This holiday season has been quite busy and intensive (for reasons that I might write more about a bit later), but now it is the New Year’s eve, and time to look back, and towards the future. The 1st of January, I will officially take hold of the new chair, Professor of Hypermedia, Especially Digital Culture and Game Studies that our department and the University of Tampere set up last year for the next five years’ period. I have been working so intensely the last five years, that it is hard to find the real quality of change that is going on around you. Yet, there are clear and fundamental changes taking place in the world: the climate, the globalizing culture and economy, gradual adoption of new technologies, gradual changes in peoples’ lives and ways of thinking. Some are for good, no doubt, and many developments are also giving cause for concern.
Close to the home, the Finnish university system has been clearly in some kind of crisis for years, and now some of the top politicians are showing signs of taking the university reform into their agenda. Today’s newspapers are telling about Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen riding to the next parliamentary elections waving this flag; he says that university reform will be the single most important task for the next government. I would readily agree, but there are many different directions this particular reform can go, and some of them can be rather heavy on the academic freedom and scientific autonomy. We have heard about the powerful restructuring of the Danish university system that the conservative government carried out over there, and much of what Vanhanen is saying is sounding like same road: integration into fewer and bigger units, introduction of tuition fees for foreign students (currently the Finnish university education is free for everyone who is allowed in), plus boards of universities should according to Vanhanen’s model be consisting of non-university personnel. The idea there is to introduce contacts to business world with its professional executives.
If you ask us who work within this system, our main problem right now is on the other hand the lack of basic funding (less money than in the early 1990s, while numbers of students and research projects has been rising all the time), and the stiff, bureaucratic administrative system on the other. Thus, the autonomy of science and scholarship is dependent on certain kind of economic backbone, and business-style board of directors is not necessarily going to serve the basic research in the best way, even if the more applied areas might profit from that kind of approach. Our department, and our work with emerging technologies and user culture studies for example, would probably prosper in the liberally reformed university system. On the other hand, there are many important, classic areas of learning which require something else than free market system to provide its resources and raison d’être.
Thus, my professional wish for 2007: a reasonable university reform that would both provide for the need for increased dynamism as well as sustained support for fundamental research and studies within academia. Impossible? Not at all…