In support of human decency, relying on the best knowledge available

Bildung, inclusivity, freedom and truth, the recently selected values of the University, must also be promoted in difficult times, says Rector Jari Niemelä.

As I write this, the University of Helsinki and the world as a whole are under exceptional circumstances due to the coronavirus outbreak. While there are no ready-made answers to today’s burning questions, it is of the utmost importance that governments, leaders and communities base their actions on knowledge.

What is now required of our community is flexibility and creativity, but our activities must also be founded on things we hold in high regard. It is in exceptional circumstances that our values are measured.

Last year, the University of Helsinki updated its values. We are proud of them, and do not wish to leave them to gather dust in the records. Having our values shine through in the everyday efforts of our community and guide the realisation of our recently approved new strategic plan is important.

One of our values is Bildung – we are building wellbeing and a future for Finland and the entire world with educational capital as our resource. This is not limited to book learning. Instead, Bildung also comprises mental maturity, open-mindedness and empathy. Bildung is about behaving with human decency.

Educational capital for society cannot be generated by going it alone, which is why inclusivity is one of our four values. Inclusivity thrives when each student, teacher, researcher and specialist has the opportunity to consider themselves a meaningful part of the University community. Investing in a culture in which we care about our fellow students and colleagues is particularly important in times when burn-out among adolescents and the working-age population has been identified as a serious problem.

In addition to wellbeing, members of our community need freedom of thought and action to make our work as productive as possible. This is why freedom is our third value. The fourth value of our University is truth. We are looking for new knowledge that may also refute what has previously been considered fact, requiring changes to patterns of thought or behaviour. We are educating students into critical and courageous citizens who also have within themselves the capacity for change. The unrelenting pursuit of truth is what makes us what we are – a university.

We strive to be a community that defends human decency and bases its operations on the best available knowledge. The University works for the world, relying on the power of knowledge – in everyday life and in periods of transition.

The author is the rector of the University of Helsinki.

This editorial has been published in Finnish in issue 3/2020 of the Yliopisto magazine.

The values of the University were determined in conjunction with drawing up the strategic plan (PDF) for 2021–2030 .