Repetition is the mother all of learning; maybe I am the grandmother of studies. Much has been spoken and written about stability and the right to work in peace for a long time, but for some reason reminders about the importance of the matter seem to continue to be necessary.
The corona situation, the national science and education policy discussion, fixed-term employment contracts as well as the funding rigmarole increase the importance of the right to work in peace. Brain fog threatens the teacher-researcher, information specialist and leader, and the danger is that the entire stronghold of the highest knowledge will wear itself out. Stress, bouncing all around and insecurity do not produce results. We need peace to focus, to think and to discover new ideas.
Exceptional circumstances, COVID-19 and remote work are no longer nice to hear about. New measures and situations that follow each other increase all of our loads. The capacity of health care is stretched thin, and the burden of members of the university community also starts to break their backs one vertebra at a time.
For many people, working in peace has been impossible while working from home. Another remote worker may be working at home, children miss the attention that they deserve, and the broadband is clogged up due to traffic from several users. Working in restless conditions has become a part of everyday life. On the other hand, for some people home may also offer a chance to concentrate, if at work someone was frequently at the door and constant interruptions broke up thoughts.
When we talk about the new normal in working life after corona, it would be good to remember that “remote” does not mean bliss: moving from one meeting room to another, the academic quarter, encounters, and most of all three-dimensional people are a part of a healthy future.
The Government’s education policy report does not seem to be particularly tightly linked to the everyday life of a university community member, but it does sketch out that (also) in the future, Finland will be a forerunner in producing, implementing and applying new knowledge and competence. Another goal is funding that is long-term and foreseeable.
Besides rapid impact, we are also asked to make a strong contribution to difficult questions that require commitment and resiliency. There is a rather stark contrast here if we think about universities’ personnel policy, because fixed-term contracts point instead to short-term and unexpected actions.
From the point of view of a singular member of the university community this is one of life’s big questions: who can commit one-sidedly and give one’s best without knowing whether there is a need for the expertise in a few months? The great illusion of a researcher-teacher who is only productive in the role of a fixed-term employee should be smashed already. Based on the policy report, one might hope that working life at universities would stabilize. I would hope that the stability would filter on to individual members of the university community.
There are always reasons to talk about money, or the lack of it. An individual researcher aims to find ways to continue their research. The university, on the other hand, tries to find ways for there to be enough funding to secure high-quality education and research.
The freedom of teaching and research are enticing and seductive to thinking: one thinks of pedagogical experiments which would help get continuous learning under control, of unforeseeable ways to combine and even break the traditions of fields of study, or new ways to find partners from everywhere in society.
Then, realism calls: there is no capital for all of this, not human or economic. And in any case, this would be about quality; the economy just doesn’t recognize quality particularly successfully, when it is easier to calculate amounts.
Members of the university community are stretched thin, as are many others. It is always necessary to find silver linings in everything, so we should do it with this era too: if we could reduce mutual competition and replace it with striving. If we could look over the horizon together and would not be satisfied with looking around the corner. And if long-term action would become fashionable. Our future is in research knowledge and high competence.
Maija S. Peltola
President of the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers
Translation: Elina Siltanen