The opening of the academic year at the University of Oulu on Monday looked back in time to the first opening ceremony. Sixty years ago, the first opening was a grand event, even by modern standards. Ynni great hall was filled with 1,200 people, the event was televised for 700 viewers at Oulu lyceum and a large number of citizens listened to the radio broadcast. President of the Republic Urho Kekkonen and Mrs Sylvi Kekkonen graced the event with their presence, and additional transport connections from the Helsinki Metropolitan Area were arranged for the guests.
The founding of the university was a major effort to which many contributed, including the Oulun Korkeakouluseura university support association and Minister of Education Kerttu Saalasti.
“There were people in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area and the old educational institutions who were strongly opposed to allocating resources this far north,” said Rector Jouko Niinimäki.
Several cabinet ministers tried to obstruct the project, and the periodical Suomen Kuvalehti openly mocked the “nonviable midget university”.
When the political lobbying finally succeeded, the first Rector Pentti Kaitera was able to express relief at the 1959 opening:
“Northern Finland is no longer a destiny to be escaped, but rather a calling that provides people with not only local or international but also global missions in life stretching over the centuries.”
Gradually expanding fields of study
The University of Oulu started operations with study programmes in mathematics and biology as well as degree programmes in architecture, civil engineering and industrial engineering. Education in engineering, science and medicine and teacher education was considered as important for relieving the labour shortage in Northern Finland.
From the very beginning, it was clear that the university would also expand its operations into new fields of study. The humanities were considered as an important foundation for the university, society and education. In the 1960s, the university started offering education in medicine and economics as well as teacher education. The faculty of arts and sciences launched a study programme in the humanities.
The time period known as the miracle of Oulu started a few decades later. In the 1990s, the university significantly increased its student intakes in electrical engineering and computer science in order to meet the demand for labour caused by the technology boom. The strong development of the region’s technology industry supported the university’s development until the structural change that occurred in 2009–2013.
“The structural change was fierce and rapid, but so was the recovery from it,” says Niinimäki.
At present, the field of information and communication technology already employs more people than in the peak years of Nokia, and the most enthusiastic people have begun to talk about the new miracle of Oulu.
This autumn, the University of Oulu rose to the position of 301–400 in the prestigious Shanghai University Rankings, and it holds joint second place among Finnish universities.
“The University of Oulu is a high-level institute of research which, based on its strategy, participates in solving global challenges in accordance with the UN’s agenda for sustainable development,” says Niinimäki.
University continues to play an important role
In his speech, State Secretary Tuomo Puumala stated that in this “post-truth era”, science must constantly justify its existence. He highlighted universities’ third duty in serving society: universities must find solutions for difficult social issues in cooperation with the government.
UPM President and CEO Jussi Pesonen, who holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Oulu, considers the university an important seeker of solutions. The university must have the courage to search for new things, take risks and turn promises into performance. Staying at least three steps ahead of society means that the solutions are ready when they are truly needed.
“Just like the university looked to the future 60 years ago, it must also do so today,” says Pesonen.
Life can change at university
The University of Oulu is important to not only society but also to individuals. Miriam Putula, Chair of the Board of the Student Union of the University of Oulu, emphasised the university’s importance for the accessibility of education. Her own grandmother, just like many other young people from Northern Finland in her day, had no opportunities to get herself an education, despite excellent grades.
“Although I was able to grow up on the same farm as my grandmother, I had completely different opportunities, right from the start. The founding of the University of Oulu made it possible for us, the young people of the North, to obtain an education,” says Putula.
Several speakers reminisced about the importance of the University of Oulu in their lives. The university has served as an important milestone for education and careers as well as a setting for the important moments in life.
“It was in this café that two students, Anne and Jussi, started their journey together,” said Pesonen with a smile.
Cassiopeia, the mixed choir of the Student Union of the University of Oulu, performed “Oo siellä jossain mun” (“Be mine there somewhere”).
Alumni who started their studies in 1959 were invited to the opening and received flowers near the end of the event.
You can read the Rector's opening speech, an alumnus's speech and a student's greeting in full here (in Finnish). The video record of the event is found at Vimeo. You can find posts about the opening in the social media under the hashtags #unioulu and #forthenextgeneration.
Last updated: 11.9.2019