Towards the top of the world?

Our strategy work is progressing at good speed and will soon reach its final stages. Thank you to all who have contributed! Despite the worrying financial situation, we are about to establish a good strategy that will help us find promising paths to the future, “reaching the top and out to society”.

As part of the strategy, we have sought to condense our goals into a few sentences that clearly indicate our direction. At this stage, our goal for academic excellence is to become one of the top 50 universities in the world by 2020. Does this make sense? Or would it mean throwing ourselves at the mercy of more or less random rankings that distort reality?

Some think that instead of having a numeric goal for our ranking, we should formulate our objective more generally, such as being “among the best in the world”. The problem with such goal setting is its lack of distinction. Most university rankings already place the University of Helsinki well into the top 100. In that sense, we already are “among the best in the world”. At the same time the world has some 17,000 universities, which means that even universities in the top 500 have grounds for claiming to be among the best.

Too general a goal would not communicate our desire to improve. Even though we are already a world-class university, we must strive for progress. Unfortunately, being content with the level we have already achieved is not sufficient as a strategic goal. An organisation or community that does not seek to improve will begin to regress sooner or later.

We want to reach the elite group of the top 50 universities in the world – but based on which criteria? Will we study the criteria of the Shanghai ranking system in great detail and align our operations accordingly? Of course not. Our goal setting is intended to prove that we want to take care of our basic tasks – teaching and research – and the related interaction with society even better than before. Our goals must guide us to improve, not to meet some relatively random criteria more effectively.

For this reason, I would not tie our goals to any specific ranking system. (Besides, the Performance Ranking of Scientific Papers for World Universities already places us in the top 50.) Some rankings focus on research whilst others focus on teaching. We strive towards the very best in both. That is why we should seek to be in the top 50 of as many ranking lists as possible. In my opinion, this type of generality is not a problem.

Above all, we want to communicate that we are determined to improve and that we measure our success by our ability to become one of the top 50 universities in the world. Our goal setting sends our stakeholders and other interest groups a message about the kind of university we aspire to be. By talking about the top 50 universities in the world, we indicate our chosen reference group – the group to which we can and want to belong.

Our goals set the direction for concrete measures. We reach for the top in research and education by investing in teaching and research infrastructure, offering researchers better opportunities to focus on their work, enhancing internationalisation, improving the management of teaching, developing a more systematic and interactive approach to teaching and investing in the recruitment of the best students, researchers and teachers. We have good plans; now we need to gather the resources. By concentrating increasingly on our focus areas, eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy and developing new facility solutions, we can advance our goals, even in the current economy.

I wish all members of the university community, as well as everyone interested in the university, a rewarding and enjoyable new academic year. All are welcome to participate in this discussion about the university’s strategy and future!

Thomas Wilhelmsson

The Rector

1 thought on “Towards the top of the world?

  1. What does the strategy help, if I am unemployed after my graduation? Does that,inturn affect the social standing of the university and frustrate its goal of becoming among the top 50 in 2020? What about minority rights at the university?

    I have studied at the University of Helsinki for more than 6 years,earned two degrees. Yet, I feel I am adding another certificate to a couple of my previous ones. I thought Finnish Degrees help me to get job, but I am begining to realise HU degrees have different meaning to different holders.It seems, the value of the degree, contrary to its professed rule, does not escape value judement. Unfortunately, my experience tells me, in the eye of employers it is viewed not for what it is but in whose hands it is.

    Therefore, I think the strtegy needs to pay attention to achieving full employment to its students, after graduation, too. The ‘invisible hands’ are creating a jam of unemployed graduates, which might be toxic to the upward ‘social movement’ of the university itself (at global stage).

    The future status of the university is not determined by itself alone, real life has a lot to do with it.

    Obviously, having a strategy is good first step.


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