Financial management is the greatest challenge for the new university Boards
As with other universities in Finland, the University of Turku is subject to the new Universities Act (558/2009). The Chairman of the newly elected Board for the university, Hannu Kokkonen, VTM, states that the launch of the reforms at the University of Turku has gone smoothly. In addition to the new Universities Act, the Boards of the universities nationwide are also new.
As the former Managing Director of If P&C Insurance Company Ltd., Kokkonen represents the interests of trade and economy within the Board. The University of Turku appointed its new ten-member Board in August 2009. “The marathon is, of course, just beginning. Hopefully, the structural reform will be completed during the term of this Board by 2013,” he states.
“The success of the University of Turku will be the measure of the Board’s success. The objective is to advance from the national league to the international league. The groundwork has been done in Turku, but the true test will lie in the way we develop from here on out. We must be able to attract more international students, teachers and researchers.”
A small Board is an efficient Board
In addition to Hannu Kokkonen, three other members from outside of the University were appointed to the new Board: Sinikka Mönkäre, Managing Director of Finland’s Slot Machine Association RAY, Jussi Nuorteva, Director General of Finland’s National Archives Service, and Matti Rihko, CEO of Raisio plc. The University is represented on the Board by Ari Saarnilehto, Professor of Civil Law; Pirkko Härkönen, Professor of Cell Biology; Mats Kommonen, IT Security Manager; and Hanna Ruska-Becker, Head of the Unit for Languages and Business Communication. The student members are Toimi Nyström, Faculty of Social Sciences, and Pirita Virtanen, Faculty of Law.
“Within the Board, the University’s own competence is integrated with a very diverse range of business expertise. A smaller Board lends itself to more efficient operations. We strive for thorough preparation, thereby ensuring that, by the time matters reach our Board meetings, they are ready to be decided on,” explains Kokkonen.
Kokkonen further states that the work division between the Rector and the Chairman of the Board is clearly defined by law. “The Rector is responsible for the operational management of the university. The Board outlines the strategic policies and ensures that the objectives established together with the Ministry of Education are achieved.”
According to Kokkonen, choices must be made, in the coming years, in the same way as they have always been made in business.
“It is not easy, but it’s unavoidable. You must have the ability to determine the core strategic areas, and have the competence to invest in them. Those disciplines that fall outside of the core area, will, inevitably, get less attention.”
Financial management is the greatest challenge. Kokkonen feels that the new Act steers toward rigorous economic planning, the assumption of responsibility and, through that, strong leadership. This is visible in the administrative regulations revised by the Board during the autumn. The number of departments has been decreased to 24, and the decision-making authority has been placed on the heads of the individual departments. It is still possible to have collegial departmental committees, but only in an advisory capacity.
“Target discussions will be stricter than earlier. Each one will be forced to stick to an agreed amount of monthly funding. No more wondering why the money has run out or where to find more. This is a significant change.”
In the future, an even larger portion of the universities’ overall funding will be bound to their achieved results. Kokkonen views it as only fair that those who succeed will be rewarded. He explains that the Board will monitor the realisation of the goals set for each faculty on a quarterly basis, much in the same way as is done in the corporate world.
“Where are we going? What have we achieved? Are we moving at the right pace? In which areas are we behind and why? The ability to answer these questions requires effective reporting and planning systems. And it is precisely these systems that we are currently updating.”
The acquisition of external funding, made possible and required by the new Universities Act, was launched through a fund-raising campaign. In Turku, the bar was set at reaching 20 million euro.
“We have progressed quite well, considering the current economic atmosphere. We are living in a particularly challenging period of time. The funds raised are being consolidated and invested well. The return on invested funds will enable us to finance new opportunities and interesting research areas, which could not be financed with basic funding. This clearly provides the universities with more latitude.”
The merger was crucial
Kokkonen expects to gain sizeable advantage from the merger of the University of Turku and the Turku School of Economics. The merger represents a significant reform. The University of Turku refers to itself as having been founded now for the third time. Despite the merger, the School of Economics will continue to operate under its own name.
“Together we form a unique entity within the Finnish university system. We are talking about a genuinely multidisciplinary entity that is now merged with business economics expertise. The interfaces between various disciplines create the opportunity to initiate new opportunities and rise to innovative ideas that are economically applicable.”
“There is some concern as to whether the funding for Aalto University will receive special protection from the Government while the other universities will play second fiddle. That is slightly how it appears now in the initial stages, but hopefully that will not turn out to be the case.”
The Board has defined the strategic emphases of the new University of Turku, starting up in January 2010, to include research focused on molecular biosciences, research on diseases of the circulatory organs and metabolism, research on ecological interdependency and ecological genetics, as well as research on institutional planning and social mechanisms. One of the strengths of the Turku School of Economics, namely Futures Studies, is among the new strategic areas of emphasis.
Text: Ulla Willberg
Photo: Pasi Leino