Almost all the candidates questioned had studied at the University of Oulu.
The election spring has begun and, in addition to the election compasses, election panels have begun to roll. In politics, there has been discussion on education, university funding and the position of science and research. These topics were also discussed on 18 March when Jaana Isohätälä (Greens), Vaili Jämsä-Uusitalo (Blue Reform), Olli Kohonen (Left Alliance), Ulla Parviainen (Centre), Mari-Leena Talvitie (National Coalition), Tytti Tuppurainen (Social Democrats) and Ville Vähämäki (Finns) examined the issues at a university debate.
The candidates were first sent down memory lane, when they were asked about their best memories from the University of Oulu. In their anecdotes, they travelled from the Guild Rooms to Hailuoto, and wistfully remembered the Humus Café where they used to put the world to rights over a cup of coffee.
The candidates reminisced about their study days at the university.
The position of researchers in society a hot topic
The candidates looked positively on the participation of researchers in societal discussion. Jaana Isohätälä of the Green Party pointed out that the funding model for universities does not presently encourage researchers to influence society.
"I very much hope that the expertise of researchers might be used as early as the preparatory and decision-making stages. It is problematic that researchers do not have incentives or the time to engage in societal discussion," said Isohätälä.
There was also a hope that researchers would discuss social issues in many ways, both by expressing opinions and in public, and that they would make use of social media channels like Twitter and blogs.
The candidates were also asked to estimate the median salary of a researcher doing a doctoral thesis. Their estimates ranged between €1,900 and €3,115. The closest was Jaana Isohätälä who guessed a monthly salary of €2,200 and Olli Kohonen who guessed €2,400. According to a survey carried out by the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers, the median gross income of doctoral researchers in full-time employment lies between €2,000 in €2,500. The highest estimate, €3,115, was made by Ulla Parviainen of the Centre party.
"I tried to proportion the salary to the average salary of a primary school teacher and to the general average salary. I did guess that it would be under the average salary, but I did not expect it to be under by so much!" said Parviainen. She did not think of a quick way of increasing the salary level, but she was very concerned about the situation of young researchers.
Many European countries have their own Minister for Science. Finland does not. The establishment of a Science Minister's portfolio was supported by all candidates except Olli Kohonen.
"If we were to rebuild the whole ministerial system, then we could consider a Ministry of Science, otherwise not, as soon every specialised field would need its own ministerial portfolio."
Ulla Parviainen reminded people that science issues are presently a strong part of government business. She was, however, of the opinion that the appointment of a dedicated Science Minister would give science and research a stronger foothold in decision-making.
The Chair of the Board of the Students' Union, Miriam Putula, got discussion going on the quality of teaching. The candidates' suggestions to improve the assessment and quality of teaching concerned digitalisation and basic funding. Jaana Isohätälä of the Green party who works as a doctoral researcher at the University hopes that politicians will not continue constantly changing the funding model. Member of Parliament Tytti Tuppurainen thought it probable, however, that further changes would have to be made to the funding model.
For the Oulu region
Universities need sustained and proactive funding. Many candidates supported a long-term science policy and were worried about the funding of the University of Oulu. According to Ville Vähämäki of the Finns party, the University of Oulu needs €15-20 million of additional funding.
"Here in Oulu, we have a deficit of 3,000 ICT specialists. I think it's important for the funding deficit of the University to be filled. The University of Oulu currently receives too small a share of university funding, and it is important to defend regional education," said Vähämäki.
Mari-Leena Talvitie and Tytti Tuppurainen were also worried about funding for the University of Oulu.
"Oulu's basic funding has fallen behind in the last ten years, and this must be rectified during the term of office of the next government. This, however, needs cooperation between representatives of different parties. Members of Parliament elected from the north must engage in cross-party co-operation," said Talvitie.
"The University of Oulu has succeeded well in seeking funding, but basic funding must be sorted out. This requires a common will from Members of Parliament in the region," stated Tuppurainen.
Although 15% of Finland's youth and 13% of the working age population live in the catchment area of the University of Oulu, the university's share of the country's higher education places is only about 9%. The candidates consider this disparity to be problematic. Increasing the number of higher education places in the Oulu region was a repeated subject of discussion in addition to increasing funding.
Vice Rector for Education, Helka-Liisa Hentilä, asked about measures to increase the attraction of Oulu. Jaana Isohätälä of the Green party and Ville Vähämäki of the Finns emphasised the importance of transport connections as a force of attraction. Tuppurainen of the SDP agreed on the importance of transport connections, but also pointed out the spiritual side and Oulu's application to be a European Capital of Culture.
The election panel was followed both in the Saalastinsali hall and on a live Internet stream.
Student welfare or 'illfare'?
Concern was also expressed about students' ability to cope and the increase in mental health problems. Matti Alatalo of the Finnish Union of University Professors asked the candidates about ways to improve student well-being. The candidates profusely thanked Alatalo for his good question. Vaili Jämsä-Uusitalo of the Blue Reform party said that she had witnessed the concern of the professors about students from close quarters in her work as a university study secretary.
"There must be a sufficient number of psychologists, but teachers too should have time to see and listen to students. A student must not be left alone here," said Jämsä-Uusitalo.
Olli Kohonen of the Left Alliance also sees students' mental health problems in his work in the Adult Psychiatry ward at Oulu University Hospital.
"Students are increasingly having to graduate more quickly, and they also face pressures in their working- and everyday life. When these burdensome factors accumulate, this results in students already being burnt out when they graduate. Is this ever-accelerating treadmill really worth it?" asked Kohonen.
Parliamentary elections will be held on Sunday 14 April. During the spring, similar election discussions focusing on science and education will also be held in Tampere on 28 March and in Turku on 2 April. These will be organised by the universities and student unions of Tampere and Turku, the Finnish Union of University Professors, Finnish Education Employers, Universities Finland Unifi, the Council of Finnish Foundations, the Federation of Finnish Learned Societies and the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers.
The discussion continues in the social media
Pictures Mikko Törmänen
A recording of the panel can be on Youtube (in Finnish). Or down below (embedded video).
The election objectives of the University of Oulu can be found on these PDF's (in Finnish).
Last updated: 22.3.2019