The Finnish universities are becoming increasingly international. This development can easily be heard in university labs, break rooms, and restaurants. Educational options in English have also increased in availability at our universities.
On the other hand, the change is not as evident in administration and management, as our national languages remain the official administrative languages. These positions require working with documents in Finnish or Swedish.
Management and administration jobs being “left” to Finnish and Swedish speakers is hardly desirable. For work community culture development purposes, increased diversity in all manner of positions would be beneficial.
The uneven split of management and administration jobs is also harmful from a career advancement standpoint. As the work piles up, opportunities for Finnish and Swedish speakers to direct their scheduling towards earning academic merit. However, a lack of practical skill in national languages practically closes off any career prospects in management and administration. Professor Janne Saarikivi investigated the current status of our national languages in higher education and scientific research. Based on his results, I want to highlight two very worthy strategies for bolstering the status of the national languages.
We should build a framework to allow international experts to genuinely learn our national languages as part of their jobs. This would certainly require resources and careful scheduling, but I strongly believe this approach to be productive in many ways. In addition, we need methods for multilingual work. It is very typical for us Finns to switch our working language to English as soon as a non-Finnish or non-Swedish speaker is present, in an attempt to show courtesy. The downside of that courtesy is that it takes away opportunities to learn and practice conversation in our national languages.
It was an quite arresting experience for me when a postdoctoral researcher with a foreign background followed up our conversation in English by slowly saying “Tero, could we speak Finnish in the future? I can switch to English if needed” – in fluent Finnish.
President, Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers