters a sense of community and engages students. Those aiming high in their studies must be offered a VIP experience, a feeling of both students and instructors giving everything they've got to learn something new. Openness and digitalisation also allow students to tailor their studies to their taste and thus feel that their studies enable personal development.

In fact, the University of Helsinki is already offering all this – and will do so to an even greater extent in the future.

Collaboration across sectors

By being open, universities can integrate themselves even more firmly as part of our changing society and thus find new opportunities to carry out high-quality research.

Finland is a pioneer in collaboration across sectors, with the University of Helsinki leading the way by cooperating widely with the business sector and the friends of the University.

An excellent practical example of this is the data security MOOC that hosted 5,000 students and was organised jointly by the Open University and F-Secure, a company specialised in data security. The course benefited all parties: anyone could attend the course, and the academic community and data security experts could spur each other on. F‑Secure even hired interns from among the course participants, and researchers gained easy access to current topics.

In May 2018, the University of Helsinki and the technology company Reaktori launched a course on artificial intelligence, the Elements of AI, which attracted a staggering number of 25,000 students on its first day. Because openness is eventually about being part of society, we also challenged the business sector to join in. To our delight, numerous companies who wished to commit to investigating the opportunities of artificial intelligence in their work also joined the #tekoalyhaaste campaign launched in connection with the course.

Another example of open collaboration between the University and the business sector is the open course Journalismi ammattina (Journalism as a profession), organised in collaboration with the media company MTV. The course is offered in MTV's facilities and instructed by MTV's news editor. Moreover, the best articles written by the students will be published on the MTV News website.

Although technology develops at a dizzying speed, the learning process has not undergone any dramatic changes: it remains a personal change that requires effort. Even the best YouTube tutorials can never offer learners experiences comparable to those of undergoing change and growth at the University of Helsinki.

For more about MOOCs