English translation of Jorma Viikki's speech on the opening day

Sari Haataja

Jorma Viikki spoke on behalf of the University of Tampere staff at the opening ceremony of the academic year 2018 – 2019.

Dear rectors, honoured guests, university employees and students

My name is Jorma Viikki and I work as a project manager at University Services. I am also the Chair of the University of Tampere chapter of YHL, the Association of Finnish University and Research Establishment Staff, and one of the chief shop stewards at the University of Tampere.

It is a special honour to give the speech of a staff representative in the last opening ceremony of the present University of Tampere. This is a historic moment with a sense of nostalgia and finality in the air. However, there is also new enthusiasm about the future university and great potential in the new operating environment. My own history at the University of Tampere started in 1994. I give my speech in Finnish, but a translation of this speech will be linked to the news story on the opening ceremony published on the University’s website.

The opening ceremony of the new academic year is a good place to reflect why teachers, researchers and other experts are doing their jobs. There are certainly many personal reasons, but we are here for the students, who are the ultimate reason for which we work; everything else is arranged around this fact.

Over the last couple of weeks, a new group of students has appeared in the corridors and started to discover what our university has to offer them. They have most of their lives ahead of them, and it is up to us university employees to provide them with the building materials that will see them through to the future.

The University of Tampere has been and the new Tampere University will continue to be a multidisciplinary scientific community that has an impact on society. At present, we have approximately 15,000 degree students and 2,200 employees. Next year, when these numbers double, we will become the second largest university in Finland.

Running such a large organisation is not simple. This is also a university with a broad range of different scientific disciplines that have their own cultures and top-level talents; all this takes place within a strictly controlled operating environment.

At the University of Tampere, we have undertaken several major reforms throughout the 2010s. In the extensive organisational and educational reforms, no stone was left unturned. However, that brought us a cycle of reforms, which yielded both financial results and new kinds of openings and co-operation. Similar models were also introduced at other universities.

We managed to survive the difficult years without unpleasant lay-offs and were able to go through the financially weak years with the help of commitments that were negotiated with the staff.

However, it was considered important to continue the reforms and that is why we are building the new higher education community that will start next year. Everyone has probably heard about that, right?

During the reform process, I have found it very painful and even shocking to hear it repeatedly said that the University of Tampere has not done due diligence to balance its economy.

Usually, such talk has referred to the fact that the University of Tampere has not conducted co-operation negotiations in order to dismiss personnel.

However, this does not mean that the University of Tampere has not undertaken any measures that have had an effect on staff, and some of those effects have been negative.  The number of employees has been reduced by not renewing fixed-term employment contracts, and no new employees have been hired to replace those who retire. Because of all the reforms, the employees’ workload has significantly increased.

In the change process, the role and input of other personnel is emphasised. At the same time, the number of personnel in positions assisting the teaching and research personnel has notably lessened, by 112 people since 2011. This has meant that more administrative work has shifted to teachers and researchers.

Things can be done in many different ways and I think the staff and the employer have been able to engage in a constructive dialogue at UTA. I think that it is particularly important at the new foundation-based university university that such dialogue will continue so that the co-operation with staff can develop and improve.  My belief in this happening is affirmed by the newly appointed President Mari Walls, who on discussed work-related issues with the universities’ shop stewards her second working day.

The reduction of the number of employees that I already mentioned has come with a price. We are undertaking the biggest change in our history, but what are our resources? You have noticed that we are doing this work with almost the same number of employees as before. At Tampere3, this work is called “linjatyö” and I have gradually learned to use that word, too. We have over 80 projects working on the reform. In addition, people engaged in ordinary daily work are also undertaking much development and preparatory work for Tampere3.

As a staff representative, I want to voice my serious concerns that for long, the staff has already been working at the limit of their capacity. And the work will not end at the end of the year.  Our organisation was thin to begin with, but now it is almost non-existent. We count too much on the input of just a few individuals. We should be able to do everything possible to improve the situation.

The reform process has had various phases, which have been difficult to understand from the point of view of the University of Tampere.

For members of the university community, the university has always been a community characterised by the members’ ability to influence decision-making.

The alignments made in the preparations for Tampere3, which ignore the staff in this way, are very unfortunate and represent a worrying change in thinking. At the same time, the often admired business world is moving in the opposite direction where the staff is getting genuinely more involved in the management of companies.

There has been annoyingly little actual and real negotiating in the reform process in which legislation and regulations have been underrated to say the least. This is why the staff has resorted to various appeal mechanisms. Hopefully, the distortions in communications get to be sorted and the work will continue in accordance with normal operating procedures.

In the big picture, we are moving towards a new university community with technology, health and society as our areas of focus.

Our brand has been crystallised into the short phrase “human potential unlimited”.

As a staff representative, I believe that the brand also works internally and obliges us so that we must be ready to redeem the brand promise for the whole community.

Reforms are taking place also in the rest of the university world and, therefore, it is vital that we are able to fulfill the promises that are made and to take things forward together. Our aim at this point should be to clearly ensure that the new university works in the best possible way. At this time of the autumn, we can no longer keep repeating “we at TUT” or “we at UTA”.

Work to build the new organisation will reach a certain point at the end of the year so that the transition to the new organisation – especially that of students, teachers and researchers – is enabled and all the services will work. However, much still remains to be done beyond that point.

The reform will work out for the best and we will stand by it. At the same time, we continue to be proud of the history and achievements of the current University of Tampere. They are unique!

I wish you all an excellent new academic year!

Thank you!