Universities and society’s changing educational needs

Speaking at the Nordic Business Forum this January, Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak pointed out that it is difficult to guess what kind of education is relevant to the inventors of tomorrow’s coolest gadgets. The required skills change rapidly, not only in technology and engineering, but also in other fields of education. Things will keep moving forwards, and universities must – to the best of their ability – anticipate the direction of this movement.

In Finland, the Ministry of Education and Culture has recognised the challenges that rapid changes in our operating environment are causing. In response, the ministry launched a process to create a vision for higher education and research last year. The objective of the vision for 2030 is to develop the Finnish research and innovation system in a manner than responds to the challenges posed by digitalisation, open science and new ways of working. The vision defines Finnish higher education institutions as strong and internationally attractive competence clusters.

Diminishing age groups and the need to increase the proportion of people with a tertiary degree constitute a great challenge for our entire education system. In the ministry’s vision, the proportion of young adults who complete tertiary education will increase from 40% to 50% by 2030. In the OECD rankings, Finland has fallen behind some key European countries in terms of the relative proportion of the population with tertiary education. The ministry believes that it is possible to reach this goal without increasing student intake, as there is plenty of improvement to be made with regard to completion rates.  

Finnish students tend to start their university studies at a considerably older age than their peers in other Western European countries. Finland’s current student admissions reform will place increasing emphasis on the matriculation examination, but it does not exclude alternative paths to university education, either. Our student recruitment can’t be limited to Finland. Instead, we need to create attractive study programmes to recruit students from abroad. Hopefully, many of these students will choose to stay in Finland, at the service of Finnish society.

As educational needs change, we need to internalise the idea of lifelong learning, which is increasingly supported by digitalisation and open science. Alongside degree-awarding education, we need to make compact study modules available that enable professional development in a variety of fields.

In order for university education to meet future needs, increasingly close interaction with the public sector, business and industry, and the third sector is needed. Likewise, it is important to engage in increasingly close collaboration with different education organisations, and this is something we already do better than many other counties. Meeting society’s future educational needs calls for the creation of strong national and international networks.

Harri Siiskonen

Academic Rector