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"Demonstrators offer chilly reception to new Universities Act", Helsingin Sanomat International Edition, 20 février 2009

dimanche 22 février 2009, par Elie

Manifestation contre la réforme des Universités en Finlande. Pour lire cet article sur le site de Helsingin Sanomat.

A group of about 1,000 demonstrators took part in a protest in Helsinki’s Aleksanterinkatu on Thursday afternoon, against reforms to the Finnish Universities Act.

University students organised further protests and walkouts in Tampere, Turku, Joensuu, Rovaniemi, and Oulu, while some students from Jyväskylä travelled by bus to Helsinki.

In the capital, the demonstration culminated in the occupation of the administration building of the University.
Early on Thursday evening, the number of occupants was 70, while some of them intended to stay overnight.

”Shame on you at the MInistry of Education, your law is stupid”, the demonstrators shouted. Most of them were students, while some staff members also took part.

Minister of Education Henna Virkkunen (National Coalition) was by contrast full of eagerness, coming from the government session in which the bill had just been passed.

”This is the second best thing that has happened to universities since they were founded”, Virkkunen announced with a glow of enthusiasm, defending the universities’ new decision-making system.

”They are behind locks and keys”, she said, attempting to calm those who were concerned about potential tuition fees.

Virkkunen pointed out that even though the legislative reforms will make it possible to charge tuition fees on a trial basis to students from outside EU/EEA countries who are taking part in separate English-language master’s programmes, they have to be agreed upon with the Ministry of Education first.

In Virkkunen’s opinion, there is no reason to delay ”a completed law” by a year, even though a petition to legislators demanded an extra 12 months to plan reforms.

Virkkunen noted further that the universities have already started preparing to adjust to the reforms.

The demonstrators were particularly worried about the future administration of faculties and institutions.

”The new system is likely to restrict democracy, at the same time threatening the freedom of scientific research”, felt Riitta Matilainen and Matleena Frisk, who are both research trainees in the Department of Social Science History of the University of Helsinki.

Most of the students occupying the administration building of the University had made a camp in front of the Rector’s office yesterday evening.
”Our aim is to write an official statement, and in the morning we plan to present a no-confidence vote to the management of the University”, declared mathematics student Joonas Mäkinen.

Some students expressed concern about the future independence of research, fearing that the reforms could turn university research into merchandise.
”There has been a lot of talk about humanists, but I believe that scientific research is at the greatest risk. Will scientific research units be turned into corporations’ outsourced product development departments ?” asked Antti Karhunen who is studying mathematics and language technology.

FACTFILE : Autonomy of universities to be enlarged

The more independent universities are scheduled to start activities on January 1st, 2010.

The total number of universities is 15, two of them being foundations : the Aalto University and the Technical University of Tampere. All the others are public corporations.

The government will continue to be responsible for the basic funding of the universities, while the funds will be index-linked.

The universities will be better placed to make the best use of their income from capital and to supplement their financing with donations and business activities.

University staff will no longer be employed by the State. Civil-service employment relationships will become contractual employment relationships, and universities will negotiate in collective bargaining.

Students will be obliged to be members of the students’ union even in the future.

The universities will be obliged to promote life-long learning.

Degree education will still be provided free of charge. The legislative reforms will, however, make it possible to charge tuition fees on a trial basis to students from outside EU/EEA countries.