Kai Öistämö, who is about to complete his four-year term as Chair of the Board of the University of Tampere is happy about the fact that all the higher education institutions in Tampere are now committed to the joint venture of merging the universities. For Öistämö, the recent decision of Tampere University of Technology (TUT) to continue to prepare for Tampere3 is the best possible news.
“This crucial decision means that things will move forward with the university merger. TUT took a clear stand that they, too, want to achieve the common goal. The boards of all three higher education institutions are now committed to this venture,” Öistämö says.
Merging the three higher education institutions was not yet on the agenda when Öistämö, who earned his Doctor of Science (Technology) degree at TUT, started in his post four years ago.
The idea for the merger gradually turned into the Tampere3 project during Rector Kaija Holli’s term of office when Tampere University of Applied Sciences also came on board. The project, which initially had a swift start, halted in the autumn of 2016 because the TTY Foundation – the foundation that is Tampere University of Technology – interrupted the preparations. TUT revoked its decision only a week before Christmas.
The different legal statuses of TUT and UTA cause concern, and the universities also had different ideas about what was going to happen in the merger. TUT is a foundation university and UTA a public university whereas the new Tampere3 university will be a foundation university.
Öistämö says that he does not know all the facts behind TTY Foundation’s decision. However, he wants to highlight two important points, one of which concerns the technical question of the responsibilities of a foundation; it will take some time to determine what kind of responsibilities the current members of the Board of TTY Foundation have as regards the foundation’s property.
Another problem is the different ideas the higher education institutions have about what would ensue from the merger and what would be the consequences of continuing or discontinuing the project. A meeting with representatives of the Ministry of Education and Culture addressed these questions earlier in December.
“We achieved a joint understanding of what the financial consequences of both options would be. Perhaps lack of understanding was what initially led to the different conclusions,” Öistämö says.
Öistämö finds it interesting that all of TUT’s stakeholder groups have been strongly in favour of the Tampere3 project but TUT’s leadership has entertained some doubts.
According to Öistämö, it is often easier to postpone decisions than make them swiftly. Postponing Tampere3 was no longer possible at the end of 2016 because the Ministry of Education and Culture needed to know on what the higher education institutions in Tampere planned to use their funding in the new strategy period, which will start in January 2017.
The Universities Act guarantees the right to participate
Members of the University of Tampere community have demanded that employees and students should have the right to participate in decision-making also at the Tampere3 university.
“The right to participate is stipulated by the Universities Act; members of the university community are guaranteed participation in all types of universities regardless of the university’s legal status. The Universities Act is quite unambiguous in this regard, which should put people’s minds at rest,” Öistämö says.
The different administrative structures of the different types of universities are what caused the hesitation. Instead of the collegiate bodies of public universities, foundation universities have different multi-member administrative bodies with slightly different remits and roles for participation.
Bigger means stronger
The economy of the new university is a huge issue, which the TTY Foundation was also concerned about when it decided to continue the merger process. As economic growth is not in the horizon, universities are also bound to have more scarce resources.
“A larger university would be considerably stronger among the Finnish universities. We would have better preconditions for doing research and providing education,” Öistämö says.
According to Öistämö, merging the higher education institutions in Tampere will also be reflected in the amount of funding from both the government and private sources.
“Making profit is not the purpose of universities; funding is only a means to an end.”
Öistämö believes that the Finnish higher education institutions are currently being divided into research and education universities.
“Because our resources are being reduced, we might end up in a situation where the smaller universities will concentrate on education and the research universities will all be located in the Helsinki region. Tampere3 offers a great opportunity for changing this bigger trend, which will keep going on unless we do something about it,” Öistämö explains.
As universities in China and India, for instance, are increasing their resources and improving their expertise, the growth of global competition is also an aspect that speaks in favour of Tampere3.
“A bigger and stronger unit is a more fruitful breeding ground for internationally competitive research.”
We should be proud of Tampere
According to Öistämö, Tampere is the biggest and liveliest university town in northern Europe.
“We should be proud of what we have achieved in Tampere. We get the best students because it is very hard to gain entrance at our university. This is an excellent and attractive environment for education,” he says.
The University of Tampere has improved its position in international university rankings and in September, the Times Higher Education placed it fourth among the Finnish universities. According to Öistämö, that is because of the assiduous development work undertaken by the University.
“If I am honest, a lot still needs to be done and a lot is related to lack of resources. It takes a long time to develop a university.”
In spite of the scarce resources, the University of Tampere has fared relatively well in the competition for external funding.
“Things are all right but they could be better. We have a skilled community of teachers and researchers and our students are excellent. However, all we do could be of a much higher quality if we only had better resources,” Öistämö says.
Text: Heikki Laurinolli