Mika Mattila, who works as a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Tampere, enjoys teaching, but is concerned about the well-being of colleagues and the workload that grows year after year. According to him, there is plenty of room for improvement in the ways and conditions of work. Excellence in the labour market can only be achieved if universities provide attractive jobs for teachers.
Teachers are highly educated professionals who see the significance of their work for individuals and the future of Finland as a whole. However, many teachers are exhausted and even contemplating a career change. This is the message for Finland in short, signed by thousands of education sector professionals.
Mika Mattila, a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Tampere, recognises both sides of the message. Mika gains experiences of succeeding and feels pride of his own work when his students learn and find their own path in the field of science.
“It’s great to read a perfect exam answer, notice that the students have internalised the content of teaching well and that they know how to apply the knowledge. I sometimes receive contact requests on LinkedIn from former students who have ended up working on a dissertation. In these situations, the value of the work becomes tangible,” Mika says.
Fatigue as a long-lasting topic in universities
In addition to successes and the feeling of pride, Mika has also become familiar with the downsides of work as a teacher and president of the teachers' union of his own university.
Conflicts between coping and the growing demands is a big common challenge. While teachers are committed to their work and see its importance, some may consider switching from teaching to working in the field of research or business, for example.
“The discussion on the burnout of university staff has been around for a long time and, in my opinion, the situation has only worsened. The number of cluttered tasks is constantly growing, and the need to reorganise work is evident. The introduction of new electronic systems and the increase in administrative tasks are examples of such burdensome and seemingly unnecessary reforms,” Mika says.
More attention to what is essential
In universities, teaching is always based on science and research. That is why Mika considers it important that sufficient working time is reserved for both.
However, an increasing amount of administrative work has been assigned for university teachers in addition to their core teaching work due to the fact that universities have made administrative staff redundant for economic reasons.
“Maintaining research capability during teaching is also important because it improves the quality of teaching. In the future, we must insist on a model in which researchers also teach and teachers also do research,” Mika highlights.
It is essential to ensure that teachers have the opportunity to both teach and do research without becoming exhausted. The number of things to do seems to have increased year by year, which is reflected in the ever-increasing number of hours in the university teachers’ rotas.
It is essential to ensure that teachers have the opportunity to both teach and do research without becoming exhausted.
“We cannot keep increasing the workload if we want to have healthy employees and keep universities as good and attractive workplaces for top professionals in different fields,” Mika says.
High-quality teaching requires time for planning
For people outside of the industry, it is easy to be unaware of the tasks involved in the working day of a university teacher. No matter how much planning and scheduling is done, the working days of a university lecturer are full of tasks and not everything can be predicted. According to Mika, there may even be overlaps between meetings and teaching reservations.
“One working day may include a 1.5-hour lecture for a larger group and another 1.5-hour small group teaching session. The same day may also involve a thesis guiding meeting, reading and commenting on the students’ work, preparing materials or exercises, correcting exams, responding to students’ e-mails, using various electronic systems and conducting research. And in the midst of this all, teachers should prepare for the lectures of the next day,” Mika lists.
In Mika’s opinion, the solution to the tiring pace of work is clear: some tasks should be taken out of the work plan in exchange for the new work added.
“Not completing tasks is not easy, but increasing the workload for the same people with the same working time and salary is also an impossible equation.”
In Mika’s opinion, the situation could also be made more flexible by adjusting the terms of employment.
“The rationalisation of collective agreements could at best be reflected in the working life, for example, through more realistic planning of work. For example, enough working time available for the preparation of teaching should be ensured, otherwise the quality of teaching will inevitably suffer”, Mika summarises.
Competent university teachers benefitting the whole of Finland
OAJ is currently negotiating with employers on the salaries and working conditions of university teachers. The teachers’ letter points out that the issue at stake is a lot more important than the next month’s pay slip – it’s about the future of Finland as a whole.
Mika believes that universities would appear more attractive workplaces in the long term if the pay system could be adjusted in line with the changes in work requirements and performance. At present, it may take several years to assess the made changes, meaning that the salary development in universities can easily be stalled, no matter how well teachers cope with their increasingly challenging work.
“It has been well-recognised in Finland that, in the future, working life will need more and more highly competent employees. They don’t just suddenly appear from somewhere; competent teachers are required for their training. That is why it is important that universities are, and continue to be, attractive employers with decent working conditions. Salary development must not fall behind the other sectors either,” Mika says.