Gareth Rice, a lecturer in geography at the University of Helsinki, says that the lack of Finnish skills is a stumbling block for many foreign lecturers and researchers in Finland.The share of foreigners of the teaching and research staff employed by Finnish universities has increased from roughly 10 to 20 per cent over the past few years. Today, Finnish universities provide employment to approximately 3,000 foreign teachers and researchers, roughly 1,000 more than in 2010.

Internationalisation is one of the factors considered when granting funding to universities.

Foreign teachers and researchers, on the one hand, contribute to the quality of universities and, on the other, pose additional challenges. “Administrative tasks tend to fall on the shoulders of Finnish-speaking personnel. Foreigners are able to concentrate on teaching and research duties more than Finns due to their insufficient language skills,” says Eeva Rantala, the general manager at the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers.

Data systems being typically available only in Finnish and Swedish, the grades of students must be entered into the system by someone with the necessary language skills. Meanwhile, universities have reduced administrative positions in the face of difficulties to obtain funding.

Both Rantala and Riitta Pyykkö, a vice rector at the University of Turku, emphasise that the objective of recruiting acclaimed foreign researchers is to enhance the quality of teaching and research activities at Finnish universities. “We still seem to recruit Finns and our own graduates. We should broaden our activities a bit,” admits Pyykkö.

The University of Oulu at present provides employment to 384 non-Finnish nationals, 361 of whom are employed on a fixed-term basis.

Gareth Rice, a lecturer at the University of Helsinki since 2008, says that foreign staff members employed on a fixed-term basis find it difficult to extend their employment contracts. For many of them, the lack of Finnish skills is a stumbling block.

Rice has looked into the reasons behind the difficulties experienced by his non-Finnish colleagues in extending their employment.

“Without Finnish skills, foreigners are left outside the academia. In addition, finding employment is difficult due to the tendency to prefer Finns. Some also feel that they are more entitled than foreigners to an academic position due to their origin,” Rice summarises.

“Some Finnish teachers and researchers are insecure and don't want foreigners to challenge their expertise,” he adds.

Kaisa Läärä – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Benjamin Suomela / HS