The number of fixed-term employment relationships at universities has grown. According to Finnish Education Employers (Sivista), slightly over 70 % of research and teaching staff at Finnish universities were employed on a fixed-term basis in 2020.
In practice, universities hire new research and teaching personnel from among those with doctorates and professors from among research and teaching staff in Finland and abroad.
Employees hired as researchers usually have access to a so-called tenure system where a person with adequate work performances and academic qualifications is eventually promoted to permanent employment status at the researcher or professorship level.
However, the job descriptions of university researchers and university-level teaching positions can be shaped by extensive specialisation in a very narrow field of expertise. In these instances, changing jobs might not realistically result in an improvement without very significant changes.
When the tenured position of a person aiming for a professorship is discontinued, they might be offered permanent employment as a university lecturer, for example, as a kind of compensatory position. This gives the impression that the university offers teaching positions to those taken off the tenure track as a consolation prize of sorts.
The university should not consider teaching positions as a safe haven for those who are not making great progress on the professorship track. It is also a problem if a person assigned to a teaching post considers the position a disappointment.
Tenure track for teaching brings clarity and equality
Teaching staff may not necessarily have their own tenure track, or at the very least the systems at different universities differ greatly from each other. There are universities where the teachers’ tenure track and the related arrangements have been defined, but there are also universities where a teacher's progress on the tenure track may feel random and be dependent on which sub-organisation the teacher happens to work in.
There are also organisations where teachers are often not promoted onto the tenure track and the permanent position at the end of it, but instead they simply end up there. Recruitment must also place a special emphasis on teaching skills and accomplishments.
Having a tenure track for teachers brings clarity and equal treatment to the work of teaching staff. The track must also include enough research. However, if the emphases are placed incorrectly, the tenure track may end up making teaching and research staff more unequal and even define teaching as a second-class work task. This is surely not the intention.
In Finnish society, the role of universities is to act as a home to both academic research and teaching, and as a birthplace of expertise through the joint work contribution of all of the operators within them.
Because there are not enough professorships for everyone, we must consider what kind of opportunities for career advancement we can offer to other top academic specialists to ensure that meritorious academics would stay in Finland to work.