All equal in workload?

Written by the group YA2-IntegratingEquality
Anne Duplouy, Juha Eskelinen, Riikka Keto-Timonen, and Hanna Koivula


The University of Helsinki aims at being an equitable environment, where diversity is safely expressed, represented, recognize and promoted. Most of the permanent staff has a workplan for 1612 hours per year. However, within this workplan our research, teaching and administrative tasks are distributed in various ways that may not always be equitable. The limits of the University staffs’ language skills, but also the lack of opportunities for acquiring or improving them, provide an excellent example on the difficulty faced by institutions to divide tasks in an equitable manner, while still responding to language policies, international competition pressures, and student’s expectations. Indeed, the student’s language proficiency plays an important role for their ability to succeed and deepen their understanding of the subject studied (see e.g. Crossley et al. 2017).

The language policy at the University of Helsinki (UH 2014) states that the native students in master programmes may attend teaching in a language their teacher is fluent in (Finnish, English or Swedish), but nevertheless may have the right to request examinations and other study-related assignments in either of the official languages of Finland: Finnish or Swedish (UH 2015: 12).  Similarly, the same language policy states that a person with no skills in Finnish or Swedish can’t serve any administrative duties, which would require such competence. Altogether, this may challenge the division of workloads within different units, and between levels within each unit, as the limits in the language skills of the staffs will drive their choices and contributions to diverse tasks.


Unequal Teaching Workloads

The multi-language aspect of an institution can be a challenge to its staff’s time allocation, as, for example, creating study assignments in two or more languages can increase the workload for the teacher. Although the teaching load can be covered equitably between staffs with different language skills, the language policy implies that the assessment of the students, for example, may fall predominantly on the Finnish/Swedish native speaker(s). In addition to increasing the teaching load of Finnish speaking staff, this might also lead to different cohorts of students being graded by different teachers (even potentially by teachers who might not be involved in the course itself) only based on the language the students have chosen for their exam. Such practice might appear as unfair for the students, and the teachers.

The students heavily rely on the teacher’s language skills when they learn to express themselves scientifically and produce assignments, reports and thesis. Most teachers and supervisors are specialists of their research field, but not necessary of the language in which they are communicating it. In combination with university’s emphasis to high quality of the language (UH 2015:50) in research and teaching outputs (e.g. research papers and academic theses), a teacher devoted to the profession may in some cases feel burdened by the language requirements. Improving student’s communication skills could be a workload to re-distribute to language professionals, rather than to the staffs that are native in the chosen languages, or on any supervisor who would like to focus on the science rather than the grammar of a text.

Burdened by administrative workload or willing to do more

Administrative work related to teaching and committee memberships, often accrue to people who are proficient in Finnish, especially in study programs that are in Finnish. Due to these various administrative tasks, Finnish speakers may feel that they have less time for research compared to their international colleagues. This is poised to increase the sense of inequality, as research merits play ‘the’ key role in the advancement of any academic careers. At the same time, international staff members may feel they are excluded from participating in administrative tasks due to the language used. Regardless of the situation, García-Gallego et al. (2015) have suggested that if a teacher has administrative duties but is not compensated by reduction in teaching load, the quality of the teaching may also deteriorate.

The university of Helsinki encourages its staff to use the three languages in a relaxed way. However, this can often mean that most of the discussion is conducted in one language only. This is perhaps not the most relaxing situation for staff members without adequate language skills, as the most important points might go unnoticed or unsaid. While we researchers may think that changing the administrative language to English could be the best option, the situation is not so straightforward, as it might be more challenging for some staff members to communicate and attend meetings in English and some of the administrative documentations still need to be produced in Finnish and Swedish for the students.

What can we do to fight unequal workload?

There is an obvious need for the international staff to learn the national language(s). However, this on itself can represent an extra workload as it comes in addition to the teaching/research tasks already covered by this person. The acquisition of new language skills is time and energy consuming and often not rewarded. Especially in Finland, the national language is considered one of the most difficult to learn. It is not enough to motivate hours away from family/hobbies/research towards language learning by later promising better integration and better shared administrative tasks (instead of the aimed teaching or research duties).

We suggest:

1) Teachers! Communicate early with your students about your own language skill limitations. Discuss whether this will suit the students’ skills, and if not question their needs. This way you may plan, prepare and get support at an early and maybe less busy time.

2) International researchers! Difficulties in participating in discussion and decision-making in joint meetings and events can interfere with your integration! If you don’t have the time to follow language courses offered by the University, find a keen colleague and practice the language around a coffee rather than in long administrative meeting situations.

3) Institution! Sharing administrative work equally is not easy. As a first step, it would be important for units to clearly agree on the languages to be used in different situations, and to enforce it! Thus, it would be more transparent for everyone what duties people with various language skills can take care of. Then, it might be time to implement rewards. Rewarding staff for improving their language skills however requires resources! But the trade-off with equitable workloads on all staff might be worth, as the satisfaction at work is sure to increase.



Crossley, S., Barnes, T., Lynch, C., & McNamara, D. S. (2017). Linking Language to Math Success in an On-Line Course. International Educational Data Mining Society.

García-Gallego, A., Georgantzís, N., Martín-Montaner, J. & Pérez-Amaral, T. (2015) (How) Do research and administrative duties affect university professors’ teaching? Applied Economics 47: 4868-4883.

UH 2014. University of Helsinki Language Policy. University of Helsinki. [Available at]

UH 2015. Regulations on Degrees and the Protection of Students’ Rights at the University of Helsinki. The Board of the University of Helsinki. [Available at]

Multilingual co-teaching is time consuming, but well worth the time!

Written by Anne Duplouy, Juha Eskelinen, Riikka Keto-Timonen, and Hanna Koivula


Universities and their teaching staff are required to internationalize their teaching in order to future proof themselves and their graduates. In the future, the world, and the Finnish society especially, will need more professionals who can co-operatively tackle complex, multi-disciplinary problems using good communication and language skills (Jalkanen 2017; Räsänen and Taalas 2010). The classic teaching format often puts the workload on single university teachers, however, teamwork in multilingual settings is increasingly observed. The expected benefits from co-teaching, or teaching in teams, are however still rarely obvious to anyone.

The student perspective

Who, as a student, has not felt lost during their first lectures provided in a foreign language? The average reading speed in a non-native language is slower (Frazer 2007), as we struggle for understanding both the content of a text and the structure of the new language. Using two (or more) teachers and languages during classes could then appear as another challenge doomed to reduce chances of a successful learning experience. But in fact, multilingual teaching has more than one potential advantage:

    • Multilingual teaching in multi-lingual learning groups increases the feeling of belonging to a community, which has been shown to improve peer collaboration, cooperation and learning outcome in students (Krulatz & Iversen 2019).
    • Multilingual teaching supports the development of the students’ ability to work in an international setting, raise their awareness of the diversity around them, and the challenges associated to it. Students that attend multilingual studies through Erasmus+ Exchange programs find participation “enriching academically, socially, personally, and in terms of the development of employability” (Erasmus 2019). There is high demand in Finland for people who can work with the multilingual communities or sectors of their own profession, further suggesting that students with international experience could be favoured during recruitment. In certain fields, such as medicine, the ability to communicate in both native and foreign languages is an important working life skill (Hull 2016), and multilingual teaching will support learning of professional terminology in several languages.

The institutional perspective

It is a common conception that a course organized by two teachers would increase the costs (in time and money) allocated to the course for the institution. It implies the institution will have to provide for two salaries for the same amount taught by one teacher. But does it really? A multilingual course involving teachers of different background and experience, does not necessarily increase general teaching costs:

    • Multilingual teaching improves students’ academic performance (Rubio-Alcalá et al. 2019) and if a student receives guidance in a familiar language, the student is more likely to complete the course and thus speed up the graduation as well.
    • Multilingual teaching could also be implemented as a joint virtual teaching of two different universities at two different countries and the connections between teachers could give rise to new research collaboration. A wide range of multilingual courses can also attract more tuition fee paying international students to the university.

Universities are committed to internationalization but many stakeholders still consider that universities have important role in preserving national language (Soler et al. 2018). Multilingual teaching would support both of these goals.

The teacher perspective

In co-teaching, teachers need to coordinate the content and practical work for their course. This coordination requires proper planning and frequent communication both before and during the course. But here again, what can at first appear as a tiring, ambitious and time demanding work task, is more likely to become, with a bit of organization, a pleasant, enriching and time-saving experience:

    • Co-ordination and planning are time well spent. In a multilingual team, teachers can teach in their native language, which they are fluent in. With this strategy, new staff can integrate more easily into a programme when part of a co-teaching team working on a course content.
    • Academia also relies heavily on individuals and there is seldom a plan for shorter or longer absences that would prevent a sudden loss of teaching quality and learning opportunities. Co-teaching increases the resilience of a programme. When multiple teachers are involved, they can take over from each other for short absences, e.g. sick leave or attending a conference. Through interaction and shared experience skills and methods can be shared and learned as we observe a colleague in action (Nonaka 1994: 19). Similarly, when a colleague retires, their tacit knowledge on a topic could fully disappear, while a co-teacher could retain some if not all of it in the programme.
    • Other Important benefits of co-teaching include labour division and peer-support. One teacher might excel as a coordinator, another masters Moodle or is a video wiz. Additionally, the equitable repartition of co-teaching tasks can enable efficient use of the time for each member, which can be redirected towards research, or other intensive tasks during a busy semester.

So why not challenge yourself?

Universities embrace the culture of experimentation in research, maybe teaching should reflect it too. The next time a new course is planned, or the structure of a program is revamped, give it a go, and suggest the creation of a teaching team, which will use the available languages. The lessons that will be learned from such experimentation might just lead to greater good for all parties involved.


Erasmus+ higher education impact study (2019). Publications Office of the EU. []

Fraser, C. (2007). Reading rate in L1 Mandarin Chinese and L2 English across five reading tasks. The Modern Language Journal, 91: 372–394.

Hull, M. (2016) Medical language proficiency: A discussion of interprofessional language competencies and potential for patient risk. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 54: 158-172.

Jalkanen, J. (2017). Monikielistä pedagogiikkaa yliopiston viestintä- ja kieliopinnoissa [Multilingual pedagogy in university level language and communication teaching]. Kieli, koulutus ja yhteiskunta, 8(5).


Krulatz, A. & Iversen, J. (2019) Building inclusive language classroom spaces through multilingual writing practices for newly-arrived students in Norway. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research 64: 372-388.

Nonaka, I. (1994). A Dynamic Theory of Organizational Knowledge Creation. The Organization Science, Vol. 5, No. 1: 14-37

Rubio-Alcalá, F.D., Arco-Tirado, J.L., Fernández-Martín, F.D., López-Lechuga, R., Barrios, E. & Pavón-Vázquez, V. (2019) A systematic review on evidences supporting quality indicators of bilingual, plurilingual and multilingual programs in higher education. Educucational Research Review. 27: 191-204.

Räsänen, A. & Taalas, P. (2010). Työelämässä ei pärjää ilman monipuolisia kommunikointi- ja kulttuuritaitoja – miten Jyväskylän yliopiston kielikeskus vastaa näihin haasteisiin? Kieli, koulutus ja yhteiskunta, 1(8). Saatavilla:

Soler, J., Björkman, B. & Kuteeva, M. (2018) University language policies in Estonia and Sweden: exploring the interplay between English and national languages in higher education. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 39: 29-43.

The topics of the group works

The participants of the university pedagogy course YA2 Internationalisation and collaborative environment in higher education (5 cr) will write blog posts as a part of their group work.

A total of 31 academics participates in the course and they work in seven groups for deepening their knowledge and understanding of the challenges of internationalisation, multilingualism and diversity in higher education. At the first ZOOM -meeting 15th September, the groups have agreed the name for their group and selected the following topics / themes for their further study:

The benefits of cultural diversity to group dynamics and research output is studied by the group Anonymous Dinosaurs.

Homogenious diversity – Formal or informal perspectives and practices in groupwork is studied by the group The Kontula-Gårdsbacka Team.

Internationalizing education at UH – why? is studied by the group Punavihreät.

Ryhmätyön mahdollisuudet ja haasteet kansainvälisessä oppimisympäristössä – teemaa tutkii ryhmä Rennosti kolmella kielellä.

International collaboration for online education is researched by the group ICOE – International Collaboration for Online Education.

The group YA2-IntegratingEquality decided to investigate following topics:  (1) Equal in the teaching work load, and (2) Integrating internationalization in teaching: pros & cons.

The group INSUS: Internationalizing sustainability has decided to focus on the following research question: What challenges does the international environment propose to sustainability education?

The blog posts will be published in language chosen by the group. The first posts will be published at beginning of October 2020.