Something old, something new…
I assumed my post as the head of administration at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the of November 2018. Returning to the University after a few years’ absence made me realise that many things have changed. However, what had remained the same was more important than any change: the fundamental and timeless nature and values of the University.
To me, working at a university boils down to a feeling of doing work that has relevance. I believe that the experience of being involved is, in one way or another, important to all of us. A feeling that we are all contributing to the realisation of a mission that is more valuable than any individual everyday task we carry out, something that we would be unable to achieve on our own.
Wellbeing is promoted by inclusivity, inclusivity by well-functioning interaction
University Services is tasked with supporting the University community in carrying out the University’s core duties: research, teaching, studying and learning, as well as public engagement.
Feedback on University Services operations was collected in the spring of 2019, now for the third time. Satisfaction with the services provided by University Services has improved in each survey, but there is still room for improvement. A common concern is how to ensure that interaction between support services staff and teachers and researchers thrives also in the future.
In 2019 certain faculties trialled YPA-Help, a new electronic service and guidance channel, which will be introduced at all faculties in 2020. YPA-Help offers assistance in everyday problems through the digital desktop of all University community members, but electronic services are no substitute for face-to-face encounters. The Faculty and a genuine connection to its daily life are important also to us at University Services. After all, we are all working toward a common goal.
During the current strategy period, boosting inclusivity has been an important development target for the Faculty. This is why it was also selected as the theme of the Faculty day held in February. Inclusivity can be strengthened through leadership, but it also requires attention from all of us: nurturing inclusivity makes everyday encounters meaningful.
In autumn 2019 a workplace wellbeing survey for the entire staff of the University was launched – twice. The Faculty’s scores improved in almost all areas from the previous survey, with the biggest improvement seen in inclusivity.
On the basis of the survey results and development proposals made by the staff, a plan for the development of occupational wellbeing will be drawn up. This plan will help us together to make the Faculty an even better place of work and study.
Success in the ESEVT evaluation was a joint Faculty effort
Being subjected to different assessments is part and parcel of career advancement for almost anyone involved in research. The Universities Act requires that universities too have to assess their education and research operations, as well as submit themselves to external assessments at regular intervals.
For education in veterinary medicine, probably the most important assessment procedure is the ESEVT evaluation. In contrast to many other assessments, ESEVT provides the unit examined in the evaluation process with exceptionally useful information and concrete development proposals, which can be utilised in a range of ways when developing the education provided by the unit.
After the previous ESEVT evaluation carried out in 2009, another was conducted at the Faculty in 2019. The process, including related self-assessment reports and assessment visits, was a demanding endeavour to both Faculty staff and students as well as the University Services employees contributing to it. I was impressed by the way in which everyone participating in the evaluation committed themselves to a shared goal. Our employees, who are dedicated to their work and long-term development, are undoubtedly one of the cornerstones of the Faculty’s internationally highly esteemed education.
In addition to the education provided by the Faculty, research operations throughout the University were assessed in 2019. In 2020 we will start preparing for the audit of the University’s quality system, to be carried out in autumn 2021. In the near future, we will also have ample opportunities to critically examine and assess our operations – and improve them even further on the basis of the information generated by such assessments.
Global impact in interaction?
In 2019 the community as a whole considered the University’s future: the process for drawing up the University’s new strategic plan commenced in January with a survey targeted at the entire community, subsequently carried on by committees and units as well as in a number of discussion sessions throughout the year.
By now, the Board of the University of Helsinki has approved the University’s strategic plan for 2021–2030. For the first time, the strategic plan was drafted for 10 years, and it will also guide the Faculty in planning its future operations. This work will start after the approval of University’s strategic plan.
According to the current strategic vision, ‘Global impact in interaction’, the University “intends to contribute to a better, sustainable world by taking an increasingly active role in the resolution of global problems”.
Soon, a new leaf will be turned in terms of strategy, but universities may today face larger societal expectations and challenges than perhaps ever before in our lifetime. At the same time, Finland has not been immune to the trend where home-grown beliefs based on personal experience challenge research-based knowledge and where researchers are belittled or threatened.
Although discussion on social media or in politics in particular is becoming increasingly pointed and polarised, Finns retain a solid confidence in universities as well as in science and research: from 2001 the Finnish Science Barometer, a survey published at three-year intervals by the Finnish Society for Scientific Information, has sounded out Finns’ relationship with science and trust in scientific institutions. The latest survey, published in 2019, demonstrates that this trust remains high. The favourable attitude towards science among Finns can be considered solid also on an international scale, as indicated by the Wellcome Global Monitor report published in summer 2019 by the Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom.
According to international comparison surveys, such as the European Social Survey and the World Values Survey, Finns trust each other and their institutions. The findings of these trust surveys seem to go poorly together with observations of diminishing trust arising in the public discourse. Anti-scientific statements and phenomena are real, but science and universities are backed by citizens’ tacit trust, which is widespread and stable.
This trust influences the expectations citizens have of universities, and inherent in this is a certain vulnerability: when counting on someone else to do something, we also take the risk of being let down. The higher the value of the thing we entrust to someone, the higher the risk we take and the more vulnerable we are.
Trust and interaction are closely connected: trust or the lack of it reflects on interaction, while interaction can maintain and strengthen, or damage and destroy trust. Therefore, ensuring well-functioning interaction is important, both in terms of society as part of our third mission and in the everyday life and encounters of our work community.
Head of Administration