22 SES 03 C, Academic Work and Professional Development
One of the tactics to compete with other universities, in Europe and internationally, chosen by Aalto University (AU) in Finland is to introduce a tenure track system (TTS) of academic employment. According to the official discourse, the TTS will attract the top faculty from around the world which will create a virtuous circle of making AU more attractive to potential students and staff. The system, being very selective, creates competition between academic staff, and thus individuals can be expected to adopt their own tactics to compete.
Commencing operations on 1.1.2010, AU was formed by merging three universities. AU aims to be innovative and internationally-recognized. While such aims are remarkably common, AU aims to be unique. The formation of AU is an experiment in Finnish higher education and thus an important subject for close study. The official rationale for the creation of AU is manufactured at the national policy level and in official university communications, internal and external. The national policies are driven by Finland’s competitive desires to remain highly ranked among nations for educational outcomes, research and innovation. It is too early to say how internationally recognized AU will be for innovation or uniqueness, but so far it can claim distinction by being the first Finnish university to introduce a TTS of academic employment.
Differentiation is an important element of university strategy, and career advancement opportunity is one dimension of this (Reichert 2009). The degree of autonomy that individual universities are allowed in employing and promoting faculty varies considerably throughout Europe (Estermann & Nokkala 2009). In Finland since 1.1.2010 universities directly employ their own academic staff and, as employers can determine terms of employment and development opportunities. This is a significant change in the face of strong traditions of civil service employment conditions and periodic research posts. This change is linked to the separation of the Universities from the State, and to an aspiration to make universities more competitive and attractive as employers in recruiting Finnish and foreign personnel. AU not only aspires to increase mobility in the Finnish academic labour market, but also to change the culture of teaching and research using the TTS as a tool to reward the values and practices it seeks.
The TTS cannot be implemented however without the participation of academic staff. On commencement, AU had 300 professors and roughly 2000 other staff on academic appointments. The professors have been automatically transferred to ‘tenure’ and in practice will be the administrators of the TTS. The other existing academic staff need to experiment with their own strategies to compete for tenure and succeed on the tenure track. The TTS expects this of them, and the competitive forces will impose it. What is not yet certain, is how they will do it and how they will explain what they are doing. How will understandings of academic work and what is important in it change with the introduction of this new system of employment?
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