Funding and Enthusiasm Running Low At University
In late March the rectors of Finland’s universities made a strong plea to political decision makers to increase the basic funding equation for universities. The rectors threatened lay-offs, a decrease in instruction and an admissions cutback, unless the government granted an increase in financial support.
Students of Helsinki universities are planning a massive demonstration in front of the parliament building for April 27. They plan to submit a petition demanding improvement in the current funding situation.
The academic policy division of the University of Helsinki student organization known as HYY asked department supervisors at the university how the basic funding level has affected their instruction. Money problems have meant that teaching positions are left unfilled and some existing staff teach without appropriate compensation. There are not enough seats in crammed lecture halls because classes are few. Teachers were burnt out and uninspired.
Arvi Hurskainen, Head of the Asian and African Studies Department, explains: “The whole system is extremely demoralizing. Our instructors are overworked, stressed-out and some have become physically sick.”
The Ministry of Education cut the basic funding equation of Finnish universities in the early 1990s, when Finland was suffering from a strong recession. There have been no increases in University funding since the recession years, although the numbers of students has grown significantly. There were 13% more students in the 90s, with a 35% growth in Masters degree students and a staggering 88% leap in doctoral students.
Financing for the university fell 30% with regards to the numbers of graduating students. In 1997 29% of University of Helsinki funding was set aside for undergraduate degree programs. This number has fallen to 21% in recent years. The percentage devoted to graduate studies doubled in size to 16%.
In January, a ministerial working group recommended that 660 million Finnmarks be added to current funding to get the universities back on track. Word has it that the Finnish Parliament is not considering a funding increase in the budget next year.
Every Fifth Finnish University Student Now Studies Abroad
With the growth of international student exchange programs, more Finns are spending some of their academic career abroad. A recent study finds that, of new university students, 19% will spend at least some time at a university in another country.
The average Finn who takes advantage of international exchange is a 24 year old, single woman who studies a subject in the humanities, social sciences or pedagogy. She is most likely visiting a Western European country.
The two most popular exchange programs are Nordplus, exchanging students among the Nordic countries, and Erasmus, an EU-sponsored European exchange. Most exchange students go abroad to add to their range of experiences, get to know other cultures and to improve their language skills.
Aleksi Hokkanen studied in Paris in 1998-99. “I wanted to study French language and culture, that was my main motive.” One year at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques was an eye-opening experience. “The way they study was totally different. In Finland, we are taught how to carry out research, in France, they concentrate on learning the facts. Oral presentations were new to me, too,” explains Hokkanen.
Over one half of exchange students say that it was often difficult to sort through practical matters. “In France, the bureaucracy was out of control. You needed stamps and passes for everything. You couldn’t get a resident permit without a local student card, and you couldn’t get a local student card without the resident permit!” laughs Hokkanen.
He feels that students should spend at least two semesters abroad. “The first months are spent just getting used to the differences and getting things squared away. One semester turns out to be just a long tourist visit,” says Hokkanen.
In 1998, 3 644 undergraduates spent at least three months abroad on a university student exchange. The Ministry of Education has set a goal in 2004 of 6 000.
Kingdom of Rules and a Texbook Society: The Usa
If you are going to try to understand the United States of America, you have to understand a new set of rules. Fly anywhere from the U.S. and the airlines will ask the same three questions: “Did you pack your bags personally? Have they been in your possession the entire time? Has anyone asked you to carry anything for them in your bags?” Whether you answer the questions truthfully or not, they still need to be asked. Highway construction signs are to the point. “Left lane ends. Double finezone.” Anytime you enter a liquor store in the States, you have to show anidentification card. This is done routinely, even when your wrinkles give your legal age away.
Go to a gym to work out and the rules are pasted on every wall. “Number 8: Shirts must cover your entire front”. Isn’t this supposed to be the land of the free? What is with all of these obligations and rules?
On the surface, one reason many are strict about rules is the American tendency to sue each other at the drop of a hat. Places that offer people services must be clear about what the customers’ responsibilities are in order to avoid liability. But the rule-obsession in the United States goes deeper than that. Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville traveled in America in the 1830s, later writing his classic work Democracy in America. “In America everyone has a personal interest in forcing the rest of society to respect the law. The U.S. citizen follows the laws, not because it is the will of the majority, but because he wants to. It is a pact which he has made.”
The philosopher Jean Baudrillard wrote on the same subject 150 years later: “The law is not negotiable, you must know and follow it. There is no honor awarded anyone for breaking the law in the United States. No respect,nothing extraordinary. “Then there are the unwritten laws. The moral norms of the middle class in the U.S. are the central fabric of American society. American liberalism includes the premise that if everyone lives by the rules, everything will go better. Tocqueville spotted this phenomenon already a century ago: “It is easy to see that almost all of the inhabitants of the U.S. think in the same way and are abiding by the same rules. Although they never bother to name these rules, they have their own philosophical method.”
How does U.S. society work? Let’s call it a “textbook society”. While textbooks give a simplified version of reality, they direct their readers in a certain direction. Uncertainty and a lack of direction are curses for Americans. Television, radio and best-selling books offer advice: If you have this illness, do this or if you want a raise at work, do that. There is a how-to book for everything, consider the 10 Ways to Happiness.
This dependence on a textbook mentality has led the average American to judge their lives according to the results they are able to produce. The U.S. excels and revels in sports and economics. Their success in both is founded in the same principle: play as hard as the rules will allow. This performance also requires that you stay firmly grounded in reality.
Baurdillard believes that Americans are missing a facet of thought that other peoples of the world possess and that is the ability to be sarcasticand critical of one’s self. He feels that U.S. inhabitants aren’t able to compare themselves to others. What is more, they are entirely devoid of the ability to imagine that there may be other rules somewhere else, a different code of conduct.
by Pamela Kaskinen