The organisation is open to new initiatives but has to make sure that the initiatives form a coherent ensemble
The University of Helsinki undoubtedly encourages innovative and experimental activities, not only in research and education but also in its own organisation. The whole process of the digitalisation of activities, also accelerated by the context of the pandemic, is a good example of this. If the university is in some way, and in its structure, a traditional university, it has proven to give room for pockets of creativity, to always be open to new ideas and to regularly launch new initiatives. A good example of this is provided by the Think Corner initiative. Think Corner is an arena of open discussion and communication through which members of the university can communicate the results of their activities to a broader audience and to society. It is a remarkable success. Think Corner, among other things, contributes to strengthening the ties between the university and the City of Helsinki, and it serves as training in communication for researchers. The interventions on Think Corner are counted in the societal engagement workload of the researchers.
As such, the university is as creative as it can be. The audit team commends the university for also being a real learning organisation, learning from itself and from others, in a continuous PDCA cycle. For instance, the university is very active in different international and national networks, sees the importance in such work and uses them as a source for internal development. However, the multiplication of ideas and initiatives can at times give the impression of a lack of priorities. The audit team therefore encourages the university to better exploit its potential by affirming a stronger leadership in support of an innovative culture and to make sure that such a culture is really pushed down to the faculties. For a full innovative organisational culture, research and education could be more strongly linked. This is important for enhancing renewal in education and striving for innovation, as well as for the students to be fully creative and open-minded and engaged in the development of the university.
External stakeholders and alumni to be fully onboarded
One of the strengths of the university is its intense network of relationships with external stakeholders, be it the City of Helsinki and the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa, among others. The history, the size and the specific location of the University of Helsinki in the city and the country serve as the basis for this extensive network. A tool like Think Corner supports it. However, the university still engages with stakeholders in a rather informal way, lacking structure and systematisation. This may be due to the peculiar relationship between the university and Finland: being the largest university in a small country, members of the university quite naturally have good relations with politicians, media people, entrepreneurs and society at large, without the university controlling and monitoring it.
The same applies to alumni. They are numerous in the Helsinki Alumni Community – more than 45,000 – and benefit from several initiatives taken by the university: Helsinki Alumni Hub, alumni benefits and alumni events. Still, the culture of alumni is not yet mature and how the university can interact with them is not yet fully formulated, while recognising that there are also differences in alumni activities within the university. Alumni represent a huge potential for the university: they form for instance an important target group for continuing education. More importantly, alumni can serve as an interface between university and society, working to help the university to understand what is happening around it, and reporting on the state of knowledge in companies.
Collaboration with stakeholders is crucial for the university and it is part of its strategic choices ’Knowledge and learning are for everyone’, and ‘Openness enhances scientific research and collaboration’. The preparation of the strategy was a collective process in which external stakeholders were involved. The identification of external stakeholders, however, seems to arise from traditional partners of the units through a bottom-up approach, rather than from a systematic analysis and identification of the key national and international stakeholders. A more systematic stakeholder analysis would enable the university to identify its key strategic stakeholders, both at the level of the entire university and of its units, as well as the type of cooperation with each of the stakeholder groups. This would also help to monitor the effectivity of community engagement.