RDI work seeks its place in the university of applied sciences sector
Almost exactly two years ago, I was honoured to find out that I had been chosen for the position of Senior Researcher at a university of applied sciences (UAS). As a trade union activist, I began, already before my work started, to find out which collective agreement would be applicable to my new position. Despite my search, I was unable to find any conclusive answer. I simply could not find any provisions that applied to me within the collective agreement for universities of applied sciences.
My previous work history was nearly all from the university sector. In that sector, I was accustomed to provisions in the collective agreement applying equally to both teaching and research personnel. I felt this was completely logical, since the majority of the jobs in that sector involve both teaching and research. To my amazement, the collective agreement applicable to universities of applied sciences only contained provisions concerning teaching personnel and separate ones for administrative and support service personnel. If I work as a Senior Researcher at a university of applied sciences, then where do I fall in terms of the collective agreement?
Once I started my job, it became clear that on paper I was considered as being part of the administrative and support service personnel. Gradually, I became aware of the fact that the exclusion of RDI (research, development, and innovation) work in the UAS collective agreement is only one example of how RDI work practices and cultures are still seeking their place within the UAS sector.
Management focuses primarily on teaching over RDI activities
RDI activities have been a part of the statutory duties of universities of applied sciences since 2003, and, especially over the past decade, the volume of these activities has grown significantly. On the basis of studies and reports, in the everyday functions, notably more emphasis is placed on the teaching functions of universities of applied sciences than on RDI activities. In a survey carried out in 2018, UAS personnel were asked their opinions on the management approaches of their own organisation. The responses indicated that the management was notably more strongly focused on teaching rather than research activities.
The prioritising of teaching also arose in a qualitative case study that examined stakeholder co-operation related to RDI activities during the COVID-19 era. Some of those interviewed for the study had experienced that, within the exceptional situation, the arrangement of quality remote teaching took top priority. At the same time, this meant that ensuring the continuity of RDI activities and maintaining co-operation networks took a back seat.
The reconciliation of teaching and RDI work is an everyday challenge
The job description for administrative and support service personnel who, like me, have been recruited for RDI positions only includes RDI work. Typically, however, RDI work and teaching are intertwined at universities of applied sciences. The job descriptions of members of the teaching personnel, such as lecturers and senior teachers, may have different amounts of RDI work alongside their teaching duties. In the 2018 study, around half of the teaching and RDI personnel that responded to the survey expressed that they were interested in both teaching and RDI work.
Combining these different tasks in a balanced way, however, seemed to be challenging within the everyday workings of the universities of applied sciences. Their history as educational organisations is still strongly reflected, for example, in the planning practices for the work, and these practices drew criticism in a survey directed at UAS personnel. In the work plans of the teaching personnel, time is structured according to the terms and assumptions of the teaching work. RDI projects and preparations that arise in the middle of the academic year can be difficult to fit in to an existing work plan that is already tightly scheduled with teaching work.
The time required for RDI work also does not seem to be completely understood. First of all, there is not enough work time allotted to the preparation necessary for projects. Secondly, the long time horizons for scientific publication, particularly in relation to research projects, leaves individual researchers wondering to themselves how they will finalise the publications once the project’s funding period ends. In fact, the study has reported that research work may end up being done on the researcher’s own time.
Shifting from an educational organisation to an educational and RDI organisation
The objective is not, of course, to begin to prioritise RDI tasks over teaching tasks at universities of applied sciences. Instead, the importance of both tasks should have a genuine place in the everyday functions of the universities of applied sciences.
Universities of applied sciences have, for quite some time already through fund applications and implementations of RDI projects, demonstrated that they are not only educational organisations but also internationally credible and ambitious RDI organisations. Now it is high time for this same sentiment to be reflected in the daily practices of RDI activities. Work planning and resourcing as well as the titles, career paths and terms of employment for those primarily engaged in RDI work require active consideration and development.
It remains to be seen whether, after the next round of negotiations, I will be able to find myself and RDI activities within the provisions of the collective agreement for universities of applied sciences.
The author is Vice President of the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers and Chair of the newly established association under the name Suomen ammattikorkeakoulujen tieteentekijät, Samkot ry, (Finnish Association of Researchers and Teachers in Universities of Applied Sciences). She has an academic background in social psychology and works as a Senior Researcher at Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences. In her free time, she jogs with her dogs, does yoga, and practices creative writing.
This blog is based partially on the Finnish-language article ‘Sustainable and humane growth in RDI activities at universities of applied sciences’, which was also written by Sanni Tiitinen and published by Akava Works in spring 2023.
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Aarrevaara, Timo, Pekka Vasari & Ville Tenhunen (2022), The Teaching-Research Nexus of the Academic Profession in Finland, Estonia and Sweden. In: Futao Huang, Timo Aarrevaara & Ulrich Teichler (toim.) Teaching and Research in the Knowledge-Based Society. Historical and Comparative Perspectives. Cham: Springer, 161–179. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-04439-7_9
Mäki, Kimmo, Liisa Vanhanen-Nuutinen, Sampo Mielityinen & Sami-Pekka Hakamäki (2019), Kiviä ja keitaita II. Ammattikorkeakoulutyö muutoksessa. Helsinki: Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences. Available: https://www.haaga-helia.fi/sites/default/files/file/2020-10/kivia-ja-keitaita.pdf
Salomaa, Maria & Andrea Caputo (2021), Business as usual? Assessing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to research, development and innovation (RDI) activities of universities of applied sciences. Tertiary Education and Management, 27(4), 351–366. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11233-021-09079-z
Read earlier blogs (in Finnish) on the same topic: