What is everyday university life for students like on different campuses? What challenges do students face in their studies, and what is the best thing about their own study environment? During the spring, HYY has investigated the challenges experienced by students as well as their needs for support and then relayed students’ views to the University management.
― Tell us about any problems with your studies – you will get candy while we will forward your views to the University management!
During the spring, members of the Board in charge of advocacy work on educational policy, Mathilda Timmer, Topias Tolonen and Sebastian Österman, as well as specialists Anne Soinsaari and Jenna Sorjonen have been on call at the Study Pop Up sites set up on all campuses to collect students’ experiences of everyday life at the University. We have collected students’ views from Viikki, Kumpula, Meilahti and the City Centre into this blog post.
The students on all campuses liked library services in particular, although they did wish for more facilities for studying and group work. University staff were also praised, as they do their all to help students. However, there are challenges related to study planning, course and exam arrangements and student counselling.
Lecture recordings and exam trouble in Viikki
Students praise: Investments in making high-quality lecture recordings, workshops on the personal study plan (HOPS) that provide peer support
Students criticise: Increasing number of lectures with compulsory attendance, unclear exam practices, problems with the quality of Swedish-language exam questions, delays with exam results
Flexible possibilities for completing courses in Kumpula
Students praise: Move to the new degree programmes has been done flexibly, possibility to complete language courses as part of a course on one’s own field, up-to-date contents in studies, good facilities for group work in the library.
Students criticise: Delays with course schedules, courses clashing with each other, the scheduling problems and strain of pedagogical studies, lack of study facilities in the evening
Large group sizes a hot topic in Meilahti
Students praise: Study facilities in Terkko, Helsinki Think Company’s events, good teaching
Students criticise: Too large group sizes in clinical teaching in particular, unclear schedules, delays with exam results, disappearance of student advisors, noisiness of Terkko
Compulsory attendance on the increase in the City Centre
Students praise: Think Corner, Kaisa Library, student services, electronic exam room, events that increase communality
Students criticise: Increasing number of lectures with compulsory attendance, decreasing number of flexible methods to complete courses, courses clashing with each other, unequally distributed strain of studies during the year, large amount of independent work, lack of study counselling in Swedish
Flaws will be addressed in cooperation with the University management
―Besides being on call on campuses, we have met with all faculty organisations during the spring and relayed students’ views to the deans of the faculties, Vice Rector Sari Lindblom, in charge of teaching, and Director of Development Susanna Niinistö-Sivuranta, who is in charge of Student Services, Topias from HYY’s Board describes.
Lindblom and Niinistö-Sivuranta met with representatives of subject organisations in April and commented on the problems experienced by students. They promised to immediately address the delays with assessing exams that are against the University’s policies concerning degrees and studies. The increasing number of lectures with compulsory attendance came as a surprise to Vice Rector Lindblom, as this has not been the aim, and the University’s policies include nothing that requires to make attendance in lectures compulsory. However, Lindblom understands teachers’ attempts to guarantee that students learn by requiring them to attend lectures.
― The concern with the increasing amount of compulsory attendance is that it can unnecessarily delay students’ studies. Compulsory attendance in lectures has also been reflected in the decrease in optional methods of completing courses, which further complicates study planning. We have heard of several cases in which participation in a mass lecture has been made compulsory. In such cases, it is hard to see the pedagogical justifications for compulsory attendance that the Rector’s decision requires, Member of HYY’s Board Mathilda remarks.
Problems arising from lack of resources the most difficult to solve
― We have received a lot of feedback on the problems Swedish-speaking students have with receiving student counselling in their native tongue. The positive thing is that Director of Development Niinistö-Sivuranta is aware of the problem, and the University is currently looking for study advisors who speak Swedish, Member of HYY’s Board Sebastian, in charge of bilingualism affairs, states.
Delays with grading courses and students’ difficulties with getting counselling for their problems are largely a result of the University’s decreased administrative resources – in other words, of the fact that there is significantly fewer administrative staff supporting teachers and students than before. In the current economic situation, no immediate relief to this is in sight. Instead, solutions must be sought by rearranging tasks among the different actors and by streamlining processes. The same goes for the need for study facilities – the University’s facilities are not increasing. On the contrary, the trend is towards more compact use of facilities.
― At HYY, we are closely monitoring the implementation of the reduction of facilities and will try to ensure that at least the current level of study facilities is maintained. Rearranging the facilities makes it possible to reconsider their use, however, and teaching facilities should be developed by creating teaching facilities that are more adaptable and enable digital work better than at present. Students’ health must also be taken into account by looking after air quality and decreasing sitting, for instance, Mathilda envisions.
What is everyday university life for students like on different campuses? What challenges do students face in their studies, and what is the best thing about their own study environment? During the spring, HYY has investigated the challenges experienced by students as well as their needs for support and then relayed students’ views to the University management.
Like struggling to keep above the surface – better conditions for studying with a flexible child care service run by the city
The birth rate in Finland, decreasing for the seventh successive year, has recently been the subject of concerned news items. Proposed reasons for the decline have included financial insecurity, challenges in finding a suitable partner and the social exclusion of young men (news articles in Finnish). According to the Finnish Student Health Survey conducted every four years by the Finnish Student Health Service, the birth rate among university students is on the decline, too. However, some 7.6% of the higher education students under 35 years of age in Finland who are completing a basic degree have one or more children or are expecting an addition to the family. Helsinki alone has over 4,000 higher education students with a family.
Life as a student with a family is not all that rosy – at least not financially or from the perspective of time management. It has been estimated that 60% of student families live under the poverty line (article in Finnish). Student families’ worries about their finances may affect not only the parents’ own coping and mental health, but also the mental health of the family’s children. There is strong evidence in Finland of a connection between a person’s childhood family’s problems with subsistence and the probability of them having mental health problems as a young adult. Answering the needs of students with a family is advisable for the benefit of themselves, their children and the society as a whole.
Child home care allowance forms the backbone of subsistence in many student families, even though the benefit has been rightly criticised from the perspective of equality. In Helsinki, a family can receive around 780 euros in child home care allowance, supplements included, if the youngest child is under one and a half years of age and the family has low income. For the sake of comparison, the study grant with a provider supplement amounts to 325 euros, which is still liable to taxation. While, in practice, children of low-income families have the right to free early childhood education, using this right would mean that the family loses their right to child home care allowance. As a consequence, it is no wonder that many students with a family try to care for their children themselves for as long as possible. They do not, however, have any more hours in a day than anyone else, which makes juggling child care, studies and work extremely challenging.
In autumn 2017, HYY, the National Union of University Students in Finland and the Family Federation of Finland conducted a survey for students with a family. One of the respondents described their situation in the following way:
''Combining a family and studies is like struggling to keep above the surface. You do not have the time to do anything properly.''
In the survey, we also charted what kind of support would make it easier to combine a family and studies. The thing the respondents most wished for by far was a flexible child care service that could be used on different days and at different times – one that would serve them when the parent has to attend a lecture, take an exam or study independently. Child care for the duration of evening lectures was also desired. A clear majority of the respondents wanted to keep the amount of money invested in child care at under 200 euros per month. Private or voucher-based child care services cannot answer this need. HYY believes that the best way to answer the child care needs of students with a family is a child care service that is produced by the city in the form of playgroups but functions more flexibly than the current playgroup club activities.
This kind of service could not be considered as actual pedagogical activity, but it would offer safe care and let the children get acquainted with an environment that resembles a day care centre. The service could function in the same premises with a day care centre as its own group or in premises that are entirely dedicated to it. An ideal location for a pilot would be a central place in the downtown area near campuses. A functional online reservation system that allows users to reserve regular times well in advance as well as individual times on shorter notice would guarantee the functionality of the child care service.
HYY wants all its members to feel well and be able to lead a happy life. We hope that the City of Helsinki will also support and enable young adults’ diverse situations in life and coping in these situations. After all, Helsinki wants to be the most functional city in the world. At present, children under 2 years of age who do not participate in municipal early childhood education are an in-between group from the perspective of the city’s child care services. We would be more than happy to cooperate with the city in looking for solutions to achieve a functional everyday life for students with a family!
Specialist in urban, housing and health affairs who formed a family herself after completing her degree and who is eternally grateful for our fine day care system
I am running for the position of Chair of the University Collegium. I am applying for the position because I want to improve the Collegium’s operation and be more efficient in taking the University community’s views to the University Management than at present. I also want to bring the University Management closer to the community. I am the first student in the history of the Collegium to apply for the position. The University Collegium is the only body in the University’s administration in which students can act as the chair. The chair is selected in the new Collegium’s organising meeting on 12 April.
The Collegium is the highest decision-making body at the University. It is tasked with overseeing the activities of the University Board and Management. The entire University community is represented in the Collegium: it has representatives of professors, other staff members and students from each faculty. The Collegium of the University of Helsinki has a total of 50 members as well as personal vice members for each member. The term of the University Collegium lasts four years, and the members for the 2018–2021 term have just been selected. Student members have a two-year term in the Collegium. Starting this term, the students of the Swedish School of Social Science are also represented in the Collegium.
The duties of the University Collegium are determined in the Universities Act. They include appointing the Chancellor of the University, appointing members from outside the University community to the University Board and deciding on granting discharge from liability to the University Board and the Rector.
According to the University of Helsinki’s Regulations, the duties of the University Collegium also include convening at least twice a year to discuss significant matters concerning the entire University, such as the effects of the reforms on the administrative structure and entrance exams. One might easily assume that the Collegium’s statutory duty to discuss matters is less important than its other duties because it lacks words that express power, such as select, confirm and decide. Instead of them, however, it contains the crucial act that ultimately changes society and the world: discussion. The true power of the University Collegium, in my opinion, lies precisely in its ability to gather representatives from different parts of the University community to discuss matters together.
The role of the Chair of the University Collegium is administrative and bureaucratic but, first and foremost, the Chair’s task is to ensure that the University community gets to have their say. I believe that the Collegium should use its voice critically and to give thanks, both according to the situation. My dream is to have a strong Collegium that acts as the connecting link between the entire University community and the University Management.
The Collegium should be developed so that it would amplify the University community’s voice and make the way our University is managed reflect that voice. Due to the Collegium’s statutory status, its legitimacy as an administrative body means that the University management must place weight to its messages. We should invest in the Collegium’s activities, because the everyday routines of University work can genuinely be improved through it.
Fourth-year student of English Philology
Member of the Collegium in 2016–2017 and 2018–2019
The University of Helsinki has only 18 students who pay tuition fees. If the University of Helsinki – the most important multidisciplinary university in Finland – cannot attract paying students, how can tuition fees be expected to increase the appeal of Finnish education?
Tuition fees for students from outside the EU and the EEA were taken into use in Finnish higher education institutions in 2017. Higher education institutions are required by law to collect a tuition fee of €1,500 at a minimum for their foreign-language degrees, but students may be exempted from the fee based on a continuous or permanent resident permit, for instance. Higher education institutions must also have a grant system to support students liable for payment.
At the University of Helsinki, tuition fees for foreign-language Master’s programmes vary between €13,000 and €18,000 – as much as at Oxford. The University of Helsinki also had a total of 26 different types of grants available last year within its grant system, with the best one covering both the tuition fee and some living costs. There were also grants available that covered either tuition fees or living costs as well as a grant covering half of the tuition fee. Out of the 26 people who were awarded a grant, only six accepted their study place and started their studies. This is a thought-provoking number: even the grants were not a sufficient attraction for many.
Implementing the tuition fees led to a significant decrease in the number of applicants for the international Master’s programmes at the University of Helsinki in 2017. As expected, the number of applicants from outside the EU and the EEA decreased: before tuition fees, they amounted to around three quarters of the applicants, whereas in 2017–2018 they only made up just over half of the applicants.
This drop in the number of applicants was significant. The number of applicants increased this year, but this in itself is not decisive. The relevant figures here are how many applicants are eligible, how many of those accepted to study actually accept their place and how many arrive in Helsinki and begin their studies in the end.
As can be seen in the table above, many of those accepted to study did not accept their place, and not all of those who accepted their place started their studies in the end. An especially notable decrease occurred with students from outside the EU and the EEA: in 2016, 132 such students began their studies compared to only 56 last year. We will see how these figures develop this year.
The number of applicants in different years is not directly comparable, as the University of Helsinki reformed all of its Master’s programmes starting in autumn 2017. In addition to this, an application fee of €100 was in use for applicants from outside the EU and the EEA in 2016, which led to a decreased number of applications. In 2017 and 2015, applicants may have applied to several places at the same time without necessarily committing to their application.
Tuition fees are not a significant source of income for higher education institutions, and there are also costs involved. Running the bureaucracy and administration related to tuition fees and the grant system as well as marketing the degree programmes take up a lot of resources.
The University community’s view on the fees has been clear from the start. Without tuition fees, it would be possible to attract the best possible experts to Finland, regardless of the income level of the origin country. Many of the students who have arrived from elsewhere want to stay in Finland after graduation and get employed. International students bring valuable skills and international networks with them, and after they get employed, they also fund the higher education system as a whole as tax payers. According to a report by the Research Foundation for Studies and Education Otus, young, skilled international students are beneficial to Finland’s economy after getting employed (source: Otus’ report, only in Finnish).
Attracting international students to Finland is of prime important for the dependency ratio and competitiveness of the country. Tuition fees, however, are not a functional solution to promote this – whereas free high-quality education would be.
Specialist, subsistence, international affairs
The Ministry of Education and Culture is swiftly pushing forward with the reform of student admissions to higher education institutions (http://minedu.fi/opiskelijavalinnat-ja-yhteistyo). The reform would mean that over half of all study places would be determined based on the certificate of matriculation from 2020 onwards. The Ministry’s aim with the reform is to achieve faster transitions from general upper secondary schools (lukio) to higher education institutions.
In this text, I will highlight three crucial observations on the realisation of the student admissions reform.
1) The schedule is too tight
The general upper secondary school students who the reform concerns have already begun their studies and made choices on which subjects to study that affect their matriculation examination. A reform that is implemented on such a tight schedule does not treat general upper secondary school students fairly or give the institutions sufficient time to be reformed.
Universities face challenges with reconciling certificate-based admissions with admissions based on entrance exams, which would remain as an option. The problem arises from the schedule: applicants who are not selected in certificate-based admissions must be able to sign up for entrance exams, but the results of the entrance exams must be available early enough for students to be able to get an apartment and participate in the orientation weeks of the programmes they are accepted into at the University. A highly automated admissions process based on data systems could help, but developing such systems will take time.
2) General upper secondary schools are changing and must change
The all-round education given by general upper secondary schools will decrease, as students will face pressure to only study subjects that are useful in the higher education application process. At the same time, preparatory courses might move into general upper secondary schools and studies in the schools stretch to four years for an increasing number of students. If this happens, the aim to make the transition from secondary to higher education faster would come to nothing.
It is unreasonable to assume that a 16-year-old from Hylkysyrjä could anticipate the discipline they will study in the future with any certainty. It is important to both retain the possibility to make mistakes on educational paths and retain a route to higher education for late bloomers in the future, too.
We do not have to look far for examples of people who fared poorly in general upper secondary school but still succeeded adequately in life: President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö, who was just elected for his second term, had an average grade of 6,5 (on a scale of 4 to 10) from theoretical subjects in general upper secondary school (https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-6140770).
Whatever you think of the reform, if it were realised, general upper secondary education would have to be reanalysed and the contents of the matriculation examination reconsidered to better correspond to the needs of admissions to higher education institutions. At the same time, the need for quality study counselling would increase: the career plans of general upper secondary school students must become clearer than before during their second year at the latest.
3) The new scoring model is the least of our worries
As part of the certificate-based admissions, a new scoring tool that considers the different grades in a matriculation examination in relation to each other will be taken into use. The programmes that students apply to at the University would be able to choose one out of three scoring tables: i) a basic table, ii) language table or iii) mathematical table, with each table featuring a different composition of subjects from the matriculation examination. Universities could also decide not to apply any table, but there would be a strong pressure for a nationally uniform model. A draft for the scoring model is a good start, but it still has some faults in it.
The scoring tool does not take into consideration the two lowest grades that result in a pass in the matriculation examination (B and A), which creates an incentive to play it safe when choosing which subjects to include in the exam – which in turn decreases the aspect of all-round education. The grouping of the general studies subjects into different baskets is based too strongly on the perspective of the median student. The grouping does not recognise the diverse spectrum of different combinations of subjects that could be useful in university studies.
The tool is not developed by the Ministry of Education and Culture itself – it is the creation of a key project coordinated by the University of Helsinki (http://oha-forum.fi/hankkeet/karkihanke/). If we will actually move to national cooperation on admissions and to certificate-based admissions as per the Ministry’s goals, it would be sensible for the scoring to be as transparent and logical from the applicant’s perspective as possible.
The Student Union of the University of Helsinki commented on the scoring tool in January during the University’s internal round of comments. Other universities have also made statements on the details of the model. Currently, it seems that the worst problems of the model could still be fixed. After this, the tool would bring some clarity to the entire reform of student admissions from the applicant’s perspective.
Unless the Ministry of Education and Culture takes its foot off the gas, the problems concerning general upper secondary schools will remain unsolved.
Specialist, educational policy
The Finnish Government has proposed changes to general housing allowance. The Government proposal suggests restoring the part-apartment norm, which would mean that the acceptable housing costs when granting housing allowance for people who rent part of an apartment or a studio apartment of under 20 square metres would be 20% less than for others living in the same area. In Helsinki, for instance, the available allowance for a one-person household would decrease by 82 euros in a worst-case scenario.
The fact that the cut would be directed towards students in particular was clearly pointed out already in the preliminary debate held in the Finnish Parliament: students often live in shared or small apartments and cannot apply for social assistance to replace their loss of income. The cut would be simply unreasonable, as the spending cuts of recent years have already affected students the most, and many already say they are using over half of their income for housing costs.
Together with the household interpretations of general housing allowance, the part-apartment norm would further decrease the popularity of shared living. Only 10% of students applying for an apartment from the Foundation for Student Housing in the Helsinki Region (Hoas), for instance, are applying for a room in a shared apartment as it is, and the part-apartment norm would further decrease the number of applicants. The Government proposal admits this behavioural impact. If student apartments are left empty, the result would be rental increases for everyone living in student apartments. From the perspective of national economy, it makes sense to make decisions that enable cheap student housing when student housing is supported with tax revenue.
The part-apartment norm is meant to achieve savings, but the proposal is hastily prepared and its impacts have not been properly assessed. Due to all of this, we hope that this norm will be removed from the legislative proposal, as its budgetary impact is uncertain while it is sure to complicate shared living.
Vice chair, HYY's boad
Member of HYY's board
Specialist, subsistence, international affairs
Graduates of the University of Helsinki still find employment well, but individual responsibility in maintaining the relevance of their career skills has increased. We can predict that artificial intelligence and telerobotics will gain ground in specialist professions, too, and competition among higher education graduates will become fiercer. Career paths are also more varied than before. According to a report by the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, one in three workers have changed fields between two and four times.
Perhaps it is simply wrong to talk about an individual’s career when we could refer to their careers instead.
The Student Union organised a career event called Market for the Multiskilled in the autumn for students of generalist fields. The event included discussion on what kind of skills a university degree gives you and how you can best use them in working life. The tips that came up in the panel discussion can be condensed into five universal instructions that will almost guarantee your success on the job market.
1) Verbalise your skills. A degree certificate in itself does not disclose your real skills. Analytical thinking and information retrieval skills are bound to develop during your studies, but you should not forget the various project management skills, stress management and group work skills either. Extracurricular activities also have their own relevance: if you have acted as a treasurer in a hobby association for wine enthusiasts, for instance, you have acquired valuable financial management skills that are useful in working life as well. However, these skills will not help you if you do not recognise them yourself.
2) Practise your interpersonal skills. The ability to get along with people is just as important as academic substance knowledge. Acting in a work community requires negotiation skills, the skill to convince others and an eye for social situations. Empathy is also an important skill in working life: conflict-solving skills and the ability to take action against bullying that you have learned in student communities are important at the workplace, too. Good interpersonal skills do not, however, require you to be super social.
3) Be active. Internships or writing a commissioned thesis might be ideal ways to get your foot in the door with an employer. Employers rarely expect new employees to be perfectly skilled workers in their own field straight away. The right attitude and the ability to commit to the tasks you start are more important.
4) Discover surprising career paths. You should not regard the skills produced by your own degree too narrowly. Gaming companies do not need only coders, they also need storytelling folklorists. An in-depth understanding of evolutionary biology could be a beneficial addition to communication skills in journalism. When you can identify your own skills and the diverse contexts for using them, you can build yourself an individualised career.
5) Continue learning. Graduating from the university is not the ending point for learning. The most important skill you can learn at a university is the ability to learn new things. People already in the working life will also have to constantly update their skills and acquire new ones. This might mean new study modules or degrees, but it might just as well mean autonomous learning alongside work.
Specialist, educational policy and working life
Sitra’s report: Working life study 2017 https://media.sitra.fi/2017/05/16144238/Sitra-Ty%C3%B6el%C3%A4m%C3%A4n-tutkimus-2017-FINAL_sitrafi_PDF.pdf (in Finnish)
Huffington Post: Forget A.I. ‘Remote Intelligence’ Will Be Much More Disruptive https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/telerobotics_us_5873bb48e4b02b5f858a1579
SuomiAreena, the summer event for societal discussion and the favourite festival of politics nerds, does not have education as a special theme this time. However, SuomiAreena does feature more discussion panels related to general knowledge, education and science than can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
What sort of picture do they sketch for the future of the higher education field?
Akava’s forebodingly named panel ‘Did general knowledge die out’ dealt with the role of higher education as a distributor of social equality, wealth and general knowledge. Education clearly protects and benefits individuals both now and in the future. Sipilä’s Government’s one degree policy was criticised by Professor of Sociology Juho Saari from the University of Tampere, who emphasised the importance of being able to easily change one’s field of study. Quotas for first-time applicants in student admissions and insufficient student financial aid may create a situation in which incorrect choices made at the age of 18 result in life-long burdens for students.
The panellists had differing opinions on the extent to which so called high-status fields, that is, professions such as medicine and law, run in the same families. Akava’s president, Sture Fjäder, told the audience how he – the son of a carpenter – could have a higher education and a good life because of free education. ‘All talk about having education be subject to charge should be stopped, because it takes us towards the wrong direction’, Fjäder unambiguously declared. Akava has not been known as a supporter of tuition fees even before this, but Fjäder has previously rarely been heard using as strong language as this for free education.
The discussion panel of the University of Helsinki, ‘What good is science’ approached the question posed in its title from many perspectives. Science is present in our everyday life in the form of easily digestible rye bread, for instance. It helps us spot bombs with particle detectors and builds bridges between the parties of conflicts. At the same time, it also reflects on what sort of ethics should be programmed into unmanned combat drones and other machines used in killing people. Research-based teaching also brings up our future experts. It is self-evident that this happens at the University, but one rarely stops to think that Finnish kindergartens and early childhood education are also products of science.
Ideally, basic research benefits everyone, but researchers also have the moral responsibility to consider the practical implications of their research results and to participate in societal discussion on their own field if needed. Researchers and politicians are jointly responsible for the decisions which are made to truly reflect researched information. Politicians’ work begins where researchers’ work ends, as former researcher and current member of parliament Pilvi Torsti aptly put it. Currently, the situation regarding the matter is far from ideal.
If Finland really wants to become the world’s best-educated society, we must not only secure funding for higher education, but also overcome obstacles outside the actual education institution. The panel of Akava Special Branches highlighted some worrisome developments concerning the significance of the library system. Young boys have dropped out from among library users, particularly in sparsely populated areas. At best, libraries can act as paragons of researched information in a world of fake news, and regularly using their services provides good preparation for a future career at the University. For this reason, libraries must find a way to reform themselves, so that they will attract young boys, too – without driving away other genders. Fortunately, the entire picture is not yet all that alarming: Researcher Jukka Relander states that despite smart devices, one-and-a-half times more books are currently read in Finland than in the 1980s.
The format is, of course, not the primary issue – electronic books contain the same information as paper versions. The main thing is that good information is separated from bad. Google offers you 100,000 alternative answers, whereas library desks give you one good one. This is further emphasised in the nature of university libraries as compilers of current information. Talking in Akava’s panel on general knowledge, Secretary General Kaisa Vähähyyppä from the Matriculation Examination Board managed to sum up the relevant issue: ‘Google is not enough, as you must understand what you find.’
The conclusion that might be drawn from all of this is that the rumours of the civilised state’s demise are greatly exaggerated. Work to cut off the wings from rumours continues in the future, too.
Specialist, educational policy
Heikki and a bunch of others from HYY are spending a week in Pori to attend SuomiAreena.
‘The most distressing experiences in my subject organisation are probably instances of belittlement, which I have encountered when reporting inappropriate behaviour. Advances that meet the criteria for sexual harassment have been dismissed with a shrug and comments such as ‘they are always a bit like that when drunk’ and ‘they are actually a good person’.’
As many as 7.5% of the students at the University of Helsinki have encountered bullying. One tenth of the students have a family. All forms of sexual orientations and genders are represented in us. In fact, few students correspond to the image of ‘the average student’ who would not belong in any minority or would not encounter discrimination.
Equality means that everyone is similar regardless of any personal qualities, and that the diversity of these qualities is taken into account.
Why and how should equality be taken into account in organisational activities? Here are some thoughts on this!
Why is equality important?
Taking equality into account in organisational activities is important because the members of any organisation are not alike. By taking diversity into account in organisational activities, we can ensure that everyone is able to participate in the organisation’s activities. Members are ready to give their entire potential for the organisation only if the organisation feels like a place where you can be yourself.
On the other hand, intolerant and discriminatory atmosphere and activities can completely exclude people from the organisation’s activities. At worst, bullying and discrimination may cause self-destructiveness.
Lately, an increasing number of organisations have made significant investments in providing everyone the opportunity to participate in their activities. This development is very gratifying. It makes it easy for others to start promoting equality, too: many justifications, means and operating models now exist on the organisational field. You only need to choose the ones that suit your organisation.
Here are examples from recent measures taken by Dilemma ry and Biosfääri ry.
‘This year, Biosfääri has tried to include themes related to equality in all our activities: communication and events are trilingual, official titles have been made gender neutral and the number of alcohol-free events has been increased. We aim to increase the number of persons in charge of equality in our organisations next autumn. Among our organisational actors, we have also paid attention to customs and practices that sustain discrimination, for instance, refraining from telling condescending jokes related to freshmen.’
– Heidi Annala, person in charge of equality in Biosfääri ry
‘This year, Dilemma has been making sure that all event descriptions have a mention of the principles of safe space as well as information on accessibility and that all communications would primarily be trilingual. The objective of increasing our supply of alcohol-free events has been one major theme – we have already organised a gallery excursion, for instance. On the other hand, we have tried to solve the issue of how to influence our organisation’s operating culture and to genuinely have everyone feeling comfortable. In fact, Dilemma organised an evening on safe spaces on 18 April, inviting members to come and share their own experiences and to consider problem areas and solutions. Now we are working on Dilemma’s own principles of safe space, new operating instructions for future tutors and having a specific person named for upcoming events who could be identified by their sash.’
– Saila Pönkä, person in charge of equality in Dilemma ry
Where to start?
In case your organisation does not have an equality plan, drafting one should be started as soon as possible. You can use the version in HYY’s Organisation Wiki (http://wiki.hyy.fi/index.php/Yhdenvertaisuus) or other organisations’ equality plans as models. You could also conduct a member survey on the theme, as the results would reveal which issues should be developed in your organisation at the very least.
To ensure that equality is taken into account, you should name someone in charge of it either in your organisation’s Board or as an official. The Organisation Wiki features examples on what the person in charge of equality could pay attention to in the organisation’s activities.
What to do with discriminatory traditions?
At times, old traditions and practices must be re-evaluated in the name of equality. Changes start from issues that might seem small.
For instance, the way in which guests are placed on their seats at anniversaries might be very significant to the participants. Traditional placement is done by dividing participants into men and women based on their names and then placing them side by side. However, a person’s gender cannot be deduced from their name. Traditional placement also discriminates against couples who cannot sit side by side because they are not assumed to be a man and a woman. Many organisations already take this matter into account; they no longer pay attention to the assumed genders of participants.
It is good to remember that organisational memory only goes back a couple of years. Abandoning sexist traditions, for instance, might be met with strong resistance at first, but no one will want to go back to the old ways anymore after a few years. On the contrary, both new and old members will be wondering how the organisation could have acted in such a discriminatory manner only a few years earlier.
Do you need help? Is something related to the theme puzzling you?
I am more than happy to help you in all issues related to equality that organisations might have.
Member of HYY’s Board
Have you ever heard of dust depots or intelligent mats? What about interactive stops or Tinder light rail? Neither had I before 11 May 2017, when I organised a workshop to come up with ways in which the Science Tram* could live up to its name in other ways than just the obvious one: combining 10 higher education campuses.
As a sociologist, my biased assumption was that the ideas to come up would be linked to people’s social contacts over discipline boundaries as well as to the interaction between the scientific community and the rest of society. This was not the case. Instead, I was once again impressed by the marvellous innovative force that can be tapped into when people from different backgrounds meet.
Technologies and service design connect people
What ideas came up in the Science Tram workshop?
The dust depot would be a place where fine particles accumulated onto the outer surfaces of the tram during its run are washed away into drainage water. Travel on light rail that uses renewable energy prevents the creation of fine particles when compared to modes of transportation that run on combustion engines. Thanks to the dust depot, the light rail would also actively clean the air of fine particle pollution caused by other traffic. Air would become cleaner and health hazards would decrease.
The intelligent mat in the tram would be able to identify users and collect information that could be used in research and on the market. It would also interact with users, providing foot massages, for instance. Interactive stops would provide traffic data to those who want it, while passengers could also use it to give feedback.
The antisocial act of watching out of windows could be rebranded: tram journeys could be enjoyable breaks and moments for meditation.
Other ideas included the climate change ticket, with a price that varies according to the state of the climate, and a library tram, where people could spend time reading and borrowing books. The Science Tram could be made green: the rails of the tramway with lawn and the interior of the trams with indoor plants. It could act as a test laboratory and a platform for cross-disciplinary experiments: you could conduct experiments or take exams there. When the tram approaches a campus, an information screen or an application on your own phone could tell you what is happening at that campus at the time.
Science Tram to connect people and places
All of these ideas were created in under half an hour using the ‘random pairs’ method. To introduce the participants of the workshop to the theme, Traffic Engineer Niko Setälä provided them with some facts on the Science Tram as a part of the light rail network of Helsinki, while Designer Laura Euro discussed design perspectives on trams.
Anyone is free to steal and further refine these ideas – and you do not need to wait until 2025! In the words of Designer Laura Euro, the Science Tram could be tested in the here and now – in a tram or elsewhere.
If around ten people can come up with such exciting new ideas in just under half an hour, what could be created when tens of thousands of people meet every day in the real Science Tram, where forming connections has been made easier by means of design?
Specialist in housing, health and urban affairs
Student Union of the University of Helsinki
Sofia is currently studying for a Specialist Qualification in Product Development
*Science Tram 2025 is the joint campaign of the Capital Region’s student unions’ World Student Capital network. The campaign supports the construction of a light rail line that connects 10 higher education campuses. Our goal is that construction work on the line begins by 2025. Do you want this to happen, too? Then sign the resident’s initiative for the Science Tram here as a resident of Helsinki or here as a resident of Espoo! If neither Helsinki nor Espoo is your place of residence, you cannot sign the initiative – but you can tell your friends in Helsinki or Espoo all about it. The Science Tram can also be found on Facebook.