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Jouko Niinimäki
8.1.2020 11:12

Niinimäki: Education takes centre stage

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Jouko Niinimäki’s second five-year term as rector began at the beginning of January. The focus of the work is increasingly turning towards the attractiveness of the university and the study experience.

In recent years, the University of Oulu has strengthened its position as an international research university, and the research has achieved excellent results. It is now time to look at education, where a lot of new things are also happening.

This is how Rector Jouko Niinimäki describes the differences between his outgoing and upcoming terms as rector. After the success with the profiling and flagship programmes, no one questions the position of the University of Oulu in the field of research, but the appeal of education becomes a very different matter of life and death than before.

“This involves the student experience. Everyone who studied here should want to recommend Oulu to his or her friends and acquaintances,” says Niinimäki.

According to Niinimäki, the student experience consists of, for example, the quality of teaching, the teaching contents and methods, digital educational platforms, digital pedagogy and the quality of services. It also involves the interaction between the student and teacher or between the student and service staff.

Establishing a central location is the right path

As one of the key attraction factors, Niinimäki mentions the location of the university campuses, regarding which he made a bold opening in November. Could the university be located in the city centre?

According to Niinimäki, students would have a more dynamic environment if studies, housing and services were all focused in the same area. The central location would guarantee agile radial traffic connections from all directions. The revitalisation of the city centre would contribute to Oulu’s reputation as a city, which would also increase the attractiveness of the university.

The potential move would take place over a long time period of time, leaving plenty of time to develop other uses for the Linnanmaa campus. The benefits of the renovations already completed could be enjoyed until new renovations became necessary.

“We would also have a significant competitive advantage if, by building new premises, we could react to changing expectations in the operating environment and shape the premises precisely to meet our needs.”

A report analysing the future of the Linnanmaa campus is expected to be completed in May. An analysis of the activities in Kontinkangas will be completed before that: could the educational institutions there also be located even closer to each other and to the university hospital?

Funding is secure but competition increases

Niinimäki has described the previous Sipilä administration as a difficult time for the university.

“Funding has now been partially restored, but it could be said that it is connected to our new task of continuous learning.”

University of Oulu has balanced finances and a very strong balance sheet position. In the new year, there should be slightly more than EUR 8 million more state funding available than last year. However, universities have been unable to avoid the new set-up put forward by the state, where the number of degrees awarded is to be increased significantly without any new funding.

“This means that less money will be gained per degree.”

According to the preliminary calculations, the university would aim for more than 1,760 master’s degrees per year between 2021 and 2024, compared to an average of slightly over 1,360 between 2016 and 2018. Increases are proposed for all fields, but especially for science and technology, data processing and telecommunications.

It also seems that the University of Oulu will be able to agree on increasing its target for doctoral degrees from 150 to 180 from the beginning of 2021.

“Raising the target for doctoral degrees will bring us immediate benefits because we have surpassed our current target for completed degrees. However, full realisation of the new target will require a little more effective doctoral training.”

In the face of increasing numbers of degrees, the University of Oulu is seriously struggling to get enough students. In addition to the young people of the north, we also need other applicants, and there is potential along the main railway from Oulu to the south, among other places. The success of the university in the applicant market is essential to meet the need for manpower.

“In this competition, a dynamic and easily accessible location of the campus could be a major attraction. Even now, it seems that many students prefer to live in the city centre.”

In the new strategy, “the North changes the world”

The University of Oulu has just updated its strategy, where the most significant change is the separate strategies of the faculties.

“With the new structure of the strategy, we want to emphasise that, in educational and research matters, the faculties have much freedom and responsibility to make decisions. I am happy to hear that good internal cooperation has been established in the faculties during the drawing up of the strategies. The preparation and processing of the strategy is even more important than the finished text. At the same time, the strategy of your faculty is the way in which an employee can most directly influence decision making,” says Niinimäki.

The essence and summary of the strategy have not changed radically from the previous starting points which were produced by the joint process in 2015. The focus area names have been clarified, and more specific scientific profile areas have been integrated to the strategy.

University of Oulu profile fields 2020

Educational cooperation with Oulu UAS

The university has been the majority owner of the Oulu University of Applied Sciences for about a year and a half now. According to Niinimäki, the integration of service functions progressed in very good cooperation, and the organisations are now proceeding to the development of service processes. The new service organisation will enter into force at the beginning of February.

In the past year, the structure of Oulu UAS has been modified to give it units roughly corresponding to the university’s faculty structure. The corresponding units can now start to consider, at their own pace, what kind of educational cooperation is to be built between them.

“No one will be pushed into anything, however.”

For the students, the educational cooperation may be reflected in increased opportunities to choose courses from the other educational institute.

“The purpose is to clarify, not to obscure, the roles of the university and of the university of applied sciences,” says Niinimäki.

Exercise balances busy working weeks

Rector Niinimäki feels that his new five-year term as rector is starting without a big threshold or leap. It is good to be able to continue the ongoing tasks seamlessly.

“It is very difficult to limit one’s use of time in this position, because tasks keep on coming and there are enough for all hours.”

He feels that his most important responsibility is to support the staff’s well-being at work and the university’s performance in terms of attraction and the study experience.

“Then, of course, there will be discussions with decision makers about how to get support for our ideas.”

For recreation, Niinimäki prefers spending time at home and physical exercise: skiing, running and tennis as well as some orienteering in summer.

“I am continuing in the position of rector with the same motivation and enthusiasm.”

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