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Tuula Teeri: Society needs critical and informed thinkers

President Tuula Teeri and AYY's Chair Milja Asikainen discussed the key roles and societal impact of universities at the opening of the academic year.
Photo: Aalto University/Mikko Raskinen

Both expressed their concern about the fact that, although modern societies are – and should be – built on knowledge, knowledge as such and as the basis of societal development seems less and less valued at present. Public opinion and our elected decision-makers seem decreasingly concerned with knowledge or the actual state of things.

According to Teeri, universities exist first and foremost in order to educate critical thinkers who are equipped with the confidence and the boldness to defend the knowledge society. Society needs critical, informed thinkers in all sectors of society, perhaps now more than ever: “Universities have a huge responsibility in safeguarding the knowledge society, developing new knowledge and insistently advocating for knowledge-based decision making”. Milja Asikainen added: “Universities should take a bigger role in leading public discussions, not just adapting to them.”

On the plans of Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture to evaluate the impact of the universities more extensively in the future, Tuula Teeri commented: “We earn over half of our funding from the Ministry to carry out our core activities, which by law include research, education and interaction with society. It’s critical for the success of Finland that we be able to earn this funding using all the relevant criteria for our respective tasks.”

Aalto University is performing well in creating added value from research and education, citing the development of the Aalto innovation ecosystem. Over half of all the start-ups coming out of Finnish universities originate from Aalto. “Slush, generated by the student community, has done a tremendous job in changing the general attitudes about entrepreneurship. University collaboration adds considerable value to corporations, too”, says Tuula Teeri.

Universities provide students with skills future employers need

Tuula Teeri called attention to a second major task of the university: to provide students with the skills that will be needed by future employers. At Aalto University this is called “educating the game changers”, the goal being disciplinary excellence augmented by art, creativity, multidisciplinary collaboration and entrepreneurship. “An education with many possibilities to shape one’s own curriculum will give the necessary means to change the world. I am sure this will increase the impact of the University and the relevance of the education that we provide”.

According to Milja Asikainen, students who work alongside their studies and who are active on student organisations also gain the skills needed in future working life. These include teamwork, social skills, group leadership and project management.

Tuula Teeri’s key messages: Politicians should turn their attention to opening a dialogue with experts both in Finland and globally. Obtaining advice from international experts to support decision making is crucial to be able to compete globally. Within Finland, a national dialogue is needed to set out a bold vision for the future and to generate a basis for the development of our research and innovation system over the long term, a vision and an action plan extending beyond transcending rotations of government and changes in policy programmes.

Milja Asikainen’s key messages: Universities are vital for solving the problems in society. Changing public attitudes towards science and education is a responsibility for the whole Aalto community. It’s important to get students interested in societal issues.

Minister of Education and Culture Sanni Grahn-Laasonen brought the greetings of the Finnish Government to the opening ceremony. The Minister said: “Working together, bold foresight and new ways to act – this is what all Finnish universities need. The aim is that by 2025 the Finnish universities are highly competitive internationally and produce the kind of knowledge that is needed to solve the global problems, while also boosting the renewal of the Finnish society on the basis of knowledge and science. Universities must have the capacity to change and to be pioneers of change in the society.”

President Tuula Teeri also announced the promotion to Aalto Distinguished Professor of Juha Varto from the School of Arts, Design and Architecture. Professor Varto was promoted in recognition of his significant merits in visual arts and education as well as his pioneering work on research methodology for human sciences, aesthetics and philosophy. In his Aalto address, Professor Varto spoke on the subject “From Multidisciplinary to Transdisciplinary”.

The President also presented awards of recognition to Aalto personnel at the ceremony. Head of International relations Mari-Anna Suurmunne, Vice President Hannu Seristö and Professor Turkka Keinonen were awarded the Aalto Act of the Year 2016 for skillfully negotiating and initiating the Shanghai International College of Design and Innovation with Tongji Univerisity in Shanghai.

The Aalto Success Enabler award 2016 was given to the endowment team in the Financial Services - Head of Investment Kati Eriksson and Portfolio Managers Iivo Paukkeri and Lauri Ehanti. The endowment team has demonstrated high degree of expertise and professionalism in endowment management, dedication to research based knowledge, hard work and responsibility.

Video of the opening of the academic year (Aalto's YouTube channel)

More information:

Tuula Teeri, President, Aalto University
tel. +358 50 452 4690 (assistant Hely Kilpeläinen)
[email protected]

Milja Asikainen
President of the Board of Aalto University Student Union
tel. +358 50 520 9420
[email protected]

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