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Tampere 3 seems to be cracking, but so did Aalto – Where will the political game lead?

Kuvitus 123RF / Vadym Malyshevskyi

The fruit of the fantastic innovation period, Aalto University, is starting to take its form. Now, after a promising start, the consensus in Tampere 3 seems to be cracking. This was also the case in Aalto. “The rectors were like traffic lights”, says Hanna-Mari Aula, who did research on the birth of Aalto. Where exactly is Tampere 3 headed towards?


It is New Year’s Eve 2017 in Tampere. As the clock strikes 12 for the first time in 2018, fireworks light up Ratina. And we’ve just survived the country’s centenary. People are admiring the fireworks in Eteläpuisto and Laukontori. As the fireworks light up the dark skies, the new higher education institution in Tampere has also come to be. Will arias play, as the University of Tampere, Tampere University of Technology, and Tampere University of Applied Sciences merge into one?

The project that goes under the working title of Tampere 3 is a significant local and national educational undertaking. The new seat of learning merging the higher education institutions is scheduled to begin its operations in a little over a year. However, many matters are still undecided. At the time of the writing of this article, there has not been a clear understanding of the starting date, name, management model, or funding of the new institution.

The founding members of the foundation university have not been announced yet. The Tampere 3 undertaking was launched in spring 2014, when Stig Gustavson, who holds the Finnish honorary title of vuorineuvos, was summoned to look into the possibilities of the project. This autumn, the consensus has shown signs of cracking. In September, the Board of TUT hit the brakes and demanded alone that the project should receive more time and additional funding, as well as a certain kind of management model. The game is on.


In Otaniemi, Espoo, the growing pains are far gone. Aalto University begun its operations on 1 January 2010. Now, the Helsinki campuses in Arabianranta are being moved to Otaniemi by 2018. When this procedure is complete, Aalto will also be physically united. DSc Hanna-Mari Aula studied the constructing of Aalto University’s reputation between the years 2005 and 2014. Aula works for the Kaute foundation that supports the research, teaching, and studying of economic and technology sciences. Aula’s research indicated that during the Aalto fusion, the changes were met with resistance and adapting, which in turn left room for conflicts and politicizing. Aula sees similar characteristics in the discussion around the Tampere 3 project. Especially during the preparation stages, the parties often disagreed.

“The same happened in Aalto during this stage. The rectors were practically like traffic lights.”

The reputation of Aalto was built on future promises. The new university was supposed to cover the alleged faults of the higher education institutions and introduce new advantages. The new, improved university would create interdisciplinary practises and internationalisation, innovations, and even more intense corporate cooperation. The almost exact same arguments have also been used in Tampere. In addition, the uniqueness of the different higher education institutions’ merger has been brought forward. Fusions are to be expected, because both the Ministry for Education and Culture and the government have encouraged the universities to renew their policies.

“The same happened in Aalto during this stage. The rectors were practically like traffic lights.”

“It is more likely a question about who will merge”, Aula remarks.

The project was started by UTA, TUT and Tamk. Other essential parties are the city of Tampere, businesses in the Pirkanmaa region, and the state government, i.e. the Ministry for Education and Culture (OKM). The founding members of the foundation are presumably at least the state of Finland and the city of Tampere. The Minister of Education and Culture Sanni Grahn-Laasonen (kok) has established a working group, a steering group, and a management group, whose tasks are to prepare the foundation of the Tampere 3 university entity. The Chief Secretary of OKM Anita Lehikoinen has faith in the merger of the higher education institutions. The disagreeing comments have not decreased credibility.

“When we have a joint objective, we can find a way forward in everything. I find it important that the new institution could begin on 1 January 2018. It is evident that the development work will also continue after it. I see no additional value in prolonging the process.”

Under the current legislation, merging the University of Applied Sciences and the universities immediately is not possible. Lehikoinen affirms that OKM is prepared to follow through the amendments in legislation the university merger requires as early as the following spring. Launching Tampere 3 would also be possible even if the amendments had not yet been established. In this situation, Tamk would belong under the ownership of the new foundation.


Large group of people on white background


On 15 October 2014, an announcement was released in the intranet of the University of Tampere. It stated that UTA, TUT, and Tamk will begin to create a new higher education institution, one that has not yet been seen in Finland. Many were surprised by this announcement. The Student Union of University of Tampere (Tamy) published a strict comment for the management of the University of Tampere: the tripartition, and especially the students, had been ignored in the preparations. The universities are accountable to several interest groups: students, personnel, the global scientific community, alumnus, state, sponsors, media, and cooperation partners. Therefore, the universities are also a target for great passions.

“It’s nevertheless difficult to even say to whom the university belongs. Can it be owned by someone? Who can decide on the matters relating to it?”, Hanna-Mari Aula ponders.

The student advocates of the university will integrate, as the new higher education institution will only have one student union. Tamko, the student union of Tampere University of Applied Sciences, would remain as an independent operator. At the moment, the persons responsible for preparing the student unions’ integration are the secretary generals, executive board chairs, and a merging coordinator, whose position has not been yet filled.

Since the initial shock, the conversation between the student organizations has calmed down. In October 2014, Tamy’s meeting on Tampere 3 gathered hundreds of students at the Main building’s lobby. In May 2015, a similar meeting attracted only around 60 participants. The unions have given comments on a regular basis and prepared the integration of the student unions. Now they are waiting for the big wheels to turn, prepared to integrate in the near future or later.

It nonetheless seems that students are being left out of the decision-making core of the higher education institution. There are currently two foundation universities in Finland, TUT and Aalto. Tampere 3 would also be a foundation university: in accordance with the legislation, the organs of a foundation university include a board, rector, and the university’s joint multi-member administrative body. Contrary to this, the University of Tampere is a public university, where under the legislation, the decision-making organs are the board, rector, and the university collegiate. The board consists of the professor, personnel, and student representatives. In a foundation university, this tripartite representation is not required.

Aula sees that the current university is strongly headed towards a corporation-like organization.

Aula sees that the current university is strongly headed towards a corporation-like organization.

“One that has a clear hierarchy, and where decision-making is directed from top to bottom. Many business life practices are being introduced into the organizations of the university world.”

Tamy has two representatives in the university board. Tamko has one student representative in the board of Tamk. In the board of TUT, there are no student representatives. In the senate that appoints the board of TUT, there are three student representatives. Traditionally, decision-making has been collective, and the students have been included in the operations of the university as an important group.

“As the collegiate decision-making comes crumbling down, students will no longer be a part of the decision-making like they used to. Now, the focus is on efficiency”, says Aula.

One finding in Aula’s dissertation concerns the change in the identity of the student interest group in relation to the target organization.

“We noticed that whereas before students used to be a part of the university, a part of us, in the discussion, they were now considered as a part of an outside group, as a part of them.”

In 2015 and 2016, OKM conducted an evaluation with Owal Group on the effects of the Universities Act. It indicated that the new system has distanced the community from the decision-making, and that the management and personnel’s differences in views have culminated. Chief Secretary Lehikoinen does not comment on the necessity of the student representation or a collegiate body.

“It would be best to comply with the regulations of the Universities Act, as they were thoroughly revised in 2009 in the Parliament.”


“At the moment, Tampere 3 is Finland’s most important higher education institution policy project”, stated TUT rector Mika Hannula in his opening speech for this academic year.

In the same speech, Hannula emphasized that the higher education institutions are conducting a bold structural revision which the government has long pressed for. At the same time, Hannula noted the lack of financial support. His words were aimed at Sanni Grahn-Laasonen, who also took part in the opening ceremony. The board of TUT had demanded from the government that the new foundation be capitalised with 200 million euros. This number also includes the buying of Tamk’s shares. Currently, the city of Tampere owns the share majority of Tamk. OKM and the city of Tampere are negotiating the value of Tamk.

”Of course the financial situation is also very different.”

The realisation of Aalto University was decided upon in Vanhanen’s second Government Programme in 2007. The government committed to invest 500 million euros in Aalto University if it could acquire 200 million euros of external funding. Compared to this, Tampere 3 has only received pennies from the government for the preparation process. According to Aviisi, this accounts to some measly millions.

“During the last government, Aalto was prepared to the point of decision-making. There was no similar option for the Tampere 3 project. Of course the financial situation is also very different”, says chief secretary Lehikoinen.

At the same time as the government is urging the higher education institutions to profile themselves and to increase multidisciplinary operations, education has faced massive cuts. The objective of higher education institution politics is to further profiling, structural development, division of labour, and effectiveness. The cooperation of higher education institutions and business life is strengthened to commercialise innovation. These are the reasons given for Tampere 3.


No campus in the woods. This was one of the campaign slogans against the merging of Tampere University of Technology and Tampere School of Social Sciences in the 1960s. As the University of Technology moved to Tampere, plans were also made to move the School of Social Sciences to Hervanta. Back then, Sweden was the model country to take after, nowadays other parts of Europe and the United States act as the examples. This time, Tamk is also joining the bunch. The universities’ management has working life oriented degrees and diminishing the two-cycle system on its agenda. University of Tampere rector Liisa Laakso discussed the dismantling of the dual model that divides the higher education institutions into two parts in the opening for the academic year.

In Pori, a merger between the university units and university of applied sciences was also on the agenda in 2013. Upon the merge, the university centre of Pori and Satakunta University of Applied Sciences would have developed studies and study paths together. The city participated in the project, which in the end fell, among other things, because of preparations done too quickly and not thoroughly enough. A part of the collapse was also due to interest group disagreements. In addition, amendments in the legislation would also have been needed in order to bring the degree structures closer together. Hanna-Mari Aula sees the lack of trust as the fusion’s biggest threat.

“The central threat is the loss of trust: either in the project or between the central actors of the project. If trust is already lost at this stage, it makes the work harder in the future.”

“If trust is already lost at this stage, it makes the work harder in the future.”

It should also be clarified what is central to the project. Aula predicts that Tampere wants to renew, but cannot clearly specify what is meant by this.

“A strong and clear vision of what the new education institution should provide is needed, and then this vision should be strived for. It’s easier for people to accept the change and be a part of it if they know whether the merger is aiming at cost savings, new structural solutions, or something completely different.”

Chief Secretary Lehikoinen sees, among other things, that the important factors in the project are the cooperation of the university and university of applied sciences, a union between social and technology sciences, linking business life to universities, and producing a unit that can compete internationally.

“The undertaking is also nationally significant. Therefore, it should be invested in. We’d like to see the project to be regionally, nationally, and internationally notable.”

Hanna-Mari Aula warns of politics that dictate from above what should be done.

“These kind of politics easily underestimate people’s skills and the habits and traditions people value. A definition is made from above, saying ‘you are like this’.”

In Tampere 3, decisions have been postponed several times, and informing of them has received criticism from the interest groups. The preparation minutes, and for example the Tampere 3 online newspaper published in the autumn, are available in the university intranet. A basic user account is needed to access the materials, but for the general public, intranet is the place where information goes to die.

“Studies have shown that sharing the bad news is still worth it. It hurts for a while but people recuperate more quickly compared to a situation where information comes in bits and pieces over a long time”, says Aula.

Compared to the vision, the name of the higher education institution is a side issue of its own. For a long time, Aalto was just an innovation university. The times were fantastic and innovating back then.

“The new name was considered odd in the beginning. For a name, Aalto was successfully neutral. If Tampere 3 wants to bring forward that it is a new institution and that the fusion is balanced between the three institutions, naming the institution in a new way would be reasonable”, Aula argues.




Will the birth of the new higher education institution be celebrated in 2018 as fireworks shoot off? All three higher education institutions are concerned about funding. Tamk Vice President Mikko Naukkarinen also expressed his concern over the reconciliation of the different cultures. Despite the disagreements, in October no one was publicly discussing the possibility of the fall of Tampere 3. In their announcements, the universities have assured their commitment to the merger. Lehikoinen from the Ministry for Education and Culture also believes that no one will withdraw from the project.

“All three higher education institutions want the merger. The project cannot fail then, can it?”

“It would be nice to see this fusion to be human-led instead of matter- or process-led.”

The discussion revolves around a starting structure and project and its potential to produce multidisciplinary innovations for the benefit of industries and society altogether.

“It would be nice to see this fusion to be human-led instead of matter- or process-led. The results could be quite good. After all, people make the change”, Aula points out.

Aula estimates that it took approximately five years for Aalto to settle. The turmoil from the preparation period to this day lasted almost a decade.

“After the actual fusion, the difficult times of changes are now clearly behind. People feel better and empowered.”

The Finnish university institution is older than the republic of Finland itself. The changes are slow and often also painful.

“No one said it would be easy.”




Spring 2014

Vuorineuvos Stig Gustavson is summoned to see into the renewal of the higher education institutions in Tampere. Gustavson, a business life veteran, has also participated in the birth process of Aalto.

Autumn 2014

UTA, TUT, and Tamk announce the plans for the new higher education institution. Vice rectors begin to plan the profile and degree structure for the new higher education institution.

February 2015

Ministry for Education and Culture appoints a working group, steering group, and management group to prepare the founding of a foundation-based university.

May 2015

The boards of TUT, UTA, and Tamk decide that their objective is a single university in Tampere.

September 2015

Päivi Myllykangas is appointed as the project manager of Tampere 3. Her previous work experience include for example the position of Regional Manager at the Conferedation of Finnish Industries.

February 2016

The board of the University of Tampere takes a stand for a public university.

August 2016

UTA, TUT, and Tamk’s service for cross-institutional studies is opened.

September 2016

The student unions of Tampere open the application period for the position of merging coordinator.

September–October 2016

The board of TUT demands more time and money for the merger, as well as a certain type of management model. The name is still under dispute, even though it should have been decided upon in June.

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