FINLAND: Reform law to be amended

Aspects of a new law to reform Finland's university sector will have to be amended because they were judged to be unconstitutional. As reported in University World News, Finland's Constitutional Committee has now examined the draft Act and will require some changes before the law can go to parliament.

The initial protest came from Finland's four deans of law who pointed out the new University Act was 'technically problematic'. The deans were critical of the lack of a hearing from those drafting the new Act and the apparent absence of consultation with the Ministry of Justice or Finland's Supreme Court.

The Finnish Union of University Professors complained that the Ministry of Education spoke only with senior university administrators and students, not the broader academic community.

The Constitutional Committee finalised its deliberations last Wednesday and agreed with the deans and professors. It says the new Act must preserve universities' autonomy, as guaranteed under the Finnish constitution.

As it was drafted, every university's board would have been required to have at least half its members elected from outside the university (including the chair). Board appointments would continue to be elected by professors, other staff and students but according to the composition required by the Act.

Even when redrafted, any university that chooses to have a majority of outsiders on its board will be permitted to do so but this will not be a legal requirement. Therefore, aspects of the act will need to be redrafted but no further delays to the reform process are expected.

Finland's university reforms will also see the creation of the first essentially 'private' university. The new institution, fashioned from the merger of three existing universities into Aalto University, has been named after famed architect Alvar Aalto (1898 - 1976).

Although continuing to be supported via the public purse, Aalto and any other 'private' universities are to be 'foundations under private law'. According to the 'unconstitutional' draft Act, foundation universities' boards would be elected by the government and representatives of private funding bodies.

But the Constitutional Committee disagreed with this methodology and redrafting will be required. Universities established as foundations will be required to appoint their board in the same way as the majority of universities (that is, those that are 'institutions under public law').

The Act is seen as a critical one and so it is likely to be passed quickly. It is due to come into full effect on 1 January 2010. Even allowing for the changes required by the Constitutional Committee, once the Act is ratified by parliament, there should be enough time for universities to make the internal changes required for them to comply.

Eyes may be on Aalto University: a board has already been appointed according to the 'unconstitutional' version of the new Act. Perhaps we'll see a bit of fancy footwork.

* Dr Ian Dobson is Helsinki correspondent for University World News. An Australian scholar currently based in Finland, he is editor of the Australian Universities Review and an honorary researcher with Monash University's centre for population and urban research in Melbourne.