1.2 The implementation of education

Auditointiryhmän arvio

The University of Oulu has clear selection procedures for students. The university follows national guidelines for student selection procedures. The admission routes and selection criteria are published on the Studyinfo portal, an official website maintained by the Finnish National Agency for Education.

The UO has recently harmonised processes that are presented clearly in Policies for the Recognition of Learning at the University of Oulu, updated in 2022. According to the Policies for the Recognition of Learning, it is the student’s responsibility to apply for the recognition of learning. Students are entitled to receive guidance on the process. Recognition of prior learning is done through the Peppi system and good instructions are provided for students and staff. The audit team suggests the university to consider making the reports on recognition of learning available for students as well. This would further increase transparency in the process.

A concern that came up during the audit visit was the student dropout rate in some degree programmes. The dropout rates vary greatly between degree programmes. The leadership and quality management of the university are aware of the problem and suggestions were made to further investigate the reasons for high dropout rates. The Student Union has also conducted its own survey of dropouts to find out what the university could do better to increase retention. The audit team recommends the university to look at ways to reduce the number of dropouts more efficiently for example through learning analytics.

Student-centred learning is emphasised

The University of Oulu emphasises student-centred learning and active student participation. Students in the student workshop valued flexibility of choosing courses and projects, the diversity of teaching and assessment methods as well as the accessibility of teachers. Teaching methods and approaches such as hybrid teaching, apprenticeship opportunities, group assignments, hands-on projects, field courses, discussions, feedback on learning, flipped learning, guest lectures and lab learning were discussed and appreciated.

Various teaching and learning methods were also discussed in the teacher workshop. Learning diaries are used widely to give students the opportunity to personalise their learning. In the student workshop, students were not fully satisfied with the heavy use of learning diaries or study journals as an assessment method. While many students appreciated the method, as it allowed for deeper understanding and personal approaches, it was also criticised for being overused on the account of more varied assessment. On a positive note, students appreciated the ease of communicating with their teachers, who were seen as accessible.

According to the student workshop, student feedback and feed forward on their learning is an area that can be strengthened. Teachers in the audit workshop discussed how students are increasingly requesting more individual and personal feedback and more varied methods of assessment, a request that is difficult to adhere to due to large student numbers in courses. The audit team recommends that the UO looks at ways to enhance assessment and feed forward practices on learning.

According to the audit visit, teaching staff find the pedagogical trainings useful and instructive. Some students complained about teachers’ poor pedagogical and digital pedagogical skills. The audit team recommends that as many teachers as possible attend pedagogical trainings. The university could also consider a certain number of compulsory pedagogical courses for all teachers. Teachers appreciated the co-teaching and pair-teaching practices as well as the culture of sharing at the university. They expressed a wish that these practices would be used increasingly in the future. According to teachers and students, the frequent turnover of teachers due to short employment contracts affects the development and quality of teaching. The audit team recommends the university to ensure that teachers receive relevant information and support for enhancing their teaching.

Student well-being is seen as highly important

The University of Oulu has implemented various support for students’ educational progress and well-being. On the educational side, a tutor teacher system (oma opettaja) is in place to ensure that students receive personal tutoring and support. Tutor teachers are supported by faculty, with centralised training and resources. However, in the workshop, teachers complained about a lack of time to attend to their counselling role. As student services have become more centralised, tutor teachers have an increased role in advising and counselling students. The audit team considers the tutor teacher system a highly important part of student support and recommends the university to further focus on ensuring the quality of the system by allowing tutor teachers to use more working hours for tutoring.

Issues related to students’ mental health were identified and discussed during the audit visit. The university emphasises the well-being of students. According to students, the OYY Wellbeing project (well-being tutors) is a good example of an effort to improve the well-being of students by providing various activities organised by students every day. Another example is a course called “The world’s happiest student” organised together with the Student Union. Many study psychologists are available to students. However, more resources are needed from the YTHS (Finnish Student Health Service), university and teachers to improve student well-being.

In a recent well-being survey as well as in the student workshop, students complained about not being able to find information about the available support. The university is quite aware of this problem and various new ways are explored to address it, for example a chat service. The audit team confirms the need to find ways to increase students’ knowledge of the support services available.

The equality of students is promoted throughout the student’s study path, with particular attention being paid to international students. There is an Equality and Diversity Plan, policies to ensure the equality of different learners, and a guideline for the prevention of bullying and harassment. In addition, the Student Union has contact persons for students in case of harassment. There is a university form to report bullying and harassment.

More attention should be paid to the needs of international students and doctoral researchers

In the student workshop, participants mentioned that international students felt left out of Student Union activities. Some international students felt lonely. Students in the workshop hoped that the Student Union would provide more information and activities in English. There were also some complaints about teaching material in courses being in Finnish although the course is taught in English. International students would benefit from a more detailed explanation of the requirements and assessment criteria, at least in courses at the beginning of their degree programme. Many of the learning methods used in Finnish universities are new to international students. The audit team recommends the university to ensure that international students receive enough support for their studies. The community integration efforts are discussed further in Chapter 4.

Each doctoral researcher is assigned a supervisor and an external steering group. According to the audit visit, doctoral researchers would like to have more content-centric and challenging feedback that could help them to steer and improve the quality of their research and strengthen their competences.

According to the audit visit, doctoral researchers would like to have more information about the practical arrangements at the university, such as the different platforms, visa process, guidelines to Patio, doctoral courses, and other requirements at the beginning of their studies. In addition, doctoral researchers expressed a need for faculty-specific meetings. Guidance for doctoral researchers is mainly based on peer support and help from supervisors. Offering general guidelines and a clear learning-path could help especially international doctoral researchers adapt to the new working and living environment. The audit team recommends the university to consider holding orientation events for new doctoral researchers where the structure of the university, its main systems and platforms, HR issues, support services, course offerings and other topical issues would be discussed at the beginning of each semester.