Archive for the ‘Opiskelijapolitiikka’ Category

New policies of AYY

Friday, October 26th, 2018

In its meeting last week, the Representative Council approved the new policy paper for the Student Union that guides all influencing work carried out by AYY. The reform saw the nine existing policy paper documents combined into one entity, while the policies were updated to offer solutions for modern-day challenges. It was quite a task, and the Board spent 20 hours in meetings before the proposal was ready.

The goals are not the creation of one brain; instead, a versatile selection of different parties was heard in connection with the reform. In addition to the Council, the Board and experts, opinions were given by e.g. AYY’s Representative Council Committees, the Chairs’ Council, the Campus Section and alumni from the Educational Policy sector. The membership was also heard by way of the open survey that was answerable throughout the summer. The Representative Council alone made 172 alteration suggestions. The feeds were excellent, and a large part of them made it into the final policy paper.

Altogether new influencing goals include e.g. themes related to information society, arts policy and equality. As per its policy paper, AYY promotes, for example, the increase of the valuation of arts fields’ experts in society, clear practices for interfering with harassment occurring in the Aalto community, and free software.

Of course, not everything was renewed. The themes of free education that AYY has advocated for a long time, for example, remained the same: only accessible and equal higher education enables the best of the best in society to be discovered, regardless of their socio-economic background. The main ideas related to students’ subsistence also remained the same: AYY continues to promote the construction of students’ subsistence in a way the enables them to meaningfully gain work experience from their own field alongside studying, but also so that the level of financial aid is sufficient without earned income. In a perfect world, the subsistence of all citizens would be ensured with a basic income.

The policy paper will naturally not magically change the world on its own. This is where the real work begins, with the Student Union having to influence Aalto, Espoo and the rest of society to turn its policies into reality.

The brand-new policy paper is available for exploration here.

Tapio Hautamäki
Vice Chair of the Board

The students of the future will live on basic income

Friday, July 20th, 2018

If we want the Student Union to have an actual impact on things, it must be present in the places where the social debate takes place. This can be done at SuomiAreena, a week-long event in Pori that brings together Finnish decision-makers, the media and those interested in politics. Two members of the AYY Board and two AYY employees will take part in the event.

The cross-party panel Social Security of Tomorrow – New, Old or Recycled? took an in-depth look into the problems of the social security system. However, the role of students in the possible reforms was neglected almost entirely. This question is of the utmost importance, however.

In addition to their studies, students are expected to work in their own field, establish startup companies and acquire social skills through volunteering. At present, the study grant alone is not enough for studying, but it is also difficult to make work and the students’ low income limits match. The general housing allowance, on the other hand, is dependent on the possible spouse’s income (or in the worst case scenario, the income of one’s roommate, who is considered as a spouse), which in practice creates a maintenance liability, which is poorly suited to the values of the 2010s. This is a difficult equation.

On top of this, the Finnish higher education system does not recognize part-time studying. 86 percent of higher education students consider themselves to be full-time students, whereas 14 percent consider themselves to be part-time students. We are not talking about students working as a cashier at the local store: 53 percent of students say that their work is related closely or quite closely to the content of their own degree programs.

One solution to the above-mentioned challenges would be a step-by-step transition to a basic income system.

AYY supports gratuitous basic income, which would also include means-tested parts. Even when implemented in a cost-neutral way, basic income would reduce bureaucracy and preserve the basic function of social security as a safety net. As a first step in the transition to the basic income model, social security should be made individual-based: housing allowance, social assistance and labor market subsidy should be personal and independent of the possible spouse’s income.

It is up to the new Government to overhaul the income system, and the perspective of the students must also be taken into account. It is not just about how many euros everyone will get. It is about whether Finland can bring up people that lead the economy and change the world also in the future. We can achieve this by improving student well-being.

Try out the Student Simulator and see what kind of challenges related to income students have to face.

Lauri Seppäläinen
Member of the Board

Social change starts with Aalto

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

Heikki Isotalo

The Finnish Universities Act has three basic functions: to produce high-quality science, to educate students to become the experts of the future and to influence the surrounding society.

All three functions are intertwined: the students’ learning is based on the most recent results of science, and the greatest social impact is not achieved through the cooperation of the university’s stakeholders, but through the people who have studied at the university and are now changing the world.

In its strategy, the Aalto University promises to educate people who will change the rules of the game and build a sustainable society through art, science and entrepreneurship.

Aalto graduates have a unique opportunity to change the society. Otaniemi is already a breeding ground for startup businesses, a meeting point for different world views and a cradle for experimental culture. The campus could also act as an accelerator for social change.

The Aalto University Sustainability Hub is a great example of this. It is a multidisciplinary project that brings together sustainable development research and teaching, tackling a wide variety of problems from climate change to resource scarcity and economic inequality.

Perhaps in the future, the perspective of social influencing will be more visible in the curriculum work conducted in all higher education institutions.

In the same way that people start their careers already during their studies, social influencing does not require a completed university degree – quite the opposite. The millennials and post-millennials studying at the Aalto University today can provide a genuinely fresh perspective on social questions and structures.

What would political participation with good service design look like? What about the future of open source code in Europe? Can social marginalization be prevented through smartphone applications? It is not just the answers that need to be fresh, but also the questions.

The Aalto University Student Union wants to keep up with the times in its advocacy work. This year, AYY will update all its official policy papers.

What we have to decide is what the perfect Aalto University, the Helsinki capital region and the world would look like from AYY’s perspective. We will genuinely involve the volunteers and members of the Student Union in our policy paper work, because the best new ideas are born through crowdsourcing.

The policy paper update is much needed: there are three national elections coming up within the year.

The field is ready to play. Now is the time to write the rules.

Heikki Isotalo
Aalto University Student Union‘s Advocacy and Communications Manager

Intercultural competence is an ethical mindset

Friday, December 15th, 2017

Intercultural competences, multicultural interaction skills, call it by any name, but still it’s all about how a person can act in a global world.

European Association of International Education (EAIE) has a yearly conference of over 6000 participants and I had the pleasure of giving a speech there this year in Seville in September. EAIE is a meeting point for higher education institutions looking for partnerships, marketing their international programmes, and most importantly for us, for teachers, researchers and developers interested in international affairs. Five-day conference is full of exposition excitement, workshops and wonderful speakers, and it gave me a lot of new energy for student advocacy work for this academic year.

Sevilla is a beautiful place.

I gave a five minute long Ignite speech about our Aalto is multicultural project, where we gathered information on the experiences of international students and their teachers. Especially we focused on “learning shock”-phenomenon and other challenges to integration (https://ayy.fi/jasenille/kansainvalisyys/multicultural-aalto/). You can see it from here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMpqq2ZTcM0

I had the honor of giving also a joint session with professor Wendy Green from the University of Tasmania and Hanna Berentz, a german students, who had studied in the Netherlands. Our session dealt with student participation in different countries. Especially interesting is how student participation is a mandatory part of higher education governance, with strong student unions, but is very limited, unofficial and new in Australia (Our presentation with notes can be downloaded here (PDF): eaie presentation with notes).

Internationalization at home.

It was excellent to get to talk about internationalizing the curriculum with people, whose names I usually just see in the covers of books. Especially inspiring was to discuss the meaning and importance of international competences from a wider point of view than just work life skills or personal development.

Brexit, rising international tensions and climate refugees in the near future raised a lot of discussion. Many speakers stressed the importance of intercultural competences to all people regardless of background, so that we are not polarizing people to winners and losers of globalization. Highly educated privileged people take most out of free movement and globalization, but to others at the moment globalization just means losing their jobs.

Specialist at the spot.

Other big theme at the conference was the understanding of the importance of cultures. You can learn vocabulary by heart, but really understanding the meaning of cultural backgrounds and knowing how to adjust to a multicultural environment takes practice. Many discussions ended to the conclusion that knowing and appreciating one’s own culture is the key to understanding others.

Lastly I must mention a workshop on different academic disciplines and internationality. It was very interesting to ponder on the effect of the scientific background to internationalizing the classrooms. People form hard sciences see internationality and cultures differently from language experts and psychologists. That has to be taken into account when integrating international and multicultural skills to teaching.

Network of cultures

A Change in Study Pace Requires a Change in Culture

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

This blog ties in with the statement by AYY released on the 9th of March: https://ayy.fi/en/blog/2017/03/16/ayy-studies-are-not-made-more-fluent-with-scholarships/

During the year 2015/2016, 31.1% of students registered as actively studying at Aalto completed at least 55 credits. Out of the percentage of bachelor students, meaning those who have started their studies 0-2 years ago, 44% managed at least 55 credits. The number is problematic, because university studies have been set to be completed in five years, meaning about 60 credits per year on average; the student allowance is also measured to last for that amount of time. It is hard to believe that only half of students want to complete their studies in five years, if the target time would be achievable. This mantra related to the length of studies is an old cliché that has been repeated since the 19th century, but the whole problem should obviously not be denied.

This is a problem for the university, because the target score of 55 credits per year is one of the grounds for university funding. 10% of university basic funding is based on this indicator. The indicator has been implemented in the university funding model, because the Ministry of Education and Culture uses it to enforce universities to ensure that their studies are of high quality and well organized. The Universities Act requires universities to offer their studies in a manner that they can be completed in five years, and the funding model supports this demand.

University funding has been under pressure for the last couple of years, so each university is aiming to improve the efficiency of their degree programmes. It is good to see, however, that the funding model is a zero-sum game: if a university improves its scores, its funding is not increased, but the increase is split between universities while favouring the ones that have received good results. Aalto has regrettably lagged a bit on this indicator, even though it is doing well in general. Other universities have increased their percentage of quick students more than Aalto.

Universities are aware of the things that support and hinder studies. For example, during the years 2011-2014, Aalto took part in the Kyky-project, which even produced tangible material to improve study enthusiasm and study ability in order to make studies more fluent. The programmes behind it, Campus Conexus and the Opiskelukyky project, along with other studies and surveys, aimed to find out what kinds of things support students in moving forward in their studies. During the last few years, we have also received practical examples from inside Aalto and other universities on how studies have been made smoother without cutting back on student wellbeing, happiness or adding to the workload of students. New information is flowing in from for example the bachelor survey, student wellbeing survey and the Aalto AllWell survey.

 

Grounds for slower study

 

Students have different reasons for studying slowly. Some of them are choices, some depend on circumstances. They may be explained in a simplified manner by using the groups defined by Elina Pekonen in her master’s thesis.

  1. Injuries and sickness

The accessibility of students’ physical and mental surroundings and students’ health problems, along with mental health problems, are some of the biggest factors when studies slow down. These are closely tied with studies slowing down due to indoor air quality problems. Aalto has laudably made efforts to improve accessibility, and the steps taken on campus will, in the long run, make it so that accessibility will no longer be an issue. Regrettably, according to the health survey made by FSHS, about a third of the students have had issues regarding mental health. This can be tackled on a local level with means that support mental health, but universities could also work towards a situation where mental health problems are taken seriously and implement solutions to support accessibility if these problems emerge.

  1. Social and cultural barriers

Not everyone feels that they are welcome at the university, despite efforts to increase inclusivity. For example, an ethnic minority background, age or other issues may affect how one feels as being part of the group. This has great significance, because connecting to your studies largely comes through social interaction, which cannot happen when one feels alone in their studies. Aalto and AYY are doing work related to multiculturality together, but removing these barriers requires conscious monitoring also on the individual level.

One important issue is the culture within a school or a study group. The atmosphere surrounding a person can support one’s studies or hinder them.

  1. Difficulties in learning

Dyslexia or other problems in learning are a partial factor in studies slowing down. Several parties offer peer support and accessibility programs can help when organizing studies, but qualifying to receive support can be a challenge at times. The time available for study councillors and study psychologists is limited, and a large impact can be made by teachers with a keen eye. We can ask ourselves how well the university staff can guide students struggling in their studies, and do we a have good enough path from there on out.

  1. Financial challenges

Financial challenges are truly a problem, especially in the capital region. Living costs add up to 72.1% of the income of a student living alone in the capital region. Financial stress ties in with mental health problems and problems in life in general. Financial problems affect the study pace from two angles: During studies one has to work to get by, but working threatens to stretch graduating, so one runs out of student allowance months. In regards to student allowance, it is extremely important that studies can advance at a steady pace. Aalto has unified some of its conventions, but regrettably the credit received for internships, for example, can still end up being less than the required minimum of 5 credits a month.

  1. Time management and combining studies and life

These are problems that universities can tackle in more tangible ways. Teaching studying skills, organizing orientation courses and providing students with supporting information on how to commit to one’s studies in order to succeed in them are some of these tangible means. A few years ago, grumbling could be heard from the part of the universities whether this kind of “handholding” is something that they should be required to do, but those complaints have quietened down as knowledge of these tools and evidence on their success has spread. Regrettably, few students are able to fathom how important it is to prioritize studies and connect with them, especially during the first years of studying. Regrettably few teachers also build elements into their teaching that support self-regulation skills. Universities are also poor at supporting students in planning their time allocation. It is sometimes impossible to plan your studies and the related workload for more than half a year ahead, not to mention planning a three-year bachelor degree programme.

  1. Barriers related to teaching and study guidance

Lastly, we of course have barriers related to the actual studies, which are almost too numerous to list. AYY collected some of the most significant ones last year during the commentary round and in discussions with people in charge of studies. Workload, schedules, unpredictable combined effects, inflexibility, lack of summer studies, rarely held courses, poorly designed courses, the inconsistency of student counselling, different practices between schools, and many other factors have often been brought up, not to mention the challenges related to finding information.  We are happy to say that things are constantly developing for the better in the degree programmes. However, we are still facing fundamental problems, such as excessive workload. It would be very important to highlight the functional reforms implemented within Aalto and elsewhere. Using digital aids and other methods to make big lectures more interactive, for example, has resulted in huge improvements in learning results without making the content easier or lowering the bar, which some people still seem to be afraid of.

 

What should we do?

 

Different barriers can be dismantled with different methods. Work related to the organization of studies is being done all the time, and the university also has the duty to promote accessibility. Some stones at Aalto have still been left unturned. It still takes four weeks for teachers to check exams, and the next chance to take that one missing course could be a semester away. It is difficult to do anything about the amount of the student financial aid or the cost of living, so we are left with the most interesting alternative, which is the students’ choice to study at the intended pace or slower. Unfortunately, the situation is often left unresolved, or individual methods such as scholarships are offered as solutions. Too often people just complain about how students run off to working life in the middle of the semester, although Aalto is particularly well-known for its working life relations. Employers should also be reminded of the fact that students who work should also be able to complete their studies properly in order to maintain good cooperation.

There has been too little research-based discussion at the Aalto University about how studying can promote commitment and help create motivation. Motivation is often seen as some kind of intrinsic characteristic, even though commitment, perseverance and study skills can be created through studying. These means are not just magic tricks – they are about designing and implementing good teaching and guidance. No teacher should be left alone in this. Development measures are constantly being implemented at the Aalto University, such as conducting wellbeing surveys and taking action based on them, organizing continuous pedagogy training, and developing online learning possibilities. Unfortunately, the conversation still seems to be stuck in place.

The universities that have improved their results and are showing more success than Aalto according to the 55 study credit indicator have not reformed just their curricula, academic counselling and scheduling, but also their internal culture. For example, they have clearly communicated that the increases in funding will be used to improve education, and the students have been provided with highly personal guidance services and contacts. The resources have been used to improve the system, giving everyone a chance to study with full commitment and at the target pace. The students have also done their part: they encourage and help each other out when they see their friends starting to slow down their pace. Changing the culture takes time, both for the teachers and students, but life is not a race. The university is a place for learning, not for maximizing the results of financing model indicators. As many students as possible should be made to understand how committing to a target-oriented study pace can be of help with their own studies.

 

Sources:

Material from the Campus Conexus project: http://www.campusconexus.fi/

The Opiskelukyky model, developed as part of the project: http://www.opiskelukyky.fi/english/

Elina Pekonen (2010): Esteitä opintopolulla? Opiskelijoiden kokemuksia esteistä ja esteettömyydestä Kuopion yliopistossa. http://epublications.uef.fi/pub/urn_isbn_978-952-61-0132-3/urn_isbn_978-952-61-0132-3.pdf

Everyone can find out more about the newest trends in university pedagogics and education experiments through the Yliopistopedagogiikka magazine: https://lehti.yliopistopedagogiikka.fi/

Results of Finnish universities according to the 55 study credit indicator: https://vipunen.fi/fi-fi/_layouts/15/xlviewer.aspx?id=%2Ffi-fi%2FRaportit%2FYliopistokoulutus+-+v%C3%A4hint%C3%A4%C3%A4n+55+op+suorittaneet+uusi+-+yo.xlsb

 

More information:

Petteri Heliste, member of the Board

Susanna Koistinen, educational policy expert

A piece of news from the representative council

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

Now that it is the annual ball week, it is a good time to revise what Aalto University Student Union (AYY) is about. AYY is a student organization for 15000 students that provides advocacy for its members and both organizes itself and enables affiliate associations to organize various events for all students at Aalto University.

Aalto-yliopiston ylioppilaskunnan kuntanauha.

AYY is run by a multitude of volunteers, various experts and customer service persons, and the Board with ten persons. The high power of decision is with the Representative Council. The council consists of 45 elected members with a biennial term and has typically around ten meetings per year. The next council meeting is tomorrow, on Thursday 12 May at 17.15.

Earlier this year, the council has, for example, decided on constructing 122 new student apartments in Atlantinkatu in Jätkäsaari—now, there is already pile driving going on there and the apartments should be ready in the fall 2017. The meeting tomorrow does not have anything quite as large as that, however, we do, for example:

Possibly decide on taking out a mortgage as a security for the loan for Atlantinkatu, decide on the Direction of the Student Union for 2017–8 and the objectives of AYY for the 2017 municipal elections, discuss updating the property strategy of AYY, and—a highlight—possibly grant special status to Aalto Marketing Society!

You can follow the meeting of tomorrow, where we will amongst other things likely authorize the Financial Director of AYY to apply for slightly over million euros worth of mortgages for Jämeräntaival 6 as security for one of the two loans for Atlantinkatu, live at http://www.ayy.fi/live/  tomorrow at 17.15. There is a simultaneous translation to English, available in the bottom of the broadcast. The meeting will last probably around three hours, so, you can join the following even slightly later than at five.

Posting my first real blog post, and the first one in the AYY blog after the First of May,
Lari Koponen
1st Vice Chair of the Representative Council

PS. All material for the meeting is available at AYY’s own inside portal, which I consider less unusable than the one by the University. And, reading does not require signing in: https://inside.ayy.fi/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=22937826 .

 

 

Niinistö encourages to develop cooperation between the universities

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

After the visit to KONE, we headed to Naantali to meet with President Niinistö. He welcomed us in a traditionally decorated villa in Kultaranta.

© Tasavallan presidentin kanslia (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland)

© Tasavallan presidentin kanslia (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland)

President Niinistö had interesting views on all the topics that we raised. We talked about how small and medium-sized companies could be supported in the Chinese Market. Heikki Koponen mentioned that Slush will be also organised in Beijing in the coming autumn and the project includes many Aalto students.

At the end of our discussion, we also mentioned the current topic, his call to a nature programme on the radio. Our guests thought that it was endearing to hear that our head of state is not stuck to his rigid role. President Niinistö also found cooperation between our universities important.

© Tasavallan presidentin kanslia (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland)

© Tasavallan presidentin kanslia (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland)