FINLAND: Helsinki re-appoints current rector

The University of Helsinki's 13-strong board has re-appointed its current Rector, Thomas Wilhelmsson, for another five-year period from January 2010. He is the university's first rector to be appointed in the 'brave new world' of university reform in Finland.

The reforms, the most extensive since the 1970s, will take effect from next year. Major changes to governance include a smaller board with a higher proportion of external members, and rectors appointed by that board. Wilhelmsson was previously elected by his peers and colleagues in May 2008, in line with the age-old practice in much of Europe for selecting university leaders.

Wilhelmsson (60) is a professor of law, but had occupied one of the vice-rector positions for about 10 years. His term as Helsinki's final elected rector was truncated to about 18 months because of the timing of the new Act of parliament to regulate universities, passed in July.

The re-confirmed rector heads up a leading multi-disciplinary research university, one of Scandinavia's largest. Helsinki has about 35,000 degree students and about 8,000 staff. It is by far Finland's best-performing university in major international university rankings.

Finland's university reform will see rectors being able to exert more power than in the past, and they will have more financial responsibility. However, the incumbent is responsible to the board and must maintain the board's confidence. The rector will no longer chair the board.

In contrast to many other countries, the Finnish process for appointing a new rector of Helsinki was completely free of head-hunters and university boards (or councils) sworn to secrecy.

Five applicants responded to press advertisements towards the end of August 2009, with a closing date of 11 September (at 15h45). They were identified in the media and on university websites. Applicants included Wilhelmsson, the university's dean of agriculture, professors from two other Finnish universities and a board member of Aalto University, Finland's new 'private' university.

* Dr Ian Dobson is Helsinki correspondent for University World News. An Australian scholar often based in Finland, he is editor of the journal Australian Universities' Review, an honorary researcher with Monash University's Centre for Population and Urban Research in Melbourne, and the Australasian representative of the Educational Policy Institute.