University of Helsinki aims for the top 50

The University of Helsinki aims to become one of the top 50 universities in the world by 2020. On January 18, 2012, the university’s board approved this strategic goal for the years 2013-2016. The strategy will be translated and made available in English during early 2012 at

 Rector Thomas Wilhelmsson is very happy with the process by which the new strategy was crafted. The university community participated in large numbers to the discussion on the future of the university, which is also reflected in the result. In his video blog post Wilhelmsson sheds light on the top priorities of the strategy, and shares the strategic goal closest to his own heart.

 Now that the guidelines for the future have been drawn, the next step is to bring the strategy into practice. In March, on all four campuses, all interested parties are encouraged to attend discussion events about the new strategy.

[hyvideo 20060]

5 thoughts on “University of Helsinki aims for the top 50

  1. “Rector Wilhelmsson hopes that a foreigner-friendly view will become an integrated and natural part of planning also in those units, where the number of international students and staff is still low. The university community aims to take good care of its international members.

    “Services and information in English are things, which international researchers have given us feedback on. These areas will continue to be developed,” says Wilhelmsson.”

    This is declaration is completely unaccountable seen from the point of view of a member of the Department of Modern Languages, in which there are about 35 foreigners, none of whom are professors, and almost all of whom are in menial, unappreciated teaching jobs which offer no promotion and in which research is done in one’s holidays and whatever spare time can be found. The handful of foreigners in research positions are very junior. For most of us, senior teaching is denied, scholarly responsibilities at advanced and postgraduate level are denied, supervision is denied, research funding is denied, and a careeer is denied.
    Despite this utterly depressing outlook, many foreigners here have managed over the years to establish international research profiles, and a respected position in their fields. It could have been so much better had they been given opportunties equal to their Finnish colleagues. The lack of recognition, opportunity, funding, and promotion is demoralising and depressing, and more so when Finns are promoted simply because they are Finns over the heads of foreigners with better scholarly records. This department maintains a ruthless ‘Finns first’ policy against the wishes now stated by Professor Wilhelmsson. As a colleague quipped some time ago, ‘Everything is fine as long as Finns run everything.’ Meanwhile the frustration, demoralisation, and anger grows.
    Those foreigners who have not pursued their academic ambitions have simply accepted that they must do something else with skills and gone into areas sometimes related to but not central to their jobs. In this department this is a more sensible and less frustrating adjustment to life in Finland, but those of us who are genuinely scholars should not have to work in a university while being denied the right to pursue a scholarly career, let alone the encouragement and assistance required to succeed. For the university as a whole, this is simply a lose-lose situation. If this department is any guide, HY cannot rise in the rankings – it must inevitably drift further into mediocrity. My own alma mater, ranked close to HY a few years ago, is now more than 40 places higher.

    A ‘foreigner-friendly view’ in Modern Languages is a sick joke. Indeed it might be argued that it represents systematic discrimination against foreigners. Taking ‘good care’ of one’s international staff clearly does not extend to this department – quite the contrary.



    As Roderick McConchie writes, the Department of Modern Languages is one of the most international departments in Helsinki University. Of its 97 permanent members of teaching staff, 35 have a native language other than Finnish. More specifically, 11 have English as their mother tongue, while the remaining 24 represent 10 other native languages.

    The main claim and worry of Roderick McConchie is that our department favours Finnish applicants in the recruitment of professors. During the existence of the new department we have not yet recruited professors for permanent posts, so Roderick McConchie seems to be referring to the competition for the four-year professorship in English philology, for which he was a candidate. According to the new statutes of the University, we take into account three major criteria: merits in research, skills and merits in teaching, and other relevant personal capacities. In our department, we have systematically followed the principle of not giving preference to people who have worked in our university or graduated from it. We try to find the best person from the point of view of the needs of the department and the subject concerned. One aspect of this is the person’s capability and willingness to cooperate with other teachers and researchers, and the ability to develop teaching and research. As far as teaching skills and other relevant capacities are concerned, I can only refer to the statement of the search committee because I did not attend the interviews and teaching demonstrations of the applicants. The only aspect I can comment upon is research merits. As we all know, citations are not a very reliable tool in assessing research merits in the Humanities, and I always use this criterion very cautiously. Nevertheless, major differences in these figures say something about the international visibility of a researcher, especially if the discipline is clearly international by its nature, as English philology is. The Publish or Perish database, whose coverage is much wider than that of Web of Science, gives the following figures for citations: McConchie 18, the person selected 202.

    Career promotion, especially from the post of University Lecturer (yliopistonlehtori), is a real problem in our system, but one that equally concerns both Finnish and foreign teachers. Salary increases can be made under the VAATI + HENKI system, but this is not a substitute for promotion to a higher post. As for using the expertise of university lecturers for research supervision at the advanced level, we still have unused resources here, but this is due to traditions inherited from the previous departments rather than being attributable to the foreign origin of teachers.

    Lack of time for research is another problem that we have to face. The faculty is launching a system of research leave in the future, but it will not be easy to implement in a situation where teaching has to be organized with decreasing resources. Roderick McConchie has been one of the rare fortunate exceptions in previous years in the sense that he has held a temporary research position in a Centre of Excellence.

    Communication is a challenging issue in a multilingual and multicultural department such as ours. It is clear that we have to use Finnish in communication more than was the case in the old English Department. In order to find out people’s opinions on this matter, we added questions concerning language policy to our quality and non-discrimination survey conducted last year. Most staff members favour a model where presentations are in Finnish, supporting material in English, and questions and discussion in both. In the teaching development seminar in January 2012, we successfully used this method, with the exception that the substance lecture was also held in English.

    Roderick also mentions university rankings. They certainly give rather interesting results. According to the QS World University Ranking, the Faculty of Arts wins out over all the other faculties of Helsinki University. At the level of individual disciplines, linguistics has the highest ranking position in our faculty and in the whole university.

    All in all, there are many things we can improve in the work of our department. I think it is best to continue the discussion on this issue within the department.

    Arto Mustajoki
    Head of the Department of Modern Languages

  3. While I agree that further discussion is more appropriate within the department (whenever that discussion is to take place), I wish to make two points – first, the situation I refer to was not created by the present Department but was inherited by it. After all, there has to my knowledge never been a non-Finnish professor of his or her own language at this university. Although this is the inheritance of a long history, it is still incumbent on this department to take the problem seriously. Maintaining a large staff of foreign servants is not internationalization.

    Second, Professor Mustajoki assumes that I was referring to a particular decision. In fact I was not, and in doing this he has ascribed very narrowly self-interested motives to me when I was at pains to point out the general problem the department faces. I have never called the decision to which he refers into question as such, but I have certainly questioned a system that left me, as a lecturer, in a position never to be competitive no matter what, as it has done many others.

    Rod McConchie
    University Lecturer

  4. Rod McConchie is right concerning professorships, but only as far as English philology is concerned. For example, my predecessor, professor Igor Vahros, was of Russian origin (Vahromejev). Andrew Chesterman just retired from the professorship of multilingual communication. There may be other examples as well. As I said, in the future we will do our best to recruit the best available person for every post we have. Talking about internationalization, I would like to add one more aspect, the students. As Rector Wilhelmsson said, we are still at a halfway stage in internationalization. This concerns the whole Finnish research system.

    Arto Mustajoki

  5. Professor Vahros retired in 1980, a long time ago now, and was replaced by a Finn. Professor Chesterman has not ‘just’ retired, but did so a few years ago. Surely our most urgent concerns are with the present and the future. I still know of no non-Finnish professor in Modern Languages at present.

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