The University of Oulu began change negotiations in the Faculty of Technology and the department of continuous learning on the 2nd of May based on financial reasons. The aim is to reduce costs 1,2 million euros per year. 52 persons are included in the negotiations and a maximum of 20 persons are under a threat of being laid off. This is not a whole new situation inside the University since the Faculty of Medicine had a threat of negotiations hanging over them last fall.
How did we end up here? The answer is fairly simple. The University’s overall financial result from last year had a loss of around 38 million euros. We are not in this position all alone. The University of Tampere published their financial statement on the 21st of March. It had a loss of 40,1 million euros and 5,7 million of it was made up from operative activities. The University of Helsinki had a loss of 51,8 million euros and 8,8 million euros of it was from its operative activities. It is reasonable to expect similar results from us as well even though the full statement is not yet published.
What is surprising is that only two departments are beginning change negotiations even though the financial situation is this rough.
Part of this is explained by an unstable situation in the world which has hit hard on the investments of universities and costs of the properties (electricity, rent etc.). The volume is so big that we cannot only hide behind that fact. One factor to point out the issue is a statement from the University of Eastern Finland, which tells us that it is normal to plan the operative actions of universities to a loss and gather the money needed from investments. An exceptional year does not explain the dire situation witb the overall resources and funding of the integral activities of our universities.
Is this a surprise? Not really. The matter is not just a faculty-specific struggle but rather a result of a bigger amount of time and its decisions. Finnish higher education has struggled with funding for a long time and the issue has formed into a chronic one. Otus published a research in 2019 which stated that during the 2010’s the funding has steadily reduced. Last government put a stop to direct cuts to funding but the struggle just deepened. The choice to hand out rights to take in more students without additional funding created an unfair competition in which it was almost mandated to get more people in at the cost of the economy of universities. It is not surprising that we are in this mess and it’s definitely not surprising if it keeps going on. This is what continuous aim for cost-effectiveness and budget cuts looks like.
I really wish that we do not surrender in this situation. Even bigger risk lies in internal struggles and fighting which gets us lost in the process of finding solutions. The dire situation should be a wake up call and a point for a political uprise of the whole field of higher education. This mess is a direct result of political actions in the long run and there is not a party that couldn’t be blamed for it. It is finally time to make a change of direction. If Finland appreciates science and education it cannot form universities into business-oriented “firms” and has to focus on generating results with steady and adequate basic funding.