"Northern Finland is no longer a fate to be escaped from, but a calling that confers not only local or national but universal and life-long missions.”
Pentti Kaitera, 3rd October 1959 at the University's first opening.
Pentti Kaitera (1905 - 1985), who spent his childhood in Liminka, did not forget his northern roots whilst studying and working as a professor in Helsinki, but he was a key figure in the founding process of the University of Oulu. Professor Kaitera was appointed by the government as the first rector of the University of Oulu in April 1959. At the University's 60th opening on 2nd September 2019, representatives of Pentti Kaitera’s family and the Sven Hallin Foundation donated a 13-piece work of Pentti Kaitera's writings to the university.
Organised by the Oulu University Club (now known as the Oulu University Association), Operation Lohkare raised money for the construction of Oulu's first student residence in the mid-1950s. University-branded ore boulders donated by Otanmäki Oy and Outokumpu Oy were available for purchase for one, five and ten thousand marks. The student dormitory was inaugurated in 1959, a couple of months before the university began its operations.
“The development of Northern Finland is a common field of work for the people of Finland, which the University of Oulu is now joining as a new worker. Much is expected of this new employee.”
Urho Kekkonen, 3rd October 1959.
In his opening address, President Kekkonen emphasised the importance of the University of Oulu as the northernmost university in the world at that time. Kekkonen gave his full support to the university project, because he believed that northern Finland should be involved in developing society. According to Kekkonen, universities must be as diverse as possible in order to carry out their duties properly, so he considered it essential to establish a faculty of humanities as soon as possible.
4. Alma mater
“In our first year of operation and studying, we were involved in building our university into the miracle of Oulu and promoting the interaction and communality of its staff and students. The new university needed a young workforce, and that is where many of us have had an interesting career,” recalls an alumni who started in 1959.
Alma mater refers to the university from where an academic degree was obtained. Alma mater is based on the Latin word for mother god. Almost 60,000 alumni have graduated from the University of Oulu and are now working all over Finland and around the world. Alumni are celebrated annually in May on Oulu University Day, when the University names the Alumni of the Year. The collaboration between the University and the alumni continues the story of the "northern alma mater" for future generations.
“Even though I got to grow up on the same farm as my grandmother, my prospects have been quite different from the outset. The establishment of the University of Oulu made it possible for us young people in the north to have access to education.”
Miriam Putula, Chairman of the Board of OYY, Opening Ceremony of the University, 2nd September 2019.
For a long time there was only one university in Finland, the Academy of Turku, which was moved to Helsinki in the early 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, due to the increasing number of students and industrialisation, the Autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland needed a university in another part of Finland. It is known that Oulu was first proposed as a university city in 1905. However, it was not until Finnish independence that the issue of Northern Finland's higher education began to be properly pursued. The members of the Oulu University Club and the North Ostrobothnian Nation took the initiative to promote Nordic higher education.
President Ahtisaari graduated in 1959 as a teacher from the University of Oulu. He is an honorary doctor of the University and was named as the first University of Oulu Alumni of the Year in 1999. In 2008, President Ahtisaari, who had acted as a world peace mediator, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The name of President Ahtisaari is carried by the Martti Ahtisaari Institute, which is part of the Oulu Business School. The Institute focuses on the key parts of President Ahtisaari's life work: Sustainable international business growth and the many challenges of developing a global, networking economy.
“The goal of research is to find the truth. It must critically examine the primary material on the subject and avoid adopting preconceived ideas. The role of universities and schools is to fight for the truth without asking for public opinion or whether it fits in with the rules of reconciliation.”
Pentti Kaitera, 3rd October 1959.
The University of the Arctic (UArctic) is a multidisciplinary network of over 170 universities, research institutes and other organisations working in the field of Arctic education and research. UArctic aims to strengthen Nordic cooperation and develop networks between operators in the region. It supports the vitality and sustainable economy of northern communities.
8. Domus Botnica
“Some of the new students got an apartment at Domus Botnica, but Uuno Välkky, a student living on the streets, had to start his studies whilst living under a boat. Using the door-to-door method, I found my first student apartment in a detached house in Toppila,” an alumni who began their studies in 1959 recalls.
Domus Botnica, the first student dormitory in Oulu, was built in Toivoniemi in early 1958 after a successful fund-raiser. Domus Botnica was built by the Oulu University Association, and the first residents of the building were students of the Teachers' College and the students of Oulu Health Nurse and Nursing School. Domus Botnica, now owned by PSOAS, is still home to university students.
The concept of eudaimonia (Greek for happiness) was introduced in ancient Greek philosophy to signify the doctrine of happiness. A research institute at the University of Oulu has also been named after Eudaimonia. At the Eudaimonia Institute the focus is on human sciences. The aim is to develop the working conditions of human sciences researchers and teachers, as well as awareness of their activities and results. High-quality international and multidisciplinary domestic research plays an important role.
“The audience watched with interest as the butterfly fluttered, waiting excitedly to see where it might land. Suddenly, the butterfly landed on the lapel of Professor Kaitera's jacket, clearly visible across the hall. The speaker did not shoo it away. Instead, he introduced the butterfly as a greeting sent by nature.
University of Oulu opening ceremony, 2nd October 1959.
The butterfly that fly at the University's first opening on 3rd October 1959 is the inspiration for the University’s anniversary cake. The impact that the butterfly’s fluttering has lasted to this day and carries to do so for future generations.
“We became very friendly with the doormen during our studies. It was one May Day when I was once again queuing up to get into Rattori. The doorman came out on to the steps, spotted me at the end of the queue, and shouted: ‘Hey, come over here!’. I got quite scared and tried to remember my previous visit. I went up to the steps, the doorman opened the door and said: ‘Go inside, you don't have to queue.’ That felt pretty good!”, remembers an alumni who studied in the 80s.
Established in 1971 by students of technology, the Rattori-lupi club was perhaps the most popular evening spot for students for decades. Lupi is especially remembered for having live music events and community singing evenings.
“Everything demonstrates that the University of Oulu is the heart of Oulu and Northern Finland as a whole. Now that the university project has been completed, Oulu, in particular, is experiencing an enthusiastic period of national romance,”
Suomen kuvalehti, 3rd January 1959.
Kerttu Saalasti's (1907-1995) major achievement of her career as a Minister of Education was the founding of the University of Oulu. Saalasti is an honorary doctor of the University of Oulu and the Saalastin Hall, which is used as a celebration venue, is named after her. In addition, her name is carried by the Kerttu Saalasti Institute, which is responsible for research into micro-enterprises and their operating conditions. The foundation is based in Nivala, which was also the home of Kerttu Saalasti, daughter of President Kyösti Kallio.
The University of Oulu and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) have been cooperating for more than 25 years. There has been an exchange program between the universities since 1993. Almost 200 students from the University of Oulu have participated in the program and about the same number of Americans have visited Oulu. The cooperation agreement between the University of Oulu and UNCG was written in January 1993 by the then Rector of the University of Oulu, Juhani Oksman. The first exchange students went to North Carolina in the autumn of that year, and thereafter the number of students steadily increased. This can be considered as the beginning of the development of English-language teaching and student exchange at the University of Oulu. From the beginning, a model for university alumni and fund-raising activities was sought from the United States. Nowadays, cooperation in research and master's studies has increased. Through an agreement with UNCG's Bryan School of Business, Oulu University economics students can complete an American MBA degree as part of their exchange. This arrangement is unique for a Finnish university.
Opened in 1959, the student dormitory Domus Botnica brought only temporary relief to the student housing shortage as the number of students had already risen steeply the following year. The Student Union received a plot near Kontinkangas in the Pikkukangas area as a donation from the City of Oulu. As a developer, the Student Union launched a multi-stakeholder fund-raising campaign to fund the new student village, which continued for years. The winner of the 1963 architectural competition was the proposal for ‘Välkkylä’. Construction of the new student village began in the autumn of 1965. It took six years to build the Välkkylä Student Village. Välkkylä is still home to student housing.
Founded in 2001 by the University of Oulu, the Giellagas Institute was given a nationwide mission by the Ministry of Education to develop the highest level of teaching and research in the Sámi language and culture in Finland. The Institute is the only academic community in Finland that uses the Sámi language as their primary working language on a daily basis. Only in Oulu can you study all three Sámi languages spoken in Finland. In addition to language studies, it is possible to study Sámi culture.
The University hallways contain art from several decades. One of the most impressive works of art, the 7-meter Vuoropuhelu (Dialogue) by artist Matti Kujasalo, is located in the old part of the University, in the lobby of Virransilta terrace. The work was unveiled on 3rd October 1979. The University also holds other significant treasures of art. Occasionally, people walking through the corridors will be delighted by the architecture students' course work exhibitions, the most recent being the miniature base designed for kite surfers.
Aarresaari is a network of academic recruitment services in Finland, which includes university-based employment and career services. The network provides services to employers, universities, students and recent graduates. At the same time, the network acts as a bridge between students and employers. Aarresaari.net provides employers with an effective way to get their job listing noticed by university students and recent graduates of all levels. The network was set up in 1995 when the Ministry of Education provided separate funding for the establishment of university employment services as part of the management of academic employment.
“The Linnanmaa campus of the late 1980s has been forever stored in the memory of a country girl. I came for my biology entrance examinations and from the outside the place looked to me like a space station. I started my studies in the autumn and the other-worldly feeling was just as big in the huge lecture halls at the opening ceremonies”, said an alumni who studied in the 70s.
The University's location was fiercely debated in the mid-1960s, and eventually the Kuivasjärvi area, which was then named Linnanmaa, emerged as the winner. The Linnanmaa campus area has been built bit by bit since 1971. The oldest part of the building is known for its brightly coloured corridors, which were designed to brighten up grey concrete.
“On the evening of the Hailuoto watercolour painting course, we were all so consumed by the spirit of togetherness that we went wild and danced around the hut and talked about philosophy until morning. The teachers also took part. There was something really magical about it. Only in Finland can the interaction between students and university teachers be so easy-going,”, recalls an alumni who began their studies in the 2000s.
Studying and research is by no means limited to the Oulu campus. Students are able to make things and research the questions and phenomena of their chosen subject on field courses. The Oulanka Research Station was established in 1966 to serve biology and geoscientific research and teaching. Dozens of basic and advanced courses are organised there every year. The station is launching a climate and environmental monitoring study funded by the Academy of Finland and the University of Oulu.
“Naturally, my school friends are the most memorable part of my university days. Studying for a few notoriously tricky exams were helped by regularly meeting in the library and studying together, teaching each other,”, said an alumni who spent time in the library in the 2000s.
The University Library started its activities at the same time as the University and is also celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. There were dozens of libraries in the 1960s, but since then the libraries have merged. Today, students and staff are served by two libraries: Medical Library in Kontinkangas and Pegasus in Linnanmaa. The University Library has a particularly extensive collection of literature on the ideology and doctrine of the subjects taught in Oulu, as well as the Sámi language and culture.
"The University of Oulu’s Student Union is called upon to do great tasks. We are delighted to have had a good start, to have our own apartment as a base from which we can push forward and develop alongside the University.”
Inspector Uuno Varjo at the housewarming of Kauppurienkatu in 1960.
The Student Union started operating from a wooden house at Kauppurienkatu 2. However, there was a shortage of premises, and a real estate donation on Mannenkatu from the Nordic Cooperative Bank was welcome. The Student Union moved to their new premises in Rauhala at the end of 1964.
22. Arctic Attitude
“In Oulu, everyone bikes. Regardless of weather. One morning when the thermometer showed -33 degrees I dressed myself as a Michelin man and pedalled from Toppila to Linnanmaa with my stiff, frosty bike. I will never forget the line of thermal trousers that hung on the green coat pegs next to mine,” an alumni who started in the 2000s remembers the attitude of Oulu.
The University of Oulu is one of the northernmost universities in the world and we do science with an Arctic attitude. The demanding conditions of the North have always encouraged people to be inventive. Curiosity, perseverance and cooperation with others are rewarded here. In an open culture of doing things, abilities become brighter, results matter, and nothing is impossible.
The Library of Science and Technology on the Linnanmaa campus was called Tellus until it was incorporated into the Pegasus Science Library in 2015. Today, the Tellus name is featured in communal spaces in both Linnanmaa and Kontinkangas but they are much more than just spaces. Tellus's philosophy is to increase interaction between students, faculties, businesses, regional operators, staff, and cultures. Tellus' inspirational spaces can be a place to study, work or participate in events. At the premises you can also organise your own events and develop new concepts.
“In the mornings, I took out a map and looked at what study halls I had to find during the day. Sometimes I ran from one corridor to another and felt lost. There were lectures all over the university. The first year of school was a lot of shuffling with the map from one place to another”, an alumni who studied in the 2000s remembers.
Through the Linnanmaa campus, in a North-South orientation runs a street called Väylä (Route), along which the largest lecture halls, restaurants and a library can be found. The street is less than a kilometre long and is most easily travelled end to end on a scooter.
The University’s premises were scattered around the city when it first started. There were many suggestions for the location of the permanent premises. The first plans were drawn up for Koskikeskus and Hupisaari. Although the campus was eventually built in the 1970s in Linnanmaa, Ainolanpuisto was still home to the Botanical Gardens for another twenty years.
“Right from the first lunch, I started to get to know my fellow freshmen. There was a strange culture of togetherness in Oulu that I wasn't used to. Talking to strangers was indeed permissible and even desirable,”, recalls an alumni who moved to Oulu in the 2000s.
The lobby restaurant on the Linnanmaa campus is known among alumni and staff as the Alakuppila, and before that it was only a café. During lunches and coffee breaks many lifelong friendships and romantic relationships have been formed within its yellow walls.
“It has been a gift of life to be able to teach and do clinical work and science. I didn’t become the neurosurgeon my professor hoped I’d become. Life led me elsewhere. Instead, I ended up as a leading occupational health doctor and a professor. Us doctors can be many things. Be brave!”, remembers an alumni who started in the 1970s.
Shortly after the establishment of the University in the 1960s, Oulu began to train doctors to alleviate the poor medical and dental situation in Northern Finland in particular. Today, the Faculty of Medicine is located on Aapistie in Kontinkangas, next to the Oulu University Hospital. The construction of Kontinkangas and the modern facilities of the University Central Hospital were completed in the early 1970s.
“At the time, I was a laboratory technician at the Department of Chemistry, and after our persistent efforts, we were able to stay in the upper lobby to watch Gorbachev leave from a coffee event at the café. As luck would have it, he walked up the stairs with his entourage, our eyes met and he came straight to me! We shook hands, exchanged a few words with the help of an interpreter, and then his wife Raisa and I gave each other a friendly nod”, an alumni who studied in the 1980s remembers their star moment.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, and his wife Raisa visited the University of Oulu on their first state visit to Finland in October 1989. During his visit to Finland, Gorbachev insisted on visiting Oulu, where he wanted to visit the Technology Village where technology and business aligned and the Oulu University, which had a major influence on establishing the Technology Village. The University of Oulu and the Technology Village received a lot of positive global attention from this famous visit.
The architectural department, better known as Lafka, moved to the University's main campus in Linnanmaa in early 2018. At the same time, the university's new main entrance 2T was opened. Key elements of the new facilities include a glass façade at the main entrance, a large shared Agora space, impressive stairs with a glass railing, a curved wall in the foyer, and a "blue stream" running down the floor, which is also a tribute to Kari Vita, the original designer of the building.
Pihlajapiha is a courtyard located west of the Linnanmaa campus of the University of Oulu. The courtyard is accessed by the lecture halls L1 and L2. The staff of the Faculty of Science have been especially lucky to be able to follow from their windows the changes in the appearance of the yard and its trees through the seasons. For years, most of the university's mail was transported through the yard. Staff summer parties have also been arranged at the courtyard. In the courtyard is Antero Ruotsalainen's (b. 1937) work ‘Älä sotke ympyröitäni’ (Don't mess with my circles). The three-part steel sculpture exploring basic geometric shapes is a good example of 1970s Finnish sculpture art. With this work, the artist won the 1973 State Art Commission's General Sculpture Competition, which was organised to ‘obtain a sculpture for the phase I building of the mathematical studies at the University of Oulu’.
The University of Oulu coordinates one of the six flagship programmes of the Academy of Finland. The flagship 6Genesis (6G) that focuses on developing wireless network technologies, is exploring the introduction of the 5G communications standards and the subsequent 6G standards. The University of Oulu knowledge project was one of the first two centres of excellence selected for the flagship program. The aim of the Academy’s flagship programme is to strengthen high-level research and impact clusters that will further contribute to increasing the quality and impact of Finnish research.
“Fully packed lecture halls listening to lectures of a professor of orthotopology with whistling ultra-filters and triple integrations in the early 1990s have remained firmly in memory”, said an alumni who began their studies in the 1980s.
Pseudoscientist Aapo Heikkilä (1931-1993) became very popular with his lectures on orthotopology, a science he invented. The discipline was based on the terminology of mathematics, chemistry, and physics, but was entirely made up. Heikkilä never had an official position at the University, but he was a well-known and well-liked figure among the university staff and students.
“In the chilling spring breeze thousands of students in overalls cheered and shouted as first-year students alternately ran up the slide and then slid down to into the water through a hole in the ice. This was of course all done under the watchful eye of fire department rescue divers. I can still remember the feeling of an emerging hypothermia as we climbed out of the water and yet we were so happy that we had done it!”, an alumni, who started in the 1980s, reminiscing about their heroic May Day feats.
May Day (Vappu in Finnish) is the year’s most important time for students to celebrate. May Day traditions include taking a ride on the Wesibus for charity, making freshmen take a swim, picnics, roving on a church boat and putting a hat on the statue of Franzén.
Originally located on Hupisaari, the University Botanical Garden is now located next to the Linnanmaa campus. Its two pyramid-shaped greenhouses, Romeo and Juliet, contain plants from tropical, subtropical, Mediterranean and temperate climates.
These stories are based on memories from our alumni, The History of the University of Oulu 1958–1993, Oulu University Association’s historical work ‘Kipinästä tuli syttyy, lohkareesta yliopisto - Oulun yliopistoseura 1919–2019 (Fire from a spark, a university from a boulder - Oulu University Association 1919–2019), and the University of Oulu publication on the first opening of the University on 3rd October 1959.
Last updated: 8.11.2019