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The University community asks – Rector candidates answer

11.04.2018

HYY, the Helsinki University Researchers’ and Teachers’ Association and the University of Helsinki’s local chapter of the Finnish Union of University Professors sent 12 questions for the candidates for the position of Rector of the University of Helsinki. The candidates’ answers had to be the length of a tweet. The questions covered issues such as University democracy, communality, recruitments and tuition fees. Read on to discover what the candidates answered!

Rehtoriehdokkaat Jukka Kola, Liisa Laakso, Sari Lindblom, Jari Niemelä ja Outi Vaarala


This spring, a new Rector will be appointed for the University of Helsinki for the next five years. The application process for the new Rector already began last autumn, and on 28 March the University Board selected the top five candidates from among the applicants:

Jukka Kola
PhD Jukka Kola has acted as the Rector of the University of Helsinki since 2013. Kola is a professor of agricultural policy at the University of Helsinki.

Liisa Laakso
DSSc Liisa Laakso is the Rector of the University of Tampere. She has previously acted as the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Helsinki.

Sari Lindblom
PhD Sari Lindblom is the Vice Rector of the University of Helsinki and a professor of higher education.

Jari Niemelä
PhD Jari Niemelä acts as professor of urban ecology at the University of Helsinki.

Outi Vaarala
MD Outi Vaarala is a professor of pediatric immunology and head of lung immunity at the Astra Zeneca RIA IMED Biotech Unit in Sweden. She also acts as a research director at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Helsinki.

Three candidates still in the running
The candidates were interviewed in an open hearing on 12 April, after which the University Board selected three cadidates to the final stages of the application process. The three candidates still in the running to become the University of Helsinki's next Rector are: Liisa Laakso, Jari Niemelä and Outi Vaarala. The Rector of the University will be selected from among the above candidates by the University Board, which aims to make the decision on 25 April.

Read about the Rector candidates’ views below and find your own candidate!

1. Why did the University of Helsinki end up having a strike, and what does it mean for the future?

Jukka Kola

The most important thing is that the negotiated agreement was reached. Now we can focus on our main tasks. The UH was the target of the first strike, and the following strikes were targeted at other universities (but were not realised when the contract was reached).

Liisa Laakso

Failed negotiations were the main issue. Both the employer and employee sides share the view that the current salary system is heavy and non-transparent. We must find clearer rules. The work remains unfinished, but the decision to continue developing the system was made together. This must be invested in.

Sari Lindblom

The negotiations for a collective agreement between the Association of Finnish Independent Education Employers and the workers’ unions were long and difficult. As the largest and most important university, the University of Helsinki was the first in line for a strike. The other universities would have had their turn next in two groups. Fortunately, one strike day was enough.

Jari Niemelä

The strike was caused by broken negotiations on a collective agreement. The strike was a reminder that the people at the University are unsatisfied with their salary development, and the same issue might arise again during the next round of negotiations.

Outi Vaarala

This was a normal, justified industrial action in support of the employees’ demands. The action and the discussion on it made the broad significance of work done at universities clear to different parties in society – and this is only a good thing.

2. Many people at the University feel that collegiality and democracy at the UH have been crumbling. Instead of our University, people have started simply talking about the University. What measures will you be taking as the Rector to a) increase collegiality and b) improve democracy?

Jukka Kola

We have received good suggestions from our community. Many measures are already being taken: better internal communication, transparency of preparatory work and decision-making, changes to the University Statutes (faculty council), Rector’s open campus meetings, development of management / supervisory duties. Mutual respect and supporting each other. Our UH!

Liisa Laakso

More transparency and places for collegial bodies to form their position on decisions that concern the entire University community. The Rector and Board must react to the issues and initiatives raised by these bodies. The community must be able to follow the implementation of decisions and give feedback.

Sari Lindblom

The important issue is rebuilding the trust between the Rector and the people of the University. Communication must be improved. I promise to explain the processes and justifications behind the Rector’s decisions to the people at the University. Fairness and transparency are the most important factors to promote communality in my actions.

Jari Niemelä

Procedures for amplifying the voice of personnel and students in decision-making (e.g. unit meetings, hearings) are developed. The management and decision-making bodies are required to take the procedures seriously. The need for changes in regulations and instructions is investigated.

Outi Vaarala

a) I will increase cross-disciplinary, jointly-funded projects and cooperation between faculties. b) I will create forums where personnel and students can meet, and look for ways to increase dialogue between the Management, personnel and students – by changing the University Statutes, if necessary.

3. The University of Helsinki has expressed its desire to be a good and internationally attractive employer and educational institution. How will this objective be achieved?

Jukka Kola

The most important thing is to focus on our main tasks: research, teaching and learning, their quality. This creates genuine and strong societal interaction and impact, internationally and nationally. Wellbeing & equality as well as recruitment (staff & students) is improved. Cooperation between UH and Helsinki important for attractiveness.

Liisa Laakso

The University has a good reputation which should be cherished. The University’s reputation is based on good research and teaching as well as active participation in society.

Sari Lindblom

The international attractiveness of our University is achieved through the good quality and reputation of our research and teaching as well as a great deal of international cooperation. The international mobility of our researchers must be supported. The integration of international researchers and students into our community is important.

Jari Niemelä

By investing in high-quality research and teaching as well as the wellbeing of both personnel and students. In addition to this, internationality in research and teaching is strengthened, including services for it.

Outi Vaarala

With the faculties’ help, I will establish national and international teaching and research programmes to strengthen internationality and increase the personnel’s time for teaching and research, which will improve quality and attractiveness for both employees and students.

4. The University is equal to its community, which includes professors, other personnel and students. What practical measures would you take to promote the formation of communality at the University of Helsinki?

Jukka Kola

Everyday ways are mutual respect and supporting each other. We do not allow inappropriate behaviour, we do not sweep problems under the carpet. We do not search for culprits, but for solutions to our common matters. We all have our own responsibility, especially all supervisors. Wellbeing and equality, every day!

Liisa Laakso

The foundation of communality is holding together and appreciating everyone’s work and expertise. Dialogue between the management of University Services and education and research work is important. I would promote it at least with the mobility of administrative personnel between the Main Building and the faculties, in both directions.

Sari Lindblom

I will establish closer communication between the rectors and the central actors of the University (e.g. University Collegium, student organisations, deans, degree programmes, personnel). I will send a monthly letter on current issues to the University community. I will organise regular, open morning discussions over coffee.

Jari Niemelä

Procedures for amplifying the voice of personnel and students in decision-making are created, for instance, regular unit meetings and the management’s visits to units. Occupational wellbeing is improved based on the results of the workplace wellbeing survey and student feedback.

Outi Vaarala

I will bring a new management culture with me, I will increase centralised applications for funding and establish cross-disciplinary programmes. I will establish the Rector’s scientific retreat, science academy and idea incubator, into which I will invite various personnel groups and students from different faculties.

5. The University community has had largely negative experiences of how the cuts of recent years have been implemented. The experiences were charted in a survey and a report based on the survey. How will you contribute to taking genuine action against the flaws identified in Professor Sue Scott’s report?

Jukka Kola

Our community suggested and the Board decided on the measures that will be promoted in 2018 under the ‘Communality’ theme: better internal communication, transparency of preparatory work and decision-making, bringing up difficult issues, changes to the University Statutes, good management / supervisory duties. In everyday work, mutual respect and supporting each other.

Liisa Laakso

The University has created a programme of measures based on the results and recommendations of the Sue Scott report, and the implementation of this programme is still ongoing. This must be continued and the results monitored. Everyone’s right to work in peace must be guaranteed.

Sari Lindblom

The relevant issue is the interaction between the Rector and the people at the University. Messages must flow in both directions. I will work actively to promote the wellbeing of personnel and students. I will promote interaction between faculties to increase multidisciplinary cooperation and appreciation among sciences.

Jari Niemelä

The process for taking action against flaws is continued, its realisation is monitored and corrective measures are taken, if necessary. The management has an important role, while personnel and students are also encouraged to take action against flaws. Mechanisms for this are created.

Outi Vaarala

I will strengthen the influencing opportunities of personnel and students and act as their link to the Management. I will improve working conditions and trust with transparency, by increasing direct administrative support, by acquiring funding in a centralised manner and by looking after the University’s interests in society.


6. The recent administrative reforms and cuts to basic funding have undermined researchers’ possibilities to focus on research. How would you strengthen the prerequisites of research at the University of Helsinki as the Rector?

Jukka Kola

Increasing basic funding would obviously be the best way to allow researchers to focus on research and to have functional support services / University services. We must influence political decision-makers: university index & parliamentary elections. Instead of constant project applications, more time for research. HiLIFE, HELDIG, HELSUS, INAR, SSH et al improve UH cooperation.

Liisa Laakso

Research services must be strengthened, especially in order to apply for international funding. The University must demand the state authorities to increase total funding as well as the focus on research within it. Strategic research grants should be directed at multidisciplinary concentrations, and the organisation of sabbaticals should be encouraged.

Sari Lindblom

The next few years must be kept free of large reforms. More time will be left for research when teaching is allocated fairly among the teachers. Teaching must be arranged in such a way that everyone will regularly get a research-free period. The 5% teaching obligation of doctoral students must be utilised.

Jari Niemelä

Getting the research leave system established and linking the University’s own research funding to this. Moving administrative tasks from teaching and research personnel to University Services and reducing administration in general.

Outi Vaarala

I will establish national and international teaching and research programmes with the help of the faculties to focus the personnel’s work time more efficiently for teaching and research. Applications for funding will be made in an increasingly centralised manner. Administrative support for researchers will be increased.


7. How do you think the Big Wheel degree reform has succeeded so far? How should our degrees be developed from this point onwards?

Jukka Kola

Quality and attractiveness of degrees (applicants & working life) and teachers’ cooperation improve. Not all at once, of course, this takes work & time; there are differences between units. Research experience, broader understanding and competence that can be updated throughout life for students. Different study paths make one competent both as a researcher and for other positions.

Liisa Laakso

There is still work to be done. The most important thing is to ensure sufficient teaching resources, teaching of the common foundation of disciplines and clear subject selections. A corresponding reform made in Tampere was successful. Study paths may be further streamlined by differentiating master’s studies and using incentives for mobility.

Sari Lindblom

The central principles of the new degree programmes are career relevance, clear learning outcomes, multidisciplinarity and quality of teaching. The realisation of these principles must be assessed with a monitoring study. Teaching must be developed based on empirical evidence. This is the only way to promote the quality of learning and teaching.

Jari Niemelä

The Big Wheel has begun quite well, but challenges include the status of established subjects and the resourcing of faculties’ shared programmes. The implementation of the Big Wheel is evaluated and corrective measures launched. Investments are made in the internationality of degree programmes.

Outi Vaarala

I want to evaluate the success of the degree reform separately for each discipline and fix the degree programmes based on this. I want to promote international teaching from the master’s level onwards and increase interaction between students and teachers as well as students’ participation.

8. Does the Rector candidate believe that they could take some concrete measures that would decrease the underrepresentation of women when filling the highest positions?

Jukka Kola


Yes, one of my main priorities. This is how I have acted as the Rector and would continue to act, especially in professor recruitments (incl. career path), in good cooperation with the units. Active recruitment leads to good applicants in an equal manner. Leaders of the units have a great responsibility in recruitments/proposals. The situation is constantly improving.

Liisa Laakso

Application committees must identify potential candidates in an equal manner before opening up teaching positions. Equality must be followed in invitation procedures incl. the filling of professorships of practice. Family leaves, recruitments for research projects and teachers’ research periods must be organised in a manner that promotes women’s career opportunities.

Sari Lindblom

Promoting equality is an important objective. Getting women to advance into the highest positions requires persistent work, which must begin already in school. Women must be encouraged and supported to aim high right from the start of their studies. Balancing family and career must be made easier by measures such as establishing day care centres at the University.

Jari Niemelä

Potential ‘glass ceilings’ are investigated and removed. Persistent personnel policy and planning (e.g. avoiding consecutive fixed-term contracts) help to create better opportunities for women to advance in their university career (see also answer 1).

Outi Vaarala

My goal is to have a 50:50 gender distribution in higher positions by 2022. I will arrange mentors and peer support for women researchers. During my term as the Rector, the first evaluation of applicants will be made without names or personal identity codes, which reveal the applicants’ gender. Gender will not be asked from people applying to the UH.


9. In your opinion, how can the University Management promote the accessibility of education so that people would have equal opportunities to get into higher education despite different socioeconomic backgrounds, for instance?

Jukka Kola

Ensure that information about our many studying opportunities reaches young people (and their parents!) and in an increasing manner everyone with the need to update their competences (lifelong learning, open, continuing education). Cooperation between the UH & general upper secondary schools, just like cooperation with other relevant parties, must be increased. Open University is really important!

Liisa Laakso

By abandoning entrance exams that require long preparation, promoting paths to universities from occupational degrees, utilising the competences of people with immigrant background in degree programmes (e.g. the Somali language and Islamic theology) and looking for ways to provide education for Roma youth.

Sari Lindblom

To promote the accessibility of education, the University must cooperate with the Ministry and the school system. This can be done through persistent work and communication. Student guidance in schools must be reformed. We must get parents and teachers more closely involved in encouraging students to apply to higher education institutions.

Jari Niemelä

The University’s entrance exams and study arrangements must be equal from the perspective of different socioeconomic groups. To improve students’ social situation, the University Management cooperates with student organisations and other parties.

Outi Vaarala

We hold on to the principle that studying at the University is free for students from the EU and EEA countries and take the responsibility of strengthening the University’s funding base with other means than tuition fees.


10. Do you support tuition fees for students from outside the EU and EEA countries? Why?

Jukka Kola

I do not especially ‘support’, but fees are currently the prevailing practice in the international university field, incl. Sweden, Denmark and Estonia. Large application pressure (from 66 countries) in our last international application round showed that the UH is attractive! Our grants support the selected applicants, which means that their finances / background is not decisive.

Liisa Laakso

Fees that cover true costs make it possible to increase the supply of education. Thus, they promote teacher-researchers getting employed. Higher education is an efficient way of supporting wellbeing in the least developed countries. The costs of students from these countries should be covered with development cooperation funds.

Sari Lindblom

I am not for or against tuition fees. Now that the decision to collect fees has already been made, it is important to offer enough grants for talented applicants. Developing the grant system so that it becomes more diverse is crucial. For instance, some of the grants could be country-specific or aimed at students with limited means.

Jari Niemelä

Students from outside the EU and EEA countries already pay tuition fees. Their aim is to encourage universities to invest in teaching and to attract motivated students. Quality turns into a competitive advantage. Tuition fees are a part of education export.

Outi Vaarala

Tuition fees in English-language degree programmes are currently too high. With the help of entrance exams, we can select high-quality students, and increasing internationality is an advantage for us, so tuition fees should not be allowed to hinder attractiveness.


11. One of the greatest banes of the academic world is the use of consecutive short-term contracts, with researchers moving from one fixed-term position to another without realistic possibilities of making the position permanent. What will you do to ease the plight of those who are caught up in a spiral of academic short-term work?

Jukka Kola

Really hard issue; easy solutions have not been found. More basic funding (vs. competitive) would help. More should be invested in the post doc phase (incl. career path). A 4-year contract for doctoral students more often (already in the UH Research Foundation!) instead of grants. This is a large issue with many parties (Academy of Finland, foundations, universities, intl. funding).

Liisa Laakso

Permanent contracts would be the goal, even though the risk of the research funding chain breaking exists. Such a scenario would result in a lay-off on production-related grounds. Doctoral and career path positions would be exceptions in which people progress as planned or from which they move outside the University.

Sari Lindblom

I will promote making fixed-term lectureships and professorships permanent together with the deans. I will monitor the process in budget negotiations with the faculties. Tenure track professorships and post doc positions with external funding are important. They allow talented researchers to further their career.

Jari Niemelä

The University energetically takes action against such fixed-term and consecutive contracts that are not justified (legal). In practice, this means permanent contracts.

Outi Vaarala

The Management must aim to increase basic funding, which would make it possible to make contracts permanent. By creating broad, strategic and jointly-funded research programmes, we can make it possible for experts to move around within programmes, which makes it possible to make contracts permanent.

12. Grant researchers are an active part of our University community, but they are often treated as second-class citizens when it comes to occupational healthcare and travel funding, for instance. What measures will you be taking as the Rector to eradicate this kind of unequal treatment?

Jukka Kola

We strive to repair flaws. This has been examined both at UH and with other (funding) parties. Different disciplines have different methods (e.g. research groups vs. individual researchers), so we must be more thorough in investigating what we can do in general and in each unit. The UH is looking for the best methods in cooperation with the other parties mentioned above.

Liisa Laakso

Foundations are encouraged to fund jobs. Hourly-paid teaching is arranged for grant researchers. The faculties and institutes must support their focus areas with e.g. travel grants based on the quality of research, not its funding. Everyone should be covered by insurances and public or private healthcare.

Sari Lindblom

To achieve a solution on the position of grant researchers, we will need extensive cooperation between the foundations that fund research and the universities. Incorporating occupational healthcare into the grants is possible but would mean that fewer researchers would receive grants. All doctoral students can apply for the Chancellor’s travel grants.

Jari Niemelä

Uniform procedures for doctoral researchers’ support and obligations are created at the University (e.g. working space, travels, teaching). The possibility of occupational healthcare is investigated.

Outi Vaarala

As a part of research groups, grant researchers must have equal rights in the research community, for travel funding, for instance. Occupational healthcare is a statutory benefit and only belongs to people with contracts, but we can investigate whether part-time contracts could make occupational healthcare possible for grant researchers.

Want to learn more about the candides? Check out the interviews from 12 April on Unitube!

Photos: University of Helsinki
Photos of Liisa Laakso & Jari Niemelä: Linda Tammisto, University of Helsinki