Life in 18 Square Meters: A Uni Student’s Experience with ADHD During Distance Learning

When we think about educational accessibility, we often consider our own experiences of whether or not we feel fully included in educational activities. The realities of distance learning have made the burden of coping with daily life difficult for university students, but even more so for many with special educational needs.

Otso started his studies in Autumn 2020. He had realistic expectations from the beginning. 

“I knew university studying would be hard. High school was hard, middle school was hard, and I assumed it would only get harder.” 

He made a plan to take it easy for his own sake; pacing himself with his studies, especially now during the pandemic. Otso recognized that it would be challenging. Still, he didn’t anticipate the amount of difficulties he would experience with remote teaching in reality. The lack of routine, fewer lectures, more assignments, next to no face-to-face teaching, no clear schedules, and broken sleep patterns are some of the main struggles of distance learning life for him.

The amount of distractions at home has been the most frustrating part of distance learning for Otso. He describes seeing the sun rise and set from his window. He watches the people drive by in their cars, going somewhere else. 

“With face-to-face learning, there are fewer things to take my attention and distract me.” 

Studying from home without a real-life social context – one person,  a screen, and distractions – makes distance learning particularly challenging. Otso points out that ADHD makes it difficult to read and focus. He thinks this gets overlooked and is often “seen as just a wild little boy’s problem, which it is not.”  

Positive Social Pressure

For Otso, working together with others makes a great deal of difference. “Working in a group gives me a sense of urgency and motivation and mutual accountability – positive social pressure.” He feels that Zoom breakout rooms are something, but the social connection that creates the ‘right sense of pressure’ is just not there. “I remember at the beginning of term when it was easier to meet up with classmates and we’d get together with a few people. I was proud of myself for how much I got done then”, he reflects. 

In addition to doing coursework together, the emotional and social support from classmates is significant: “Our class  has been really great about that. There have been lots of crying emojis on our class Whatsapp group and probably real crying behind them.”

He values the great job his classmates have done in being there for each other and being non-judgemental even in hard times.

So far, Otso has also had positive experiences with university teachers being responsive and flexible during distance learning. However, he proposes that teachers could reduce the workload and offer tasks on a schedule that are less open-ended. 

“Distance learning gives more flexibility, but for me that is a big no.” 

A routine helps Otso remember to take care of himself and manage time effectively. “It really helps keep me focused when there is a specific time to do things: eat, work, move.”

He remembers a seminar at the beginning of the term handling life skills, goal setting, and motivation. Otso thinks that being coached on the importance of these things is not enough if you don’t have a routine to keep the motivation going. In particular, for students beginning their studies and for students with special education needs this is a vital tool that can make all the difference in learning.

“Having a routine in general helps with #adulting too,” he jokes.

Is the University doing enough?

Otso feels that the university has offered some help when he sought it out. He was referred to a psychologist and offered some adaptive learning support.

“I got a paper saying that I had the right to turn in assignments later and was allowed some flexibility by adapted assignment return dates.” 

Still, he doesn’t want to speak for everyone.

“To be honest, I don’t know enough to say whether the university has done its best for special education needs learners in general”. He states that, “being a self- advocate was important in making sure I got help and took it.” There may be students who suffer and do not have the tools or knowledge that they need to be proactive and get help.

Despite Otso having a positive experience in getting support, he describes having feelings of being wrong or weird when struggling with distance learning.  He started his studies this academic year and the combination of being new to the university and not meeting expectations has been a heavy burden to carry. 

“My self-esteem has definitely been affected. I’ve been dealing with depression again because of it. Generally, the distance learning situation has affected my overall physical and mental health.”

Due to the difficulties, Otso is taking the spring semester off and delaying studying until autumn. During his leave he has continued developing his teaching experience by substituting when possible.

Looking forward towards the autumn term he has feelings of optimism and realism. “I hope that everything goes back to normal, but in reality I am feeling that it will be hybrid at best.” 

As the interview comes to an end in Tellus glass box number 4, he says something many remote studiers can relate to. “Thanks for giving me a reason to leave my flat… All of 18 meters squared.”

BURNING QUESTIONS

The student-led education event, Burning Questions 2021, featured a workshop on Special Educational Needs provision during distance learning. Participants offered their recommendations for better practice from the student and teacher perspectives.

The number one recommendation from the student perspective was simply: Ask students what works best for them. 

Continuing the dialogue between students, university teachers, and administration about what works and what doesn’t work will help make distance learning more accessible to all. 

Self-advocacy skills were seen by many participants as vital – even more so during distance learning – and they should be taught. 

Minimizing the cognitive burden of distance learning can be done by aiming to make it as close as possible to face-to-face learning. 

Empathy, differentiation, and more training are some suggestions participants made for teachers/lecturers. 

Time before and after online lecturers for informal discussions can contribute to student well-being and motivation. 

Finally, peer support groups and guidance for making an effective daily routine can make learning more accessible for special education needs learners as well as for all students.

Anna

Intercultural teacher education student. Amateur Yogi and professional Humanist. Believes written word is the spice of life. Twitter: @AnnaHeumannKaya

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The University of Oulu is investing in international students – new career guidance service and events this year

The University of Oulu has decided to improve its Career Counseling and Employability Services by creating a new position specializing in foreign talent. Two of the reasons for this new service are an increasing number of overseas students enrolled in the degree programs and the new public trend Finland of tapping into international talent already located in the country.

At the beginning of the academic year 2020–2021, the University of Oulu extended its Career Counseling and Employability Services. More specialized support for international students will be provided by Angela Suorsa. She is  the new International Student Career Guidance & Employability Designer at the University of Oulu. 

As a result, there are now two Career Services Specialists at our University. The first is Outi Tolonen, who will focus on local students. The second is Angela Suorsa, who will be offering career guidance for international students and researchers and support in their post-graduation job hunt. 

In practice, the new service aims to offer students with international background guidance tailored to their specific needs. The service helps with job seeking, job marketing, integrating into working life, supporting thesis and traineeship placement opportunities finding. 

This year’s timetable is already booked with some exciting events, like the new Oulu at your service event this week.

What are the particular attributes of international talents, and what are some of the challenges they face?

According to Angela, job hunting is different for international students compared to local students.

“Although their international background could be used as a strength in their application, many fail to present their competencies in the application documents properly.” 

For example, a common mistake made by international talent is that when mentioning their work experience from abroad, they fail to offer a clear picture of the company and the work tasks. 

Finnish employers can evaluate the job seeker’s experience from the same country because they are familiar with the education, the expected skills, the working conditions, the legislation, and the requirements. However, it is challenging for local employers to know everything about education systems around the world. They might also not be familiar with the companies in the international arena where students have gained their working experience. As a result, it is more challenging to relate to them and their background. 

“Therefore, the employers do not find an answer to the question: What can he do for my company and me? Nor can they answer the question: Do I need him?”

Nevertheless, cultural differences in job hunting and work mentality play a role as well. While a lengthy CV is considered an advantage in some countries, the Finnish employer won’t read one longer than 1–2 pages. The Finnish custom of addressing superiors by their first name might feel extremely impolite for people who worked in companies with a strict addressing etiquette. 

“Two years are not enough”

Since the international Master’s level programs last two years, a significant challenge identified by Angela is that students usually do not have enough time to properly educate themselves about the local job market and create a strong professional and personal network.

“When applying for a Master’s Degree, international students already have a more precise idea of what career path they would like to follow. They might also have some work experience. Still, they might have different values and weaker networks, which means they need additional support upon graduation, compared to the local students.”

For the future, Angela would like to see supportive programs developed in close collaboration with the city of Oulu and the regional employment office (Te-toimisto). Such programs could connect the international students directly to the local working market and even help establish contact with the employers on behalf of the students during and after graduation. 

Also, more emphasis on the sense of belonging of the international student is needed in the future. The feeling of being valued and worthy will encourage them to be more active in creating their career path and taking part in events designed to help them.

What opportunities does Oulu have to offer to its international talent? 

According to Finnish law, the municipalities, like the City of Oulu, are responsible for developing an integration plan for refugees and immigrants. This usually means offering language courses and basic education. 

However, as Angela points out, there is a risk that the highly skilled immigrants and university graduates fall outside of the municipality’s integration programs and the free support services that come with them.

As a result, they are not eligible to receive services such as one-year-long intensive Finnish language courses, employability guidance, familiarization with the health care system, or assistance with the paperwork related to other practical dimensions of day to day life in the community.

This can be perceived as a discouraging factor by international talent because they lack the Finnish language skills that would allow them to access more services, as well as an overall understanding of the Finnish systems and society upon graduation. 

Oulu at your service (20.01.2021)

The University of Oulu’s Academic Affairs and Counselling Services are organizing an event. The event is being held together with the municipality on the 20th of January at 14.00. Oulu at your service aims to improve the visibility of the services that the City of Oulu has to offer to international talent.

Oulu at your service is an online event for all international students, researchers, alumni, employees, and their families. 

During the event, you will have the opportunity to find out more about the municipality’s public transport and library services, daycares and schools, Finnish language courses, well-being, health, leisure, and entrepreneurship name a few – basically, all the essential information for a newcomer to Oulu. 

You can ask specific questions in the chat and get answers from experts in different fields during the webinar. You can also send your questions in advance to angela.suorsa@oulu.fi and get your questions answered during the event. You can find the detailed program here and the registration form here.

Anca M. Catana

Education student, theater enthusiast, nature lover. Curious, spontaneous and ambitious, open for new challenges.

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Defining Academic Excellence: Six Different Exchange Perspectives

The University of Oulu has hundreds of exchange students, but have you ever stopped to think about how all of our education systems compare? Lindsay Jamerson got the idea for this story after playing a round of card games with a group of exchange student friends. "We were all talking about our exchange and the ways it was different than we expected. First it started with the weather, the brave ones wishing it was colder and the romantics hoping for snow, but slowly, our conversation shifted gears and we drifted to the land of academia", she describes. In this article, six students with different studies, backgrounds, and home countries answer a couple of questions about academics and how education in Finland stacks up against their own experiences and expectations.

TEKSTI Lindsay Jamerson

KUVAT Anni Hyypiö

Juan Judel Palazón, 22, Spain
Home University: Universidad Complutense de Madrid
Major: History

What does academic excellence mean to you?

That probably means getting the highest grades in a career, but I think that’s without taking in account whether you enjoy your studies or not, so it’s a superficial view focused on competition only. A University student shouldn’t only focus on getting the best grades but also getting competences and enjoying what he/she is doing.

What are some of the differences between your home institution and the University of Oulu?
There are differences. Here I have less assignments compared to my home University. In Spain we have more hours of lectures and practically I almost have no exams. This means for me a huge contrast between my life as a student here in Oulu and in Madrid. Also, I have noticed this University is more focused in sciences which is good, but maybe there could be more humanities related events or seminars. Another very positive aspect of the University of Oulu is the easy access to those who want to practice some sports. The infrastructure of this University is really good (like buildings, libraries), and of course the restaurants of the University with its special prices for students.
What about the University of Oulu was the most appealing to you?
In this case I would say the place, also some of the international history related subjects were interesting for me as in my home University we really focus only in Europe. But in this case a great part of my interest was in the country and the environment themselves. I have always been curious about the northern countries and I wanted to see what living here is like.
 
 

Cedric Freisenhausen, 24, Germany
Home University: Ulm University
Major: Molecular Medicine Double Degree (Ulm/Oulu)

 
Why did you choose to study abroad at the University of Oulu?
I was offered two Double Degree programs in cooperation with Padua (a university in Italy) and Oulu Universities. I wanted to be among the first students going to Oulu University, as Northern Finland seemed more interesting to me. I was excited about a real winter, scandinavian forests and northern lights. Also the first students going to Padua a year before me weren’t too happy about the teaching there.
What are some of the differences between your home institution and the University of Oulu? Specifically the classroom environment.
I have chosen a six week and a three week course and practical work. The six week course was really different from the teaching from my home university, as the teacher was adjusting the course’s contents according to our previous knowledge. Both courses were quite interactive and students were encouraged to ask questions and to discuss the content.
In my home university, I cannot do practical work for credits. I am really glad that I can do it here.
Another difference is the approachability of teachers. Here, they wanted to be called by their first names and you could see them in their office when the door is open. In Germany, you call the teachers Prof. and by their second name and seeing them can be quite difficult.
If you could change one thing about your academic experience here, what would it be?
I wouldn’t change a lot in my experience here. There was a practical part of one course in which the instructions were rather bad, but apart from that, the experience here is wonderful.
 
 

Morgan Neering, 19, United States of America
Home University: University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Major: Elementary Education

 
Did Finland’s reputation in education influence your decision to study here? If not, has that changed after a quarter?
Yes, Finland’s reputation in education was the number one reason that I chose to study at the University of Oulu. As an education major in the U.S., I have constantly heard about the Finnish education system, and how they consistently score high in international tests, such as PISA. Many of my professors in America have talked about Finland as being a model of education, and have shown us documentaries about Finnish teachers and classrooms. Coming here has been an amazing opportunity to expand my knowledge as a future teacher, and learn from the Finnish school system.
How different is Linnanmaa campus from your home University?
The Linnanmaa campus is very different from my home University. For one, everything is connected, which is so great. I’m not really a fan of the cold, so I really appreciate the layout of the Linnanmaa campus. At my home University, all of the buildings are separated. This is ok, since North Carolina doesn’t really get that cold, and the farthest you would have to walk is 10 minutes if you live on campus, so that’s not too bad.
Here in Oulu, there are a lot of cafes, and places for students to gather together on campus. This is something I really wish my home University had more of. I feel like it’s a great way to connect with people in your classes, as you can quickly grab a coffee or pastry with them after class. I also really enjoy the inexpensive coffee, that’s definitely a plus. At my home University we have a Starbucks on campus, where you’d pay anywhere from 2 to 5 euros for a coffee. So, the 30 cent coffee is great.
Another big difference between the two universities is the fact that there are no dorm buildings or student housing options on campus here in Oulu. There are also no athletic fields on campus.
Overall, many of the differences between the two campuses are purely aesthetic. Students in both countries spend a lot of time drinking coffee, studying in the library, and spending time in class. So, while there are differences, I’d say there are more similarities.
What modes of education from the University of Oulu would you like to see your university at home adopt?
One of my favorite things about the University of Oulu is the laid-back teaching style of the professors. You often call them by their first name, and have the chance to have meaningful conversations with them inside and outside of class. I have had amazing professors back home as well, but I think that the laissez-faire style of teaching is so great, and something I would like to take back home. I also wouldn’t mind if our classes started 15 minutes past the hour, that’s something I could get used to.
 
 

 

Clara Ducatillon, 21, France
Home University: Ecole de Commerce à Paris et Lille
Major: Business with a focus on Finance and Purchasing

 
What are some of the differences between your home institution and the University of Oulu? For example, are there any differences regarding the professors?
There is no particular differences regarding professors: they provide good feedback and are very available to support our personal learning. More based on personal and individual learning than face-to-face courses.
One thing that is different for me is that here, professors are really, really demanding regarding articles, reading and theoretical aspects of the learning. Here, there is no written exam, evaluation consists on learning diaries and group works only. The semester is split in two periods and we have different courses in which one. Courses planning is provided at the beginning if the year
How does your home curriculum differ from what you are studying in Oulu?
Well, I am interested in purchasing and finance. I chose my courses before coming so that it fit with my personal curriculum as well as the global goals I have. However, some courses here overlap with what I have already learned in my home university, which is fine, but it can be quite boring to review so much. Also, the University of Oulu’s business school doesn’t offer a lot of purchasing and negotiation courses and they are less abstract and more and analytical, mainly oriented on theory and highly demanding regarding theory. There are lots of articles to read.
What’s your opinion on the campus facilities?
There are a lot of positives about the Uni’s facilities. The campus is really nice and there are lots of restaurants with various cheap food options. ESN is one of the best aspects of campus life as they have affordable trips and events for exchange students. It has been really great to have a kummi student because she introduced me to all the hot spots on campus, the library facilities, and the city.
One thing that I haven’t enjoyed about campus is the sports center, I live in Tirolintie and if I want to do sports, I have to come to campus by walking or bike. Besides, I feel facilities offered there are not great and the courses of fitness are taught in and geared towards Finns, which is not really efficient for me, as an exchange student. I had to sign up at another gym.
 
 

Luiz “Dudu” Veriato da Silva Junior, 21, Brazil
Home University: Pontifical Catholic University from São Paulo
Major: International Relations

 
What does academic excellence mean to you?
For me, academic excellence means getting prepared enough to participate in the market. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I know a lot about my area but that I’m going to know enough to work well and to be a good professional. Additionally, the name of the institution that I choose will open some doors for me just for the fact that I studied at a prestigious university.
How has study abroad changed the way your interpret academic excellence, if at all?
It makes me realize that the university is not all about learning properly. It is more related to learning how to work. I was expecting that my study abroad courses would challenge me to think and that I would learn things and not just reproduce knowledge in tests, but I realize that all around the world, the exact meaning of academic excellence is about preparing us to participate in the market. They teach you the basics so you can just work and learn more when you are working.
What are some of the differences between your home institution and the University of Oulu? Specifically regarding the testing or finals.
There is few differences. For me, the learning methods (classes and texts) are the same. The length of the classes is different which is good. In Brazil we have 4 hours of class every day and tons of texts. Here is a little bit easier, which is really good to have more time to do other stuff.
The testing is more chill here and you write essays more than do tests, which is awesome. In Brazil we have tests as our finals in almost all the subjects. The structure of the university is great, which is the most impressing thing, and i loved the fact that the field trips are free. Besides that, everything is mostly the same.

 

Maithé Lievens, 20, Belgium
Home University: University of Ghent
Major: Linguistics & Literature: English-Swedish

 
What was the thing that shocked you most about the school system here?
The exams in the middle of the semester shocked me: it is so fundamentally different from what I am used to. We are used to having a designated time period in which we have nothing but exams, with a period of 2 weeks to a month between our courses and the exams. These big exams are also usually the only factor that makes up your final grade. This results in these exams being really hyped up and big, while in Finland, the opposite seems to be true. They are rather normal things that just happen in the middle of the week, on any time of the day. Most of them are only one small part of your final grade. It suffices to say that this really shocked me in the beginning: suddenly I had to focus more on tasks and assignments instead of the exams. It is such a completely different system that I really had to get used to.
What are some things you like or don’t like about your studies at Oulu?
I generally really like the school system here, since it divides up work/exam time very well. The tasks are great substitutes for exams, and I feel that they evaluate better than an actual exam. That said, I personally don’t like the how the semester fluctuates in how many courses you have and how every week’s schedule is so different. Maybe I just like a fixed schedule, but it makes for situations where one week you have nothing to do and another week you are drowning in work.
If you could change one thing about your academic experience here, what would it be?
I wish I had known something that many Finnish students have now told me about: the workload in the month of November (or just the middle of the semester in general). Since I am used to only having to study and meet deadlines at the very end of the semester, the amount of presentations and group works caught me off guard. I wish I had anticipated this, so I could balance it out better.
 
Read more: University in the USA vs University in Finland: An Honest Comparison, Student Culture, Four Seasons, Fantastic Finnish People, & Sauna: Life in Oulu as an International Student.
 

Lindsay Jamerson

A 20-year-old exchange student studying Peace and Conflict Studies and History. She can be found blessing her friends with fun facts and random knowledge, and spreading the love with no-bake cookies. Live your best life, her common catch phrase and the panacea of all impossible questions, includes activities like baking, hugs, psychology, and Netflix.

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Redefining Our University: of Moral Values, Social Justice, and Truth

Fair treatment, equal opportunities, respect for one another – these are all values any healthy society craves. Finland, even lacking a personal pronoun that distinguishes between men and women, certainly seems to have it figured out quite well. Constant progress and growth are inevitable though, and Finland does not simply rest on its achievements for a socially fair society. Comprehensive schools have implemented the anti-bullying program “KiVa” since 2009, and lately also the universities have hopped on this train. How can we implement the rules and regulations for treating each other more humanely?

Bullying is a phenomenon not only apparent among school kids – boosting ones own worth by putting someone seemingly weaker down occasionally tends to carry over into adulthood.
When being trapped at a place of work or studies for a certain number of years, this can become a frustrating experience for the victim.
What has changed since the school years is that there seems to be no straightforward way to protect the victim – no one would call the bully’s parents anymore to find a solution, for instance.
In the scope of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the University of Oulu has thus developed a policy paper for the prevention of bullying and harassment. The Student Union OYY, having for some time provided a go-to-contact for social conflict, has also developed a new action plan for 2018 with stronger emphasis on the well-being and mental health of students.
This action plan suggests, among other things, a provision of training for proper engagement with each other, and taking a stand on bullying and harassment and its prevention.
However, what seems like a noble idea is actually the cause for heated debates.
Opponents of the action plan’s suggestions found the Student Union’s engagement in how students treat each other too extreme. Concerns about the Student Union evolving into some sort of “thought police cutting people’s freedom of speech” arose when the action plan was discussed.
Also the University’s policy paper, though well-intended, seems to provide reason for suspicion at second glance. Attentive readers pointed out issues with wording and the vague nature of concepts described: who exactly defines what is ‘bullying’ versus simply ‘challenging someone’s opinion’? Can the expression of critical thoughts be clearly guided through rules? And, besides these concerns, how much fussing do adult students actually need?
 

The perfect amount of rules?

It can probably be safely assumed that none of these critics is for harassment, and against decreasing discrimination.
However, the above-mentioned concerns do reflect a contemporary problem, which universities all around the world seem to be facing: the attempt to provide guidelines for a frictionless, respectful society without accidentally slipping into totalitarianism.
With professors being carefully selected into tenure positions that protect them from losing their jobs when speaking their minds, universities shall offer space for critical thinking, discussion, and controversy.
This naturally opens the floor for expression of thoughts that not everyone agrees with. Students are encouraged to participate in debates, evaluate and counter-argue what they disagree with. But the line between enabling freedom of speech and tolerating harassment can be fine, and rules might be in order.
Plus, can there really be such a thing as too many rules against discrimination?
The topic is hot – and the contrary of easy.
Recent anecdotal cases from German and US universities show how sensitive and complex things can become once we start evaluating each other’s words instead of actions.
In the German case, a law professor used his private Twitter account to express his very controversial political opinions, and triggered a witch-hunt like storm attacking his persona and livelihood subsequently.
Protected by tenure, he so far kept his position, but an angry group of students interrupted his lectures and tried gathering signatures to get him fired.
In a similar situation, two American professors wrote an op-ed for a newspaper that was interpreted as racist hate-speech by some. Much like in the German example, instead of seeking direct discussion and confronting the professors’ views with counter-arguments, immediate action was taken by a student union at one professor’s university, openly “condemning” these allegedly racist views. Others followed later.
What these cases have to do with implementing anti-bullying regulations at a university might need further explanation: in both cases, someone used their words for expression. These words were then identified as hateful or harassing by another group of people.
The reaction to that could have been confrontation and a fruitful discussion, eventually resulting in refutation of the initial arguments – but it was instead a call for action to silence these people, and to get rid of them.
One of the American professors subsequently published another article in the Wall Street Journal judging the way those things were handled and pointing out that only one person actually directly reached out to her to discuss and challenge her view on things. Encouraging students to tell on each other instead of seeking a direct dialogue is advocating situations exactly like this.
Implementing rules about what can be said and in what way, with an apparent threat of consequences once those rules are disobeyed, nourishes micro-aggressive behavior.
Instead of engaging in a diversified and well-grounded discussion, calling out injustice could seem like the easier way out. Especially, should the university not be an environment where opinions are challenged, world views clash in a healthy debate, and young individuals thrive to develop into critically thinking, independent adults?
From school to university, the fact that no one calls one’s parents anymore, has changed for a reason – older, less vulnerable students are expected to at least make an attempt to deal with their own stuff.
And even in the anti-bullying program KiVa, school kids are in no way simply offered protection through a ubiquitous potential punishment – rather, the program is primarily supposed to train kids on how to deal with bullying themselves. Why deny students these skills?
 

The definition of bullying

Despite the questionable objective to achieve a socially just university over a truth-seeking one, there is an apparent complication with identifying verbal harassment ex-ante.
For instance, the University of Oulu’s policy paper on harassment describes some examples of bullying or discriminative actions as “[ridiculing] the individual and his or her religious or political conviction”. Defining what exactly counts as ridiculing seems a rather subjective undertaking.
Further, the policy paper describes bullying as a “recurring adverse treatment … for a prolonged period of time”.
Depending on one’s willingness to interpret these terms literally, we could count the repeated name-calling by using negatively connoted insults supposedly referring to someone’s religion into this category just as much as a recurring argument between a religious and a non-religious person about which lifestyle is the preferred one. By giving students the possibility to assign the label “bullying” to the latter one, the very nature of a university being a place for active, elaborated debate and critical thinking is jeopardized.
In a conversation with the OYY Social Affairs Officer Hennamari Toiviainen for some clarity on this, it becomes evident that providing such is not an easy endeavor: “Creating guidelines is important for knowing how to proceed in sensitive cases,” she explains, but soon admits that “[- -] bullying is an individual experience too unique to provide a one-fits-all consequence”.
Important to her is mainly that in case someone feels at unease, they know that there is a contact to go to, and they are not left alone. The intentions are grand, but the implementation seems to lack substance: how can the Student Union provide guidelines and rules to follow, if a generalizable set of them does not seem to exist? Even more worrying might be that not following said rules could invoke punishment up to criminal charges.
When differentiating the term ‘bullying’ broadly enough, bullies seem to be everywhere. A recent survey among University of Oulu students reveals that every third person has perceivably experienced or observed bullying. But here is the crux: the students defined bullying primarily as “talking behind someone’s back”, or “being criticized for no reason”.
Especially the latter should ring alarm bells for anyone who would like to keep the university a place of science.
Not only is a ‘proper justification’ for criticism admittedly very subjective, but also the mere fact that people feel hurt by criticism can lead down a dangerous path: after all, is continually questioning what we hear, see or read not essential for approaching the truth about something?
 

Are we protecting or creating victims?

With the intentions in the right place, our Student Union is certainly not alone with its idea of protecting students better and more. What it does not consider, though, is that protecting students from controversial opinions and opposition might rob them of the ability to handle these matters, now and later.
Should soft skills that students ought to learn at a university not include handling and reflecting an opposing argument, and defending their own viewpoint factually?
In an opinion piece, Clay Routledge points out that there might actually be a level of too much protection: in a too secure environment, the problem of being sensitive to critique would not just be postponed, it might also be amplified.
After all, the only ones who define which words are to be perceived as insulting or harassing are the recipients themselves. In a reverse conclusion, this means that no matter how strict a set of rules for arguments we establish to protect the ‘weaker’ ones, there will always be at least one person still feeling insulted by what is said.
Heterodox Academy, an association created by University professors in the course of recent demands by American students for more social justice gives some insight on how our society is changing towards a culture of victimhood. In its extreme cases, single words can be perceived as harassment and bullying – and by giving in to such a culture, the number of “victims” will only increase, not decrease. The bullies will become the bullied ones when their every word is weighed.
We are on a mission to create “moral dependency” – after all, more than half of the students answering the aforementioned survey at our university did not know what to do when they felt excluded and bullied. The idea of confronting the alleged bullies, or simply ignoring them, apparently seemed too far-fetched.
Even more alarming is the similarity to concepts such as blasphemy (which are a very real threat even today in certain cultures): blasphemy laws ban the usage of certain ideas, words and even facts. Punishment follows in the case of disobedience.
According to Heterodox Academy, however, in a place that bases its values on truth solely, “bad” ideas and words would simply be refuted instead of punished. Which way do we want to go in our university?
 

An alternative future

Instead of risking a loss of freedom of speech by laying out exact rules for what theoretically can be said to each other and how, we should aim for a university environment that raises compassionate, kind, critical and independent human beings. People who try to know ‘right’ from ‘wrong’, take responsibility for their actions, and constantly work on improving their interaction with each other. Moreover, people who seek direct contact and personal dialogue before stirring up a campaign against someone who allegedly hurt them with their words.
What most people tend to forget is that things look more dramatic from afar, and good communication boils down from a proper scandal into a mere misunderstanding fairly quickly. And when the “talking behind one’s back” does not seem to stop, try ignoring it – after all, attempting to control what each and every person says around us will only make us unhappy in the end.

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Mastering Education: The Struggles of a Small Country in a Globalized World

The Finnish education system is said to be one of the best in the world. This attracts young people from all around the globe to come to our far north and accomplish a Master’s degree here. So far education has been free for everyone, no matter the level of it and the origin of the acquirer. This will change this summer with the newly introduced tuition fees – but does this say anything about the quality of our studies in Finland? Let’s evaluate.

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Scandinavian and central european citizens have one great luxury and a huge advantage they might not always be aware of – free education. In fact, even if you come from a European country that charges tuition fees for higher education, you might just as well move within the European Union and swap universities in order to study for free. Being part of the European Union enables us to reconsider the concepts of borders and possibilities completely. For students who do not want to struggle learning a neighbouring country’s language, there are usually degree programmes completely taught in English.
At the University of Oulu, for instance, we have currently 19 international Master’s Programmes. Never have the options been as vast and the offers as various as they currently are.
However, free education does not only attract European citizens. It seems only logical that especially students from those countries that charge high fees or might have a lower quality of education would like to come to study here in Finland. This has caused heated debates around the use of taxpayers’ money and whether it is fair to give literally everyone a chance to study for free.

Tuition fees only for “outsiders”

In the beginning of 2016, the Finnish Parliament finally decided to introduce tuition fees for non-EU citizens. Finland is not the first country charging outside-Europe citizens, but besides the tuition fees only for ‘outsiders’, there are also other systems in European countries: some countries charge only those programmes taught in English (no matter which nationality the student), others implement a per-credit charging system instead of a fixed tuition fee.
While the Finnish government requires the universities to charge at least 1,500 euros per semester and leaving the final decision up to them, tuition fees now rank between 10,000 and 25,000 euros, depending on the programme and the university.
This results in the fact that starting from this summer, non-EU/EEA citizens will have to pay between 10,000 and 13,000 euros per academic year if they want to study at the University of Oulu. At least in theory.
Simultaneously with the setting of the fee scholarships have been established and in Oulu, the maximum amount of scholarships available per programme equals the maximum amount of Master’s spots available.
Thus, “the outsiders” are still able to study for free if they tick the right box when applying.

Erasmus Mundus can still come to rescue

Aside from this little backdoor, there are many other possibilities for students to come and study for free, and they have been available for years.
Erasmus Mundus is a European Commission-based programme that is funded from the roughly 16 billion euros worth of scholarships that are available for non-EU citizens. They are targeted towards students from so-called Third Countries, in order to support transnational learning mobility and cooperation.
Marcelo Goldmann from Mexico once came with such a scholarship to Finland to study his Master’s degree. The bigger plan was to educate him, send him back to his country and help the country become a better one. In reality he stayed here in Finland and is now one of these taxpayers that ‘fund’ everyone’s free education.
But how realistic is it actually for a non-EU, or rather even non-Finnish citizen, to stay in the country and contribute to society?
Marcelo remained working at the University, which is usually one of the few options for non-Finnish speakers to find a job after graduation. He remembers that during his studies he had difficulties finding an internship in a company, so he had to absolve his practical training accompanying his Master’s in Environmental Engineering in the university as well.

How about a job in Finland after graduation?

And still, many years later, other highly motivated and trained non-EU graduates are looking for jobs with vain endeavour rather than with success.
Michael Msharbash from Egypt came to complete a degree in Accounting at Oulu Business School. He graduated succesfully almost a year earlier than required, and is now working in the United Arab Emirates at PwC. The company offered him a good job and he knows that it would have been immensely difficult to overcome the language barriers in Finland, especially in the field of Accounting.
Another student is Büke Yolacan from Turkey, who graduated from Oulu in the International Master’s Programme Software Development and cannot find a job in Finland despite his efforts of searching the entire country.
“Companies just seem to be reluctant to hire someone who cannot communicate in Finnish fluently, even if English is the main working language”, he explains.

Nothing personal, dude

Being a non-EU citizen does not seem to be the main issue for not getting employed after completing studies in Finland.
Bulgarian student Mihaela Ivanova is studying Education and Globalization at the University of Oulu. She is sure that she won’t be able to find a job in Finland after graduating if she doesn’t improve her Finnish skills to a native level within the next two years.
Her fellow students from outside the European Union are usually studying in Finland because it is a good add on the CV, since the Finnish educational system is globally known as being one of the best. European Union citizens are often attracted to come to Finland by the quality of the studies offered rather than the fact that there are no tuition fees.
German Rabea Radix came to study in Tampere because the hierarchies are flatter, the groups smaller, the professors focus on transferring knowledge rather than on being addressed with the right title and she felt that she could finally honestly include her skills on her CV.
Other interviewees praise the quality of studies, flexibility of exams and assignments and the personal touch of the study environment. So could it be that people are actually coming to study in Finland for the quality rather than just for available free education? Even if it is the latter reason, would that be such a bad thing?
Even if the European Commission is supporting projects to educate people from Third Countries to send them back there afterwards, education available for free should not really be seen as ‘our good’ that ‘they’ take away from us, right?
And if all these arguments are nonsense in the end, why on Earth doesn’t the economy start to integrate recent graduates regardless of their origin and ensure a smooth cycle of taxpayers’ money flow like that?

Unsure ground

The application deadlines for the 2017 Master degree intakes ended a month ago. We will have to wait and see whether or not the newly introduced tuition fees had any impact on the amount and quality of applicants.
Some might think that a free degree cannot be any good and see the tuition fees as a signal for quality. Others might be scared off by the fact that it is incredibly hard to find a part-time job in Finland without Finnish skills. Furthermore, financing the cost of living and studies seems like an impossible hurdle to take.
The will of the University of Oulu to introduce scholarships as a tuition fee waiver is probably to be evaluated rather positively, but it is nevertheless a temporary solution. No one knows what will happen in the next year or even in the second year of the 2017 new Master’s students.
In the long run and with increasing globalizatio  we should probably reconsider our perception on the ‘ownership’ of education. After all, there is no guarantee that the people who study in one particular country will also end up working there.
On the other hand, in a globalized world, this should not even matter on a country level, should it?

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