Estonian and Hungarian Languages May Be Cut
On January 21, 1999 a headline in the Estonian daily paper Postimees read, “A Tradition is Forsaken: Estonian language cut at the University of Helsinki.” The possibility to study the philology of Estonian and Hungarian, the two closest languages linguistically to Finnish, may indeed be threatened at the University of Helsinki.
The financial distribution model adapted by the University last year now determines funding according to department performance, and Estonian, Hungarian and other less known languages are now in danger of losing their department. Department performance is determined by the number of Master’s theses completed (50%), the number of successful postgraduate and undergraduates (15%) and the amount of completed research (35%). Seppo Suhonen, Head of the Finno-Ugric Department, explains why the languages come up short, “The new distribution model adapts itself poorly to languages that aren’t taught in Finland’s schools. These languages suffer because they require more beginning language classes.”
Fred Karlsson, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, does not find the situation as desperate as some would believe. “There are many lecturers left in the studies of lesser known languages. Funding has been reduced and departments must simply rethink their budgets.” He stresses that no university faculty will be losing their positions as a result. However, in the Finno-Ugric Department, two professorships have in effect been ‘left open’, the equivalent of eliminating the position.
Big Brother Is Already Watching
George Orwell wrote of a world in which everything was observed in his novel 1984. Today in 1999, this world has become reality. Examine 24 hours in the life of an average 25 year old female university student. She drops off a movie at a video rental shop, goes out for a date and takes a taxi home. The video rental store that she returned her film at has monitoring cameras on the wall. Her address, social security number and a record of all the videos she has rented is recorded on the store’s computer. The taxi also keeps track of her visit, with the help of the information on her credit card, it knows who drove where and when.
The next morning she sleeps late. She opens her mail: ads, her monthly bank balance sheet, an update on the performance of the stocks she inherited, a magazine, and a few bills. She also receives a letter from Kela, the organization in Finland charged with distributing welfare money. They have calculated that she earned too much money last year to qualify for student aid and they want their money back. She dislikes the amount of ads she receives, including forms to enter all kinds of contests. Once she filled out a contest coupon for a major magazine in Finland and now all of her personal information, including her favorite magazines and her hobbies, sits in an information bank in a big media house. This information can be sold to other media outlets at any time, to be used in their advertising efforts. Some advertisers avoid this step and procure addresses directly from the Population Registrar.
Later that day, our student makes an appointment at YTHS – the Student Health Services. Her gynecologist arranges to send the results of her test via e-mail. The doctor gets her patient’s address, name, and social security number from the student registrar. The university registrar also lists the courses she has taken, her nationality and her membership in student organizations. The information in the student registrar is given to KELA, as well as to the National Statistics Center and several other organizations, foundations and state officials. During her first year at the university, our student has filled out a questionnaire in which she evaluates her knowledge and health. This information can be found in YTHS files. With her permission, YTHS can acquire all of her patient information from Finland’s hospitals, clinics and health care centers. By paying for her medication with her credit card, once again the event is recorded.
As she leaves class later that day, she turns on her mobile phone. Her girlfriend calls and asks if she would like to go out to eat. As she speaks, her location is reported to the phone company, which also records who spoke to whom, when and for how long. As with the taxi the night before, the information can be used later by the police if proved necessary.
She moves on to the computer room to update her home page, catch up with her e-mail and surf on the Internet. If she is a registered user, the Internet keeps a list of sites she has hit while she surfs, as does the university. She left all of her personal information, including her credit card number and expiration date, with amazon.com when she ordered her exercise book on the net, and now they know that she likes to exercise. Perhaps the Spanish police have reason to suspect her friend Romero as a Basque terrorist and follow her e-mails to him carefully. Perhaps she hasn’t realized that all of the computer room staff at the university can read the results her gynecologist had send her.
Personal Information Is Hot Merchandise
Most people don’t realize that their personal information can in all likelihood be found in over hundred different places, for example, the population registrar, school and university registrars, Kela, the tax office, the bank, insurance companies, fitness clubs, your employer’s registrar, and the customer registrars of newspapers and stores.
Twenty years ago, the number of organizations with systematic registration of their customers was much smaller. The electronic media revolution changed all that and now even a standard home computer could hold an entire city’s personal information. In order for a society to function efficiently, it is necessary to register citizen’s personal information in a registrar and this isn’t something they have any say in. But in Finland the situation is still quite good. Finns have the right to see virtually all of the information concerning themselves in state registrars and no one, not even the state, has the right to consolidate any of the registrars.
But what about in other countries? And what if our social structure were to change? There have been several movies in the last few years that paint a vivid picture of the system gone mad: The Net, The End of Violence and Enemy of the State. The threat comes if one entity were to have access to all the information available about a person.
There is discussion in Finland of late about the rights of an employer to know about their employees. Can an employer read their worker’s e-mail? Can they access their personal information? In the USA, some employees are required to sign a form giving their employer permission to track their e-mail. Employers defend their right to know whether their workers are defending the free use of drugs or drinking several cases of beer on the weekends and, of course, whether their employees are leaking company secrets. But the most industrious big brother that exists today in Finland is your neighborhood grocery store. They keep a record of what you are buying in an effort to direct their advertising better. The more they know about their customers, the easier it is to sell them things. In the future, fishermen will receive personally-addressed ads about fishing equipment directly to their home.
New Leadership For SYL and
HYY Heli Lantta has been appointed as the new Chairperson of SYL, the Finnish National Union of University Students.
In just three years of work in student government, she has become an expert on academic and student policy. She is a student of social psychology and is not a member of a political party. She swears to maintain this independence throughout her term as SYL Chair. Last year, Lantta served as Chair of HYY, the Union of Helsinki University Students. Lantta has gathered over 150 study credits at the university, served as President of the social psychology students’ interest group STATUS, was the tutor coordinator for incoming students in the Faculty of Social Sciences and was a member of the HYY student parliament and government for two years.
Panu Laturi will replace Lantta as the new Chairperson of HYY, the Union of Helsinki University Students. He was chosen for the position from the ‘student nation’ composed of students from the southern region of Ostrobothnia in Finland. He is a mix between a heavy metal rocker, dressed in black, and a computer nerd – quite a difference from his predecessors with their suits and political ambitions. “I think it will interest a whole new sort of people in HYY and show that HYY is diverse in its issues,” he says. When asked why he feels he was elected to the position, he ventures a weak “because I get along okay with everybody.”
Laturi has worked for the last year and a half as an assistant to Center Party parliamentarian Aulis Ranta-Muotio. Human rights, equality, conscientious objection and national activities are important to Panu, who like Lantta prefers to stay independent on the political spectrum. He is a student of mathematics and economics.
by Pamela Kaskinen