Stephanie Mullins, Associate Director at specialist business education PR consultancy, BlueSky Education, spoke with Hanna-Leena Pesonen, Dean of the Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics in Finland, about the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the institution and the wider industry for an upcoming podcast.
“You could say everything has changed,” said Pesonen, who has been a professor at Jyväskylä since 2001.
“From the recruitment of students, to teaching and the mobility of researchers, everything in some way or another has been affected – but, somehow, I think that much of what we have learned will stay because it has brought many good new things as well.”
Pesonen and I agreed that the simple adoption of video communications is an improvement on just speaking over the phone, being able to read someone’s expressions and connect digitally. It’s a small example of the new things she speaks of, but a good example.
She thinks some things will return to normal though.
“I think we will go back to some physical events because that’s something I see that people are missing. Actually having time to sit down, enjoying lunch or dinner, and just have a chat. That’s something you don’t really do online, to get to know people and also exchange ideas. I’m missing that, so I hope we will have some events at least, but maybe less than what we used to have,” Pesonen said, believing they’ll be more of a balance between in-person events and virtual events. It’s a sort of blending that she’s expecting to see in teaching as well.
Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the globe, many institutions have been forced to adapt to online delivery. Most have done this successfully. Now many may decide to continue with a hybrid model, for reasons that vary from health and safety to the flexibility it allows students.
“From the Finnish perspective – where our students actually have more flexibility than in many other countries, in that, if it’s a two-year programme, you can take three years to do it and so on – we have been getting requests over the years for online options. Now we are able to able to do that.”
In fact, the Dean points out that as early as March they were receiving requests from students that were interested in doing courses online. They’d previously thought they wouldn’t be able to participate because they couldn’t be there in person, yet when the School went full online, requests started flooding in.
Flexibility will stay
They plan to continue this flexibility, to some extent. It’s certainly helped with their international students, many of whom now have difficulties entering Finland or leaving their own country. The school has committed to offer online versions for all students for the autumn term.
And while many business schools and universities around the globe rely on fees from international students, the Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics doesn’t face the same concerns that many others currently do, something Pesonen is grateful for.
“In our case, we have only a certain number of international programmes where we have tuition fees for the students. For Finnish students, there is no tuition fee, we get financing from the Finnish government, the Ministry of Education. But, as far as I know, many universities are really, really struggling, so as a dean, I’m lucky.
“Of course, we have concerns about the future. What will happen with the economy of the country as a whole? Because then the funding of universities will also be affected.”
There will be further consequences
The long-term impacts of the pandemic are being regularly discussed, in our own networks as well as in the media, but when I spoke with Pesonen for the upcoming podcast, she left me with a potential consequence that has stayed with me. It’s something I think that’s important to share.
“Something I have been thinking in the past couple of weeks over and over again… this was a huge change, which we could not have planned for. And if we were able to do that, we can do so many things. I’m coming back to the idea that, personally as a leader, universities as a whole, and the whole society, we seem to be able to do a lot in a very short time. Maybe we can be brave? Make some changes, whatever they are.”