Helsinki University cuts 1,000 jobs, more could follow

The University of Helsinki is to cut its staff by nearly 1,000 by the end of 2017, making 570 terminations this spring, it confirmed in a public statement last week.

Rector Jukka Kola said that staff cuts are unavoidable because of the rapid and dramatic reduction in funding.

“The University of Helsinki’s rise in rankings among the leading research universities in the world would not have been possible without professional and committed employees. I am deeply sorry that we are forced to let go of competent staff members.”

But in a public statement the university also warned that further cuts may have to be made once national discussions about streamlining the network of universities have come to a conclusion.

A statement on the university’s website said the need for cost-cutting will amount to €106 million (US$115 million) annually by the end of the term of Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s government in 2019–20.

Almost half of this sum must be saved during the current year. Staff costs make up about two-thirds of the university’s total expenses.

In a joint letter to union chiefs, Kola and Esa Hämäläinen, director of administration at the university, said the terminations would begin this February and be completed by the end of May.

The letter explained that in line with its report into the reorganisation of its administrative services into a new service organisation, the university is looking into various options, including either transferring facility and property services to a company to be established or cutting back on operations and purchasing instead from external providers.

It is also looking at the option of managing the provision of continuing education and education exports centrally in a separate company from June.

In addition, laboratory staff will be transferred to campus-specific or inter-campus staff pools; and IT staff may be transferred to a company being established with other universities to provide systems services for study and academic administration.

Non-teaching staff hit worst

The staff cuts will mainly be targeted at staff other than teaching and research staff.

The overall number of staff will be reduced by approximately 980 by the end of 2017. Of these 295 will be teaching and research staff and 685 will be other staff.

Of the 570 employees whose positions are to be terminated, 75 will represent teaching and research staff and 495 other staff.

The number of fixed-term contract positions is expected to be reduced by 210 by 2020. Of these, 160 are teaching and research positions and 50 other (non-academic) positions.

In addition 200 employees will retire from positions that will not be filled after their retirement. Of these, 60 are teaching and research positions and 140 other (non-academic) positions.

The university had already cut 500 staff in the past five years, before these cuts were announced.

The Finnish Union of University Professors and the Finnish Union University Researchers and Teachers said the cuts go too far.

"It appears as though the University of Helsinki sees its staff as a mass, an expense, that can be cut to achieve the government's massive funding cuts," a joint press release from the leaders of the two organisations said.

Yle reported that the unions said a more sustainable way to take care of the cuts would be to check the situation annually and make cuts accordingly.

Threat of mergers

The university warned that current national investigations into the distribution of responsibilities between universities may lead to further terminations later.

Minister of Education and Culture Sanni Grahn-Laasonen told Yle’s TVI politics show that she would like to see a streamlining of Finland’s network of universities, with some mergers and more intense collaboration.

“We could have even fewer universities than we do now,” she said.

She wants universities to focus more on specific areas of expertise – a process referred to as “profiling”.

"There's a lot of work to be done in what these universities study and teach," she said. "When we speak of a university being profiled, it means piecing different know-hows together into stronger epicentres."