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From the Dean: Reshaping the university

One defining feature of a good university is its willingness and ability to reinvent itself regularly.

This encompasses  both education and research.  Universities have to be able to look beyond the horizon, and put quality first in all their activities. Thus they will best serve the society and mankind. Cambridge University in the UK was founded more than 800 years ago, but keeps on spearheading progress in science with a positive impact to an open, progressive society. To the contrary, there are frightening examples of backward-looking, oppressive societies where universities and academic freedom are seriously suppressed.

We at Aalto University should also keep on reinventing ourselves. In education, there remain many unused opportunities to renew undergraduate education with more broadly based Bachelor and Master’s programmes combining science, engineering, economics and liberal arts.  Although good progress has been made, we simply have not been bold enough in removing barriers and developing radically new learning opportunities.

We also need to rethink graduate education. Although doctoral training has become more systematic and structured, its goals and contents have not changed much during the past decades.  Although different disciplines are in different stages of development in their doctoral training, the basic format is the same, heavily focused on producing academic researchers.  This is understandable from the professors’ point of view, as doctoral students are the major component of the research enterprise in universities.  However, since only a small minority of the doctors will eventually stay in the academic job market, one should ask whether the system really meets the needs of the majority.  It is time to take a look at doctoral education and consider whether a major reconfiguration is called for, to better serve the students and the society.

The Otaniemi campus is also being reinvented, and the coming years will see the completion of several major construction programmes, the ARTS building and the metro station among them.  I find this personally very exciting, having started walking around the campus as a kid 60 years ago (my father worked as a foreman in the first construction sites) and having seen its growth and development over the years.  The new campus should also symbolize the reinvention of the University.

Risto Nieminen
Dean, Aalto School of Science

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