My Kauppis Memory: Two different lives at the School of Business

‘From a student to a faculty member’
Leena Ylä-Anttila, Head of Open university at the School of Business

In 2021, we ask former and current members of the School of Business community (especially faculty and staff) to share their memories of the School. These memories will comprise the ‘My Kauppis Memory’ series of stories.

My career at the School of Business was divided into two different periods, each lasting approximately 20 years. When I think about my first life at the Helsinki School of Economics, the first thing that comes to mind is the president at the time, Professor Jaakko Honko, who was a good-humoured, smiling gentleman. When I was first accepted as a student in 1967, I got to shake hands with this esteemed father figure, who greeted all new students with a handshake, welcoming us to the school.

Less than ten years later, when I was working as an assistant at what was then the Department of Organization and Management (today Department of Management Studies), I had the privilege – or burden – of being the only woman in many tasks. After all, I was the first woman included in the teaching and research staff at the department. Other departments already had women on their staff, such as Meeri Saarsalmi, Liisa Uusitalo (Takala) and Mai Anttila in marketing, Kaiju Kallio in accounting (Business Economics), and others at the Department of Languages and as teachers of secretarial studies and typewriting. Such subjects were taught at the School of Economics at the time because, as an alternative for the economics degree, the school offered an opportunity to complete an academic secretary degree, previously known as the correspondence degree.

As large age groups reached university age in the 1960s and 1970s, the number of study places was increased, and, as a result, more teachers were also needed – albeit their numbers increased at a much slower pace. The work of the assistants involved a lot of administrative tasks. Each week, one day was reserved for research; that was when we got to put a note on the door asking for some peace and quiet. Moreover, the younger generation entering the departments was immediately given teaching assignments – I, too, started teaching before I completed my master's degree at the age of 24. The admissions process at the School of Business was based on grades, and additional points were awarded for work experience gained in business life. Perhaps this was the reason why there were gentlemen among the students who – at least in my eyes – looked like genuine businessmen.

Although the 1970s are known as the decade of liberalisation in various fields, many old habits were still honoured in the university world – and many of the most valuable ones still are even today. For example, the opening of the academic year was a festive event. The evening events at the opening ceremony were held separately for teachers and senior staff members and the rest of the personnel. I remember the so-called ‘president's dinners’ organised for teachers as grand events with table service, precise seating arrangements and other etiquette rules.

In the 1970s, I was involved in a degree reform for the first time. Naturally, a number of studies were carried out to this end. I got to interview renowned business executives in the process, as I was responsible for the section concerning the roles and degrees of the School of Economics. The section was aimed at studying the expectations of business executives in relation to the School of Economics degrees. The degree reform resulted, among other things, in master's degrees replacing the former economics degrees, which were bachelor’s degrees, as the basic qualification level. Another major change was the transition from the previous, ambiguous credit system to a clearer system based on credit units: one credit unit corresponded to one working week of 40 hours. However, merely a few decades later we were forced to abandon the credit units and reinstate the study credit system – thanks to the efforts toward a unified Europe.

Head of open university

In 1990–1993, I spent a little over three years away from the School of Economics, getting a wider look at the world and learning how adult education was organised at universities. During that time, I decided that if the School of Economics ever launched open university education programme, I would be the one to head it. Sure enough, when the programme was launched in 1993, I was appointed the head of the organising unit. It was the beginning of my second life at the School of Economics.

At the time, open university education was launched in the aftermath of the 1990s recession with ‘recovery funds’, known also as ‘Relander's grants’ (the name refers to educational development measures proposed and implemented in the initiatives of Timo Relander, State Secretary at the time). Through the Ministry of Education, universities were provided with funds for implementing various adult education projects, such as open university education. Initially, the funding was offered to universities in a generous manner. However, later on the universities had to apply for the funds separately each year and, in order to obtain any funding, they had to provide detailed justifications for their activities and their right to exist. This continued until the 21st century, when the system of running university activities with a university budget was finally established.      

However, the open university activities of the School of Economics always performed rather well economically, even though obtaining the necessary funding required a lot of work. We had to compile statistics on student numbers and teacher resources and provide justifications for the importance and quality of the teaching in the field. The end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century was a prime time for the introduction of different quality awards. These entailed that a university could receive rather substantial additional funding based on different quality indicators, such as high-quality adult education. In fact, the Helsinki School of Economics was the only Finnish university that was named ‘University of Excellence in Adult Education’ three times, based on its Executive Education Unit (HSEEE), MBA programme, Small Business Centre and open university activities. This meant additional funding for our activities for a period of six years.

Shortage of teachers – plenty of students

Another challenge in the open university activities was finding teachers. There were no full-time teachers in the open university, and teaching the courses was not a part of the official tasks of any of the teachers. In fact, the teachers conducted the courses as a part-time job on the side. In contrast, there were plenty of students interested in the open university. I still remember the enrolment queues that stretched for tens of metres along the street. The study places were distributed in the order of registration to those who met the criteria. When we came to work in the morning, we would ask the first students in the queue when they had arrived. Sometimes they had been there at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning – or even the previous evening. In the office, the aspiring students were greeted by a row of staff members ready to accept registration forms and collect the course fees in their cashboxes, before placing the money in the university cash register.

The process became considerably easier for both the students and the staff during the first decade of the 21st century, as we were able to first implement the practice of booking study places by telephone and then establish a completely electronic registration process. At the turn of the next decade, the most topical project was creating a joint open university for the different schools of Aalto University.

I was also involved in the development of adult education more extensively, both in our own university and in the cooperative bodies of different universities. From the start, open university teaching at the School of Economics was systematically carried out as degree-level education. This means that the completed credit units/study credits were studies that could be utilised for the degree and for which the Teaching and Research Council had granted equivalence on the basis of decisions made by the departments of teaching and research. However, the unit organising the open university education was officially called the Adult Education Unit, and it also organised other courses such as labour market training. This constituted continuing education aimed at promoting the employment of the participants, not equivalent to degree studies but university-level education none the less.

Long-term, close contacts often developed between the staff members and the students in the open university and other adult education programmes, as our staff existed solely to meet the needs of the students and had a helpful attitude towards them. For example, our staff members offered a wide range of advice and counselling services and attempted to organise more places in the most sought-after courses. Although the job was extremely hectic at times, working in close collaboration with the students was inspiring and we had an open atmosphere. It was a great place to work.

Leena Ylä-Anttila
Assistant, Assistant Professor, Lecturer, Researcher, Adult Education Manager


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