Clear and consistent student selection processes are in place
UEF has clear and consistent selection procedures for students. UEF follows national guidelines for student selection procedures with clear selection criteria and common guidelines agreed with the Teaching and Guidance Council. The admission routes and selection criteria are published on the Studyinfo.fi -portal. Studyinfo is an official website maintained by the Finnish National Agency for Education. The selection process has been further developed, especially by expanding the Open University routes. A bot system supports students in their search for information. All relevant information is easily accessible and available also in English.
Flexible learning with personal study plans supports students’ learning processes
A flexible system of personal study plans (PSP) supports students’ learning processes. Students can choose between a variety of minor subjects and earn additional ECTS in areas that interest them. A further strengthening of the individualisation of studies can be seen in the fact that there is a comprehensive system for the recognition of prior learning at the UEF. The importance of the active role of students was emphasised both in the SAR and in the audit visit. The opportunities for students can be described as good, but there is also room for improvement. For example, students reported that in some cases students have little opportunity to work in an interdisciplinary way. The audit team recommends UEF to explore how to give students more opportunities to work in interdisciplinary ways and enhance access to learning spaces.
The high degree of flexibility requires a high level of guidance and counselling. In the discussion with students during the audit visit, it was shown that there is still room for improvement in some areas and that students would like to see contact persons clearly named who can then deal with the students’ concerns. As mentioned in the SAR and in the audit visit, students receive feedback on their learning outcomes through various procedures at the group and individual level, like cumulative knowledge tests in medicine. The variety of methods for recording learning progress was also positively highlighted by students during the audit visit. The audit team recommends UEF to clearly name contact persons for students.
UEF plans to improve the feedback process by introducing systematic monitoring of study progress and by developing a study progression analysis system to identify students at risk to prevent drop-out. The SAR identifies the development of a learning analytics system as an area for improvement. In the audit visit, it became clear that the development of a learning analytics system is on its way but is not yet at the final stage. The audit team recommends moving forward with the development.
Students rate the quality of teaching and supervision as good, but experiences vary
The quality of teaching is rated high at UEF. This became evident during the audit visit. In the student workshops, it was emphasised that the flipped classroom approach is much appreciated. UEF supports lecturers in providing trainings for lecturers on activating and diverse teaching methods, especially flipped classroom teaching. This obviously bears fruit: students spoke of positive learning experiences, approaches to learning new things and reflecting from different perspectives, like case studies, role plays, group work, panel discussions, and competent and friendly lecturers who care. Students positively mentioned aspects such as flexibility, lack of hierarchies, approachable professors, and the possibility to choose a wide range of courses. Students reported that courses are designed to promote competence. In this context, students stated they felt that lecturers wanted them to learn rather than just pass the course. It is evident that the quality of teaching is of importance.
Another strength of the university’s educational provision is that teaching at UEF is in many cases clearly related to working life. UEF offers working life days, career guidance, expert lectures on working life, internships, and final theses in companies. It is also positive that the degree structures of the international master’s programmes have been expanded to include an internship component. In degree programmes with a vocational focus, like health and teacher training, there is a very good fit with professional practice. The Faculty of Science, Forestry, and Technology was also mentioned as a good example in terms of industry cooperation. As faculty members noted, it is not so easy to make a clear connection to the labour market in general degree programmes. Here it depends more on the motivation of the individual teachers and the picture is more inconsistent. The audit team recommends also expanding the vocational orientation of the general education degree programmes.
The quality of teaching and support during the COVID pandemic is rated as adequate. The students stated that flipped learning and distance learning were a great experience. Contact with the teachers during the COVID pandemic was good and easy. Other students would like to see a hybrid model with a mix of online and onsite teaching. Some students stated that distance learning detracted from the positive learning experience and that they would like to come back to campus to have more onsite teaching, especially the international students. The teaching staff also find face-to-face teaching rewarding. The audit team recommends that the UEF needs to develop a coherent teaching strategy for the ”new normal”.
There are also negative voices and indications of potential for improvement. Students would like to see more flexibility in responding to students in difficult situations, clear and easy-to-find information, better organisation of courses and a better distribution of the workload over the semester. Students stated that there are too many different channels of information and that sometimes they do not know where to find the relevant information. In addition, students would like more comprehensive advice on the composition of their courses for their studies. For example, choosing minor subjects does not seem to be so easy for some students. For international students, the situation is more challenging because many minor courses are offered only in Finnish. The audit team recommends UEF to review the channels of information from a students’ perspective.
Student well-being needs permanent funding and support
UEF focuses its attention on student well-being and equality of students. This is seen as a strength by the audit team. However, it is also recommended that this focus be maintained for the future and that the necessary financial and human resources be found for this. UEF has renewed several of its guidelines on student well-being, including the early intervention model. During the COVID pandemic, student well-being was of particular concern. The UEF responded by recruiting five well-being coordinators in spring 2021. The university has also implemented several student well-being interventions in collaboration with the Student Union, like the Bridges I and II projects and the Student2Student operating model. Currently, three student psychologists work at UEF.
However, despite the investment during the COVID pandemic, the system is under-resourced and over-stretched. Psychologist visits are booked quickly and there are long waiting lists. Project-based funding jeopardises long-term support, like the Bridges project. The audit team finds that both additional funding for service expansion and the continuation of project-based funding are needed for the well-being of students. In addition, continuous monitoring of effectiveness and needs in a changing environment is required. Therefore, the audit team recommends that UEF should look at continuity in the provision of welfare services.
Support and guidance for doctoral researchers needs attention
There are different measures to support doctoral researchers in their development, like training and courses from the open university. The doctoral programme coordinators also provide support and guidance. Interviews with doctoral researchers revealed near universal-praise for the dual-advisor system that was implemented. Many doctoral researchers were praised for their high-quality mentoring.
However, during the audit visit some doctoral researchers spoke of feeling insufficiently supported. Doctoral researchers without scholarship or contract worker status reported that they are disadvantaged in terms of access to research resources and infrastructure. This lack of support for some doctoral researchers leads to a two-tier system in their view and is perceived as an injustice. It seems justified to investigate how widespread these problems are and implement appropriate solutions. Doctoral researchers who had funding reported that the recent change from 4-year funding to 2+2-year funding caused problems. This increased the pressure to publish and make significant progress in the first two years of their programme. This is especially relevant for disciplines where significant research advances require longer periods of time. The funding situation for doctoral researchers and their status at the university needs to be addressed at the university level. The creation of employment relationships with 10% of grant-funded doctoral researchers is an improvement (see Chapter 3). However, the analysis of possible measures to support all doctoral researchers with sufficient resources should be addressed in the coming years.
When the audit team asked about supporting access to Finnish or global labour markets, an incoherent picture emerged. Some doctoral researchers stated career support varies between the departments and the faculties. For international doctoral researchers career options are limited. There are some projects that focus on promoting employment. The interviewees stated that UEF is on the way, but more action is needed. The audit team shares this impression. It is strongly recommended that measures should be taken to further improve the situation of doctoral researchers. UEF could also pay more attention to international students. This issue is discussed in Chapter 4.