Universities and managerialism

After the events at the University of Helsinki in 2015/16, one new role that I took on was shop steward (well, deputy) for my union. Like a few other professorial colleagues from other Faculties that I’ve met, I cut down on other ‘useless’ administrative work to devote time to union activities because I was shocked by how crudely the redundancies, as necessary as they may have been, were put into practice. The activities that this role involves have given me a vantage point from which to observe labour relations at the University. In addition, membership in the University’s Equality Committee complements these observations.

One such observation is telling and an indication of how far we still are from any ideal situation. Despite the rather damming review that Professor Sue Scott wrote on those events based mainly on interviews conducted with members of staff, and despite the first reaction of university management acknowledging the criticism, the most striking thing is the employer’s current tone: a lack of humility, and an insistence on going forward, even when those affected wish to look closer at what specifically went wrong and what we could learn from mistakes made. Further, the University’s decision to not make the review public ( a supposedly exclusively ‘internal’ matter) reinforces that tone.

Finns tend to think that British universities represent the worst bits of managerialism in the sector. But in my experience, things in the UK were organised in clearer, more transparent and more equitable ways, despite delimiting democracy to the deliberative kind and the possible micro-managing excesses of individual university managers. In Finland — or at least in Helsinki — we have the worst of two worlds: a Czarist tradition of heavy and inefficient administration coupled with an overzealous and amateurish adaption of management practices from the private sector.

We Finns have a lot to learn. And a little bit of humility wouldn’t hurt either.