The idea for the University of Tampere was born a hundred years ago

Submitted on Mon, 05/28/2018 - 08:44
YKK:n historiaa 1/ TaY:n arkisto
The roots of the University are in Helsinki: Rector Yrjö Ruutu spoke at the laying of the foundation stone of the Civic College in 1930. In the second picture, students visit an office. In the last photograph, Yrjö Silo sent off the removal van to Tampere in 1960. Photographs: Archive of the University of Tampere

The Civic College was founded to dispel the conflict and revolutionary spirit that had ignited the Civil War in 1918


Mervi Kaarninen/ Kuva: Teemu Launis
Historian Mervi Kaarninen thinks it is excellent that the idea for the Civic College started from civic education.   Photograph: Teemu Launis

The birth of the University of Tampere is so central to the beginning of the Finnish state history that the University should celebrate the year that marks the centenary of Finnish independence. The early predecessor of the University, Civic College, was founded in 1925 to dispel the contradictions and revolutions that had ignited the Civil War of 1918.

In June 1917, the first speech in favour of the new university was given by Adjunct Professor Leo Harmaja of the University of Helsinki. Harmaja dated the printed version of the proposal on 6 December, which was the day when the parliament decided on the Finnish independence.

Enlightening people
on their political rights

Historian Mervi Kaarninen, who has researched the history of the University of Tampere, says that the events leading to the establishment of the new educational institution were not a coincidence. The idea about the need to educate and enlighten citizens had already been aired for a long time. From the general strike in 1905 and the voting rights reform in the same year, the question of whether Finns were ready to use their new political rights had been raised.

The establishment of the new institution was related to wider developments that Kaarninen calls the university movement. At that time, the University of Helsinki was the only university in the country and it mainly offered teaching in Swedish. There was a need for a higher education institution that provided academic education in the Finnish language.

There were plans to establish a Finnish-language university in e.g. Jyväskylä, Mikkeli and even Lahti. Then, a Finnish university was founded in Turku in 1920. Åbo Akademi and the Civic College were also established; however, the Civic College was not the Finnish-language university that was intended. It was a higher education institution that promoted the learning of Finnish speakers on social and state affairs.

Professor Viljo Rasila writes in the history of the Civic College that the establishment of the higher education institution was aimed at subverting the forces that threatened the society and targeted against “socialism and the revolutionary spirit based on it”.

“I would say that our university had a great idea of civic education. The founders of the College wanted to ensure that political rights were used responsibly and social sciences were needed for that purpose,” Kaarninen says.

She does not consider opposing socialism as an essential aspect, but thinks that disseminating knowledge and providing education were the most important tasks of the new institution. In the post-Civil War situation, the Civic College also had a profound cohesive effect because it provided education for people who had not gone to grammar school or taken the matriculation examination.

Social impact
is a priority

Today, universities are thought to have three tasks: research, teaching and social impact. Kaarninen says that the early years of the Civic College were specifically characterised by social impact.

New undertones came in 1930 when the Civic College became the School of Social Sciences. According to Kaarninen, the idea of educating citizens gave birth to an intermediary organisation that started educating civil servants to serve the nation.

The School educated municipal administrators and social workers to work between the state and citizens. Vocational degrees became more established and got official qualification approval only in the 1940s. The need for professionals was great because there were only a few hundred college graduates in the new independent country.

Kaarninen cites Väinö Voionmaa, according to whom “college graduates worked among people in society and could be entrusted to have significant careers".

Scientific research, which has been foregrounded in recent years, became a part of the activities only after the Second World War, when the first Faculty was founded in 1949. The first dissertation was defended in 1955.

Hulda Juurakko got a place
to study at Civic College

The University of Tampere has a significant heritage in the principle of providing teaching for those who have not taken the matriculation examination. The College provided an avenue for social advancement for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Hella Wuolijoki recognised the idea in her play called Juurakon Hulda she wrote under the name of Juhani Tervapää, from which Valentin Vaala directed a film in 1937. In the story, a poor housekeeper overcomes difficulties, gets a place to study at the School of Social Sciences and moves forward in her life.

This ideal story of a strong woman was not completely unfounded. The number of women students rose rapidly and there were some role models for Hulda Juurakko. One of them was Rauha Hämäläinen, whose report card Kaarninen has seen and examined.

Finland was a pioneer in women’s university education among the Nordic countries. The first woman graduated with a master’s degree in the early 1880s. At the beginning of the 1930s, about one-third of university students were women. Initially, female students represented the Swedish-speaking upper class, but over time, students also came from the working class.

The School of Social Sciences provided a study path for women because if offered studies in the traditional women’s sectors, such as social work, where the demand for professionals increased. The expansion of study options to humanities eventually led to the fact that the proportion of women among the students of the University of Tampere has been over 60 per cent in recent years.


YKK Tampereelle/ TaY:n arkisto
The 1960s in Tampere: Flags fly in front of the new Main Building in Kalevantie. Lecturer Pentti Salmelin instructed students of journalism in the training studio. Students wave from the balconies of the Domus building where they live. Photographs: Archive of the University of Tampere


A model for universities
of applied sciences

The School of School Sciences was an educational institution comparable to the present universities of applied sciences until the 1940s when the first faculty was founded.

At the University of Tampere, the vocationally oriented bachelor-level studies were discontinued in the 1990s when the first universities of applied sciences were established. The universities of applied sciences now join universities again. Tampere University of Applied Sciences is becoming a part of the joint university group from the beginning of 2019.

In the 1960s, the idea of merging the University of Tampere and Tampere University of Technology could have been on the mind of Rector Paavo Koli, who campaigned to move the University of Tampere to Hervanta. It is hard to imagine that the two universities could have operated side by side within such a close distance from each other all these years as the merger happens only in the 2010s.

The university group now created in Tampere is not a new idea from the university of applied sciences perspective; a reform that was introduced in the 1920s already enabled the graduates of Tampere School of Technology to continue their studies at the University of Technology in Helsinki.

“It was a tough path, and only a few were able to do it, but it was possible. On the other hand, some sort of university-level education was also planned at Tampere School of Technology in the 1920s,” Kaarninen points out.

History is not written only
from the Tampere perspective

Future historians will in due course go through the process leading to the merger of the universities in Tampere.

Kaija Holli, the former rector of the University of Tampere, can be compared to Leo Harmaja a hundred years ago as the first person to air the idea. At the beginning of 2009, Holli proposed the merger in an interview with the Aikalainen magazine as soon as her election as rector was confirmed. She made a formal proposal in the opening speech of the new academic year in the autumn of 2013.

What will future historians think of Stig Gustavson’s report on the merger, which was never published?

“When we think of the work of historians who are studying a university, they are shocked when they go to the archive and see the huge number of documents. We read documents on university history, but of course, a variety of materials and memory information, such as interviews, are also used. The work could be compared to the job of a private investigator. You have to look at faces and gestures and not suppose that the truth comes straight out of someone's mouth,” Kaarninen says.

According to Kaarninen, a historian who writes about a university merger starts from the big picture. He or she will look at the national and international academic world and think how higher education policy is related to the case in Tampere.

“We would not do a historical study just by looking at the controversies in Tampere, even though the local conditions would naturally have an effect,” Kaarninen explains.

Tampereen yliopiston 2000-luku/ Kuvat: Karen ja Renvall
The University in the 2000s: Architect Antti Katajamäki designed the new Pinni building. Acting students rehearse in a joint virtual space with students from Coventry University. Information researchers’ data goggles already show the future. Photographs: Erkki Karén and Jonne Renvall


International models,
national tasks

The first rector of the Civic College, Yrjö Ruutu, studied other higher education models in Europe. According to Kaarninen, the first curriculum corresponded to that of a similar higher education institution in Sweden. London School of Economics was also used as a model.

Is the new Tampere University being planned according to international models?

“We have a particular task in Finnish society that we award a certain number of master’s, engineer’s and medical degrees and conduct research that has an impact on society,” Kaarninen says.

From the current perspective, the university merger seems overwhelming, but will future historians see it as a small part of a wider development?

“They need to see the bigger picture. It is important to tell how we ended up in this situation, combine bigger and smaller things, and form a coherent picture,” Kaarninen says.

Text: Heikki Laurinolli