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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?

Sofia Lindqvist
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
sofia.lindqvist@hyy.fi

*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.

The brainstorming workshop was a part of the City Planning Fair held at information and exhibition space Laituri on 8–13 May 2017. The Science Tram had its own exhibition stand throughout the event.

The worn-out discussion on the alleged benefits of tuition fees surfaced yet again this spring, when the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy (Etla) published a pamphlet on the funding of universities. The pamphlet proposes general tuition fees as a means to compensate the cuts made to universities’ funding. Etla suggests that the fees would not endanger ‘equality of opportunity’, as the student loan system would take care of that.

Later, in a seminar on tuition fees organised by the Finnish Economic Association, Professor of Public Economics Markus Jäntti from the University of Helsinki challenged Etla’s claims, referring to them as weakly-argued opportunism. In fact, no evidence exists that the tuition fees proposed by Etla would guarantee social mobility, and the entire concept of ‘equality of opportunity’ has not even been defined academically. The seminar ended in an argument, which resulted in Jäntti’s decision to pack his bags and return to his professorship in Stockholm University. Jäntti’s departure is a loss for Finnish public discussion. There is a risk of a delusion forming of tuition fees having undivided support from economists. This notion is fuelled by parties such as the neoliberal think tank Libera: its podcast consisted of three people who supported the fees to begin with patting each other on the back. Moreover, tuition fees have less support outside economics, in the field of social policy, for instance.

Up to this point, free education has guaranteed that the most willing and talented people in Finland have been able to continue onto the highest level of education regardless of their family background. Etla’s proposal would smash this premise. We already know that people with lower socioeconomic status avoid taking student loans and would rather work to finance their studies. Even if the repayment of student loans would be tied to future income, as Etla proposes, it would still have negative impact on students who avoid taking risks.

Knowledge of the fact that acquiring a degree would automatically result in a large debt burden would direct students to apply to fields of study where graduates have as large salaries as possible. Besides competent corporate lawyers, Finland will, however, continue to need just as competent librarians and kindergarten teachers. Only economists could think that the value of a profession can be defined by how much it pays. Tuition fees can also be predicted to cause brain drain to countries that offer excellent free education, such as Sweden and Germany.

Tuition fees are presented as unproblematic additional funding for the higher education sector. This idea rests on the naïve presumption that the state’s budget funding to universities would not decrease in exactly the same proportion as the collected tuition fees would fatten the university’s coffers. This has already happened in Australia, for instance. No political mechanism has been developed to ensure that the Australian way would not also be the Finnish way. Fresh in the minds of all students is just how much value the promises of politicians have when it comes to education.

Minna Suorsa
HYY Board Member
minna.suorsa@hyy.fi

Higher education is undergoing a revolution. Whereas the question at the heart of the university previously was what do you know, the core question in the future is what are your competencies. The curricula of the new degree programmes starting at the University of Helsinki in the 2017 autumn term must include learning outcomes: the content that students master either by completing the course or by having learned the content otherwise. In the future, students will ideally understand what kinds of knowledge and skills they master and how this know-how can help them in research or in working life outside the University.

Competencies are, of course, a built-in component of the pursuit of science: praxis – how and for what purpose theories are used – always goes alongside theory. Competence-based education does not change this principle – it emphasises understanding of competencies in connection to the learning process. Studying becomes more relevant than before, with thematic units being studied for their future use, not only for credits. Understanding of one’s own skills also positively affects self-efficacy beliefs.

Know what you can do

Self-efficacy beliefs (in Finnish) define what students believe they can survive. How many weeks of preparation do you need for an exam worth three credits? How easily can you get a job after graduation? The more realistic the image students have of their own skills, the better. Thus far, there has been the risk of students graduating from the university thinking they have not learned anything of use. Statistically, at least, this is not the case. Graduates of the University of Helsinki continue to get jobs that correspond to their level of education and get placed in positions at the very top of the scientific world.

General education increases competencies

Achieving the learning outcomes obviously requires good basic knowledge in the future too. Doctors can only tend to their patients if they understand the anatomy of the human body, biochemistry and physiology. Political scientists must know the culture, history and power structures of the surrounding society. A foundation of research and theory is a central part of the core idea of the Humboldtian university (in Finnish). Emphasising competencies does not conflict with the ideal of the Humboldtian university. Accumulating general knowledge is also a skill – the ability to conceive phenomena and to act in a complex world.

Learning outcomes should not remain on the pages of the curricula – they should actually be visible in studying every day. Teaching can be developed to suit students’ needs through learning outcomes, as the same outcomes can be reached with several different teaching methods. At the same time, unnecessary work decreases, when skills acquired outside formal education are learned to be recognised better and included in degrees. Achieving all of this does, of course, require pedagogical skills from the teachers.

Heikki Isotalo
Specialist, educational policy
Heikki is able to write a blog text in a single afternoon.

Helsinki is an absolutely wonderful place to live in – for us students too. However, our home city is plagued with one problem that threatens to make living here extremely difficult at times. This problem concerns living itself: it is damn expensive to live in our city.

The situation is not really getting any better: apartment rents in the Capital Region in particular continue to rise. Looking at income distribution across generations, young people have clearly been on the losing side in recent years. According to the Opiskelijan kaupunki (‘student’s city’) study, housing costs in the Capital Region can amount to up to 70% of a student’s disposable income

What can we do? The general consensus is that living only becomes affordable with the construction of a great deal more apartments into the city. This is something that, for instance, all the mayor candidates in Helsinki agree on. Why, then, is living in Helsinki so expensive if there is an obvious solution to the problem?

There are many reasons for this. On average, the suburbs of Helsinki have been constructed sparsely. On the other hand, the so called Nurmijärvi phenomenon (in which people move to the sparsely populated areas surrounding Helsinki) has turned on its head: people increasingly want to live downtown again, while politicians have been slow to wake up to the need of massive extra planning.

The higher education students in Helsinki strongly favour increasing housing production. The housing problem can be solved in a twofold manner: Firstly, we need an increase in housing production and, secondly, issues related to housing should be simpler than they currently are.

The construction goal for apartments annually built in Helsinki must be increased from the current 6,000 to 8,000, and at least 2,000 of them must be rental apartments with ARA support – and these figures must be held on to. At least 300 student apartments should be completed annually. We need bold supplementary construction, compact city blocks and urban boulevards.

Housing issues and construction must also be made simpler. In 2013, there were over one million square metres of empty office premises in the Capital Region. As many as 25,000 people could live in that space. New family apartments must be designed in a way that allows them to be easily adapted for cohousing. The parking space standard must be loosened: building parking spaces is expensive, and the development of traffic in Helsinki should be based on public transport, walking and cycling – not driving cars.

We are now returning to the question posed in the title: how can we achieve all of this? It might not happen at the drop of a hat, but one perfect opportunity is right around the corner. The election day of the municipal elections in on Sunday 9 April.

Make sure your vote is going to a candidate who wants to increase housing production significantly and make housing issues simpler.

Joel Lindqvist and HYY's Urban Team, our volunteer group for urban advocacy
Joel is a member of HYY’s Board working hard on the municipal elections. He lives in a five-person commune in a wooden house.

You use a dozen different mobile applications, but making a functional Excel worksheet seems like an impossible task. You can easily find streaming services for American TV series, but finding the route to online science journals seems like an insurmountable challenge. The media hypes the thriving gaming industry, but your role in game stores is only that of a client. Does this sound familiar?

In a recent issue of Yliopisto (2/17), Lecturer in Information and Communication Technology Ari Myllyviita bemoans how the concept of the digital native is misdirecting the educational world. People who have spent their childhood and youth in the Internet era do not necessarily have particularly good ICT skills. Conscious effort is needed to teach digital skills in basic and upper secondary education if we wish to see these skills develop.

As long as this is not taken care of, the problem will be visible in universities too. Trends such as digital humanism and anything utilising big data will never reach their full potential if students are not at a sufficient starting level.

Fortunately, the problem has been noticed. This year, the University of Helsinki launched the digital leap project. Degree programmes taking part in the project have promising plans for using new digital teaching aids. These include the utilisation of mixed reality technologies, practising corporate software engineering and algorithms that automatically revise coursework.

Paradoxically, there is a simultaneous excess and lack of digital platforms. Chair of HYY’s Board Laura Luoto raised the issue in her keynote speech in the Learning Adventure event: Students might have to search for information related to a course from WebOodi, Moodle, the websites of the faculty and the degree programme, email, a separate course website, the University’s wiki platform, Opinder and Flamma. Additionally, students use unofficial platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp groups formed by the students themselves. As data related to students is opening, commercial actors are entering the markets.

Director Jaakko Kurhila from the Open University has called digitalisation a smoke screen that can be used to develop teaching as a whole. Electronic platforms promote problem-based learning, peer learning and the flipped classroom approach in which the central tasks and materials are available to students before face-to-face teaching occurs. In an ideal situation, students do not use mobile phones to snapping pics during lectures – instead, they use mobile applications related to the lecture.

At the same time, existing electronic basic services must be developed and new ones sought by testing new innovations and more functional electronic teaching methods. Projects and monetary funding might advance the cutting edge, but changing the entire culture requires work and enthusiasm on the grassroots level.

It is the students’ task to convince the teaching staff that electronic platforms ease their workload and improve learning results even if their initial implementation might require teachers to step out of their comfort zone momentarily. For instance, the electronic exam room and its flexible times for taking exams make it easier for students with a family to complete courses. At the same time, the electronic exam room lessens the workload of the unit as the need for traditional paper exams decreases and improves the availability of course books as everyone completing the course is not hoarding the same book at the same time just before the faculty exam.

The University of Helsinki was once again ranked among the top one hundred universities in the world in the QS World University Rankings. The University must aim to become a top university in terms of teaching too. A successful digital leap might make this a reality.

Heikki Isotalo
Specialist in educational policy

My friend is a candidate in the municipal elections. She recently had a talk with a passer-by who had never voted in municipal elections – but still voted in what she considered important elections, such as presidential elections.

This phenomenon can be generalised. Voter turnout in the previous municipal elections was 57.4% in Helsinki, whereas in the presidential elections, a significantly larger proportion of the population, 72.8%, voted.

Despite this, the decisions made locally are the ones that really matter in everyday life. As long as my president is not an orange, bullshitting reality TV character, it does not really matter who sits on the presidential throne. By contrast, decisions made on the municipal level directly influence my everyday life: how much money I have left after housing costs and how many minutes out of my day I need to use for moving from point A to point B.

The youth are lost

Who are the people who do not vote? According to a report by the Finnish Youth Research Society (2011), young people in particular have suffered from a decrease in their motivation to vote. The younger generation in the 1980s were substantially more active voters than young people now. If you do not vote when you are young, you rarely vote when you are older either.

Generally, people tend to vote for candidates who are similar to themselves. People with a family and service sector workers both vote for people like themselves, as do motorists and culture enthusiasts. This does not, however, hold true for young voters. The report found that young people vote for familiar names and experienced politicians. In other words, students do not necessarily vote for students. In the previous municipal elections, I have voted for a person with a doctorate who has been in the parliament for several terms. Despite this person’s ability, their initiatives have not been particularly significant for my own life.

Now I am faced with the following question: who would vote for students if not students themselves?

Middle-aged politics

I do not mean to say that decision-makers of different age and different situations in life would not consider factors that influence students’ lives too. However, issues such as the construction of more student housing might not be high up on the list of priorities for a politician whose average group of voters consists of well-off middle-aged people.

The following sarcasm-dripping verses were sang by Varaque as early as 2003, translated here from the Finnish original: ‘Middle-aged people take care of your affairs/Surely they know how to do their job/All these wretched things are just real politics, you know’. Do not wait for middle-aged people* to take care of your affairs. Vote for a student with your best interests at heart. Vote for a friend as so does everyone else!

You can learn about candidates running in the municipal elections who are also HYY’s members here.

*With ‘middle-aged’ I am here referring to the mental aspects of some decision-makers, not to their chronological age.

The writer is a member of HYY’s Board, a staunch urbanist and a farmer’s daughter.

Elli Saari

Elli Saari
Member of Board

The Academic Affairs Council is the highest expert body processing academic affairs, as stipulated by the University Statutes. Specialist Aaro Häkkinen (Educational Policy) took part in the council’s meeting. The agenda of the meeting included Bachelors’ feedback, the timing of pedagogical studies, the grant system for tuition fees, the standardisation of administrative practices for internships and the situation of foreign-language and multilingual Master’s programmes.

Bachelors’ feedback

In the future, only one survey will exist. This means that Bachelors’ feedback will be merged into the HowULearn feedback survey and the system supplier will be changed to CSC, owned by the universities. Giving feedback on the feedback given by the student will be possible in the new system too. Anonymity will be removed from Bachelors’ feedback, which means that the answers can be connected with study progress and other relevant information for research purposes. In general, the University is now compiling a Big Data databank of all internal statistics collected by the University in order to better know what happens in our University.

Administrative practices for internships at the University of Helsinki

As a result of the centralisation of administration and the staff lay-offs, internship practices must be standardised so that resources will continue to cover the costs of calls for internship applications. In the future, internship administration will be centralised into Career Services with the exceptions of the so called clinical practices and teacher trainings, which will remain separate in the faculties. The new system will already be taken into use in the next calls for applications and it will largely follow the model of the Faculty of Social Sciences. However, the aim is to renew and develop the model further in the spring.

Grant system for tuition fees

The University will have common criteria for awarding grants. The process must be both fast and efficient as it is possible that people will not accept their study place in case they do not receive a grant. The grants will have three categories: 100% of the tuition fee, 50% of the tuition fee and 100% of the tuition fee plus 10,000 euros per year as support for living costs.

HYY was interested in hearing why a grant awarded on social grounds is not planned. However, implementing such a grant could be possible in the future, after seeing the countries and social conditions from which applicants arrive. We know that foreign students have difficulties in opening a bank account in Finland, which could still affect the plans for the grant system.

Timing of pedagogical studies

The timing remains the same, that is, studies begin in the autumn and end in the spring. It will still be possible to do the autumn and spring separately by having a year’s break from your pedagogical studies in between, for instance.

Situation of foreign-language and multilingual Master’s programmes

The Master’s Programme in Philosophy launches with domestic languages as it cannot organise enough English-language teaching. The Big Wheel group will also consult two problematic Master’s programmes separately. Otherwise, the majority of planned programmes will launch according to schedule in 2017, but some only in 2018.

Selection policies for doctoral education

All programmes will have common application periods four times per year at the University, but the dates have not yet been decided. In the future, it will be possible to accept only one study place for doctoral education too. For this reason, students must have the possibility to decline the study place. The study right for postgraduate studies and hiring someone as a doctoral student are separate processes. This means that, in the future, students can be hired as doctoral students for a trial period before the recruited person has been granted a study right for postgraduate studies.

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