This is little bit different post. This is a story of love, academia, and business.
The week before last I gave a presentation on the gap between the academia and “the rest of the world” in a seminar organized by Suomen mentorit (a non-profit organization which provides mentoring for recent graduates in Finland). The Prime Minister of Finland, Juha Sipilä, attended the seminar, among with Chairman of the Board of Directors of Nokia Corporation, Risto Siilasmaa, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Fortum, Sari Baldauf, and Deputy Mayor of Helsinki, Pekka Sauri.
I had just broken up with my girlfriend. I was crying all the time and feeling worthless. Then I got a chance to give a speech to the Prime Minister. That is quite exciting, and one would think that it makes you forget the heartache. But no. Even while addressing the prestigious crowd, I was thinking about her, the lost love and how much it hurt.
Brain works that way. As brilliant motivational speaker Brian Mayne showed in his seminar, which I happened to attend the next day, your subconscious will work only on the subjects your conscious mind feeds to it. That is the secret behind positive thinking. It really is as simple as that.
Emotions are a very powerful tool. I asked the audience if they had ever broken up, if they had ever experienced the pain of having to let go. They all understood. That is the power of emotion. It connects you to every other person on the planet.
What does love have to do with academia and business? I will explain it below. Buckle up, get a cup of coffee and read on.
There is a recession in Finland. It has been on-going from 2008 and the economy still hasn’t gained momentum.
I started my studies at the University of Helsinki that year, 2008. I majored in philosophy and graduated as M.Soc.Sci spring 2015. Seven years is the average time in Finland for students to complete a Master’s degree in my field of study. Some other fields might take even longer. The slow pace of studies in Finland is closely linked to two things: 1) the education is free and government even gives a no-strings-attached student benefit for 55 months, 2) the gap between the academia and “outside world” is so big that students are afraid to graduate and leave the comfort of university.
Why is the gap so big and what does it mean that there is a gap? The gap means that, especially some, disciplines and faculties, have a very critical outlook on the common system of exchange, which we have in the global world, namely market capitalism. To put it simply, they want to speak a different language. There is nothing wrong with that per se, it is actually the job of the universities to teach people to be critical and not accept things at face value. That is my background. My major, Social and Moral Philosophy, in the University of Helsinki is within the Faculty of Social Sciences.
There have been major cuts in Finnish higher education lately. The Finnish Government introduced cuts of 106 million euros for the University of Helsinki alone. The university is planning to lay off 1,200 of its total of 8,200 staff (http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=2015092418345110). That is huge.
No wonder people are angry. I was attending Helsinki Challenge, a Science Based Competition Grand Finale (http://challenge.helsinki.fi/articles/science-for-a-better-world-seminar-and-helsinki-challenge-grand-finale-programme) on November 12th. There was a demonstration. A real demonstration. This is not commonplace in Finland. People were yelling slogans and making a lot of noise in general. It felt like something was really happening.
People were angry because their benefits are being slashed. That is understandable. I am angry and sad too. I loved my time at the university and could have never been able to enjoy it as much as I did without the benefits offered by the world-renowned Finnish system.
But how do we move on from here?
I interviewed two people from different backgrounds and positions, but both from the academia: Timo Airaksinen and Kari Rossi. Airaksinen is Professor Emeritus of Social and Moral Philosophy at the University of Helsinki. Kari Rossi is Quality Manager at the University of Vaasa.
Airaksinen has been a Professor at the University of Helsinki since 1983. He told me that in the 1980’s the universities in Finland were a paradise. There were plenty of money and projects. This makes sense, as Finland was in a very privileged position: The Soviet Union was buying as much exports as we could manufacture. Of course, this is not so simple, as there are various factors at play. This is still a good example of the changing world and I learned it from Aalto University School of Economics Small Business Center’s Research Director Jari Handelberg while attending a seminar he gave a few years ago.
The world has changed. Soviet Union fell apart in 1991 and 17 years later a global recession hit. Finland has not changed. Do we have to? Quite obviously, yes we do.
Airaksinen told me that too many people want to do research without giving a thought to how to contribute to the rest of the world. Again, there is nothing wrong with that per se: Making an impact should not be the sole drive in university research. But it shouldn’t be excluded either. Finnish Universities Act 558/2009 states: ”The mission of the universities is to promote free research and academic and artistic education, to provide higher education based on research, and to educate students to serve their country and humanity” (http://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/kaannokset/2009/en20090558.pdf).
If students are to be educated to “serve their country and humanity,” they surely need to know the world outside the universities.
My other interviewed was Kari Rossi, who is the Quality Manager of the University of Vaasa. Rossi told me that University of Vaasa is changing their strategy in order to improve collaboration between the university and “the rest of the world”. Themes they have discussed in workshops include: benefits from collaboration, communication towards rest of the world, branding, the role of business, the image of the university, networking, taking part in societal discussions in appropriate platforms, digitalization, alumni, just to mention a few.
This sounds like a reasonable attitude if one wants to “educate students to serve their country and humanity”.
When hard times hit us, shouldn’t we work together, instead of digging into our foxholes?
In order to answer that, let’s get back to love.
I was in love with a girl from my dreams. Everything was good. Until I stopped developing. I focused too much on our love, instead of on all the other amazing (and sometimes not so amazing) things that a relationship brings to your life: self-development, new friends and acquaintances, arguments, and most important, the whole spectrum of emotions, including warmth, trust, anger, frustration – the good and the bad. You can’t have the whole thing by focusing on only one aspect of it.
I failed and lost it all (it sounds dramatic, I know) because I focused on only one aspect of the whole.
Isn’t this what is happening with the universities now? The warmth that the never-ending exports gave Finland is gone. What do we do? Naturally, we want that warmth back. But our spouse is gone, she is dead. There is no way back. There is only one direction: Forward.
The positive thing is that, unlike in a break-up, we are not alone. There are 5 million people in Finland. Surely we can work together.
Science has changed. Solitary geniuses are a thing of the past. The world has changed. Solitary nations are a thing of the past. So are solitary people. The future is that of teamwork.
Teamwork of Suomen mentorit took another step forward the week before last. The Prime Minister said in his speech that he will join the mentoring program. That means that next year some recent graduate will have the Prime Minister of Finland as her/his mentor. Now that’s awesome. A small nation can really work as a team.
Let’s build on that.