FINLAND: Less pay but happy in their work

Even though Finnish academics are less well paid than their colleagues in some countries, two-thirds are satisfied with their academic life. This fact - and much more - arises from an international Changing Academic Profession survey of academics and their perceptions of their work. Finland is one of more than 20 countries participating in the survey and a seminar on the Finnish results, organised by the University of Tampere, was held there last month.

The survey deployed a common questionnaire, population definition and sampling approach with questions covering such matters as relative academic salaries, job satisfaction and propensity for job change, opportunity for research, contract conditions, and workload.

The survey data were compiled by Germany's University of Kassel and a number of indicators defined. More countries are coming on board and ultimately information from up to 30 nations could be available. The rich international data set that is the main outcome of the survey is being examined by scholars around the world, with findings released as analyses are completed.

The Tampere seminar saw presentations by speakers from Finland, Germany, Norway and Australia. Presenters reviewed various aspects of the data, comparing and contrasting the Finnish response with opinions from academics in other participating nations.

One aspect that makes the Finnish experience different from some countries is that it has a binary system of universities and polytechnics. As reported by Tampere's Elias Pekkola, about a quarter of Finnish respondents were from polytechnics. Based on academic responses, there are fundamental differences between the two sectors: university academics are more likely to be male, tend to be younger and, on average, earn lower salaries.

But Pekkola noted there were reasons for at least the age and salary differentials. About a third of university respondents were young researchers employed in low-paying jobs while studying to complete their PhDs. Further, polytechnic staff were required to have at least three years' experience in the professional workforce before becoming teachers: these differences led to the average polytechnic academic being relatively older and earning more.

Sixty-seven per cent of Finnish academics expressed high or very high levels of job satisfaction although those in the universities were less 'satisfied' than their polytechnic colleagues.

The level of satisfaction in Finnish higher education is lower than other professions and the relatively low salaries means academe is less attractive, particularly to younger university staff. It is fairly common in Finland for older academics to augment their income through consulting and other activities.

International speakers Ulrich Teichler (University of Kassel) and Agnete Vebø (NIFU Step research agency) presented international and Nordic comparisons with Finland based on the survey data. Teichler was also involved with CAP's 1992 antecedent, the Carnegie Project that involved 14 countries but did not include Finland.

One of the reasons for comparing Finland with Australia is because Finland is about to undergo a major reform of its higher education system. Australia went through its radical change via the Dawkins reforms in 1989-1992 and, according to CAP responses, Australian academics were less satisfied with their lot than the Finns, even though they earn higher salaries.

Possibly some of the Australian academics' relative disquiet started with 'major reforms' and perhaps Finland will tread a similar path as Australia especially as Australian universities now have much higher student to staff ratios than 20 years ago and the proportion of casual staff has increased from about 13% to 22%.

Helsinki researcher Timo Aarrevaara suggested that perhaps Finland should be careful not to follow some aspects of the Australian pattern too closely.

* Dr Ian R Dobson is Helsinki correspondent for University World News. An Australian scholar often based in Finland, he is editor of the Australian Universities' Review.