Intuition leads to the heart of societal debate
Eeva Nykänen started as a permanent Professor of Welfare and Immigration Law at the University of Eastern Finland on 1 November 2021. She works in the Law School on the Joensuu Campus.
Nykänen’s expertise pertains to the very core of today's societal problems: she has studied not only issues relating to immigration law, but also the reform of social welfare, health care and social security, and the rights of people in vulnerable groups. Intuition has driven her researcher towards these heatedly debated topics.
“When I began to study international and the EU’s refugee law for my doctoral thesis, it was considered a rather marginal phenomenon in Finland. However, the way things soon evolved showed that I’d made a right choice. Also, when I began to focus on welfare law through my practical work, Finland's social and health care reform was underway. In either case, I did not see beforehand how strong a role these themes would come to play.”
Nykänen’s professorship is a combination of welfare law and immigration law. Although both of them can be examined separately, the perspective of population diversity is integrated into almost everything.
“Welfare law is typically an area where the needs of different population groups may differ from one another. In these cases, a very monolithic approach is not enough. It may be justified to look at the disabled or the elderly as groups of their own, but immigration is a phenomenon that pertains to all sectors.”
Lessons learnt from the social and health care reform help in the reform of social security
Eeva Nykänen’s working time is divided between her professorship in law (20%) and working as Head of Team and Chief Specialist at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).
“I’m the leader of the Social Security and Services team, one of the main tasks of which is to contribute to the reform of social security by supporting the work of the Social Security Committee. Appointed for a seven-year term, the parliamentary committee aims to reform the basic structure of social security. This includes, among other things, basic unemployment security benefits and social assistance. We have to think carefully about the interface between benefits and services.”
The long-debated social and health care reform will be followed by a new test of parliamentary decision-making, the reform of social security system. According to Nykänen, one government term – four years – is too short a window to make extensive social reforms. This is a lesson that has been learnt.
“The reform of social security will go beyond the government term and the aim is to commit all parties to the discussions so as to alleviate possible political disagreements. At the moment, the reform is still focused on problems at such an abstract level that everyone more or less agrees on them. When things get more concrete, different political views will come into play,” Nykänen says
Research settings from real-life observations
Nykänen has extensive work experience from public administration: she has worked as Chief Specialist at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare and at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, and as a Senior Officer at Valvira, the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health, and at the Ministry of the Interior, among others.
“I value theoretical research very much; it is the basis of everything. However, because of my orientation to practice, I have a tendency to make my research questions concrete and practical. To me, recognising things in real-life experiences is a natural way to build research settings.”
Currently, Nykänen leads a work package in the WELGO project, which was launched in October and is funded by the Strategic Research Council. The project focuses on safeguarding welfare in times of pandemics and their collaborative governance. She is also the leader of the Disability and Dignity research project. Launched in September, the project funded by the Academy of Finland examines disability and the legal foundation for human dignity.
“The WELGO project will create better governance for preparing for extensive and sudden threats. Finland has done quite well in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is room for improvement especially in current communication and in reaching out to different groups of people. The responsibilities of different authorities have not been completely clear, either.”
Nykänen sees that it is not the task of a legal scholar to solve problems, but rather to open societal phenomena for public debate and decision-making.
“There is a demand and need for research-based knowledge. If decision-makers get their advice from people with a research background and tools to structure the world, research-based knowledge can have an impact. This is why we need people with a background in research also in central government,” Nykänen points out.
- Professor of Welfare and Immigration Law (20%), University of Eastern Finland, 1 November 2021 –
- Doctor of Laws, University of Turku, 2011.
- Bachelor of Laws, University of Turku, 1998.
- Master in Sociology of Law, International Institute for the Sociology of Law, Oñati, Spain, 1996.
- Chief Specialist, Head of the Social Security and Services team, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), 2021–
- Research Director, University of Eastern Finland, 2020–
- Chief Specialist, Reforms Unit, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), 2018–2021.
- Professor of Welfare Law and Legislative Studies, University of Eastern Finland, 2018– 2020.
- Head of Unit, Reforms Unit, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), 2017–2019.
- Various positions in the Faculty of Law of the University of Turku over a course of more than ten years.
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