Bologna Accord/Helsinki Revised

Although Helsinki and Kingston share many factors in the climate and geography, the political context differs greatly. This is easily apparent to a visiting academic: Faculty in Finland’s only music university are not panicked about the future of Sibelius Academy (commonly referred to as SibA, the acronym coming from the web domain) and students are not concerned about rising tuition. Yes, the global financial downturn has its impact, but panic and the resulting mistrust of colleagues is not the result. There is less money to go around, and there will be less in the future, but planning and responsibility appear to be the norm. Students in Finland do not pay tuition. Their expenses are primarily cost of living in Helsinki, which is very expensive—a latte can easily be EUR 4.20 and cash transit fare is EUR 2.20; my accommodation is a tiny 1-bedroom flat considered spacious by the locals. What I notice is that although great change is afoot no one is being intimidated regarding the cost of a university education in music. Professors are not talking about donating to SibA or doing more with less. The Administration is not talking about reducing professors’ salaries or laying off support staff. Students talk about expenses, but in terms of rents, groceries, transportation and books, not tuition.

So, if we are to talk about the Bologna Accord in Canada, one of the things we need to be aware of is an entirely different university culture. Professors make decent wages and there are more instructors per student. Students pay no tuition. The research funding available from the Finnish Academy (SSHRCC equivalent) is phenomenal and not nearly so controlled by the government of the day, compared to what we experience in the humanities through SSHRCC. Therefore, the rationale behind the Bologna Accord, although having an economic impact in the results for graduates of the universities, is not as closely tied to financial issues as the announcement of curriculum discussion at Queen’s has become.

The great change for SibA includes the Bologna Accord, a new relationship with the state, and a new Music Center approved by the Finnish government, with the cornerstone laid in October 2008. This building will house the departments of music education, folk music and jazz, which are currently out in the suburbs, separated from the central campus of the Sibelius Academy by a 30-minute commute. (This central campus includes the music performance, conducting, music theory, musicology and church music departments.) In addition to housing the newer SibA departments the Music Center includes performance space that will be available for the public. There is more connection between academic and public than we experience at Queen’s. One can observe this also in the location of the new building next door to Finlandia Orchestra Hall and across the street from Parliament. That in itself says something very positive about the value of music in Finnish public life.

The new relationship with the state begins in January 2010 when each university will have increased financial and administrative responsibility for itself. SibA opted for the public-law corporation:
“If a public-law university can raise a million euros or more in private donations by the end of 2010, the state will pitch in government funding in a ratio of 5:2  [. . .] donations to the university’s fundraising drive are tax deductible up to EUR 250,000.” (p. 15 Sibelius Academy, Annual Review 2008)
Now this relationship does sound a bit more familiar! Even though the terms are still much more generous than those of the Ontario government. However, the expectation of Satakeli, the foundation to support SibA, is that EUR 1 million will be raised and the state will then invest an additonal EUR 2.5 million.

There is also a big population difference between the two countries, cities and our two universities. Finland’s population is about 6 million and Helsinki’s is somewhat more than 500,000. Sibelius Academy is a music university offering undergraduate through doctorate degrees and providing research positions for post-doctoral researchers. It has approximately 1400 students and employs 180 full-time and 300 part-time faculty (Not quite 8 students per full-time instructor; not counting the part-time because I do not have information regarding FTE.). The University of Helsinki is minutes away in the oldest part of town. SibA students take courses that are outside music’s disciplines at the University of Helsinki. The University of Helsinki has 35,000 students and 4,000 faculty (8.75 students per instructor). Needless to say this is a much better ration than what we have at Queen’s. Instruction is offered in Finnish and Swedish, with many courses offered in English. This is especially true where international master’s degrees and doctoral degrees are offered. University of Helsinki adopted a specific International Master’s Degree Program, while Sibelius Academy recently began an international cohort in its doctoral degree in music education. These programs are in English.

The Bologna Accord resulted in a different formulation and degree structure. Students who apply to any university are admitted to a 3+2 program. The purpose of this reconfiguration is to bring more connection between theory and practice, reduce the length of time for study, and develop a more educated and mobile work force. At the conclusion of the 3-year Bachelor’s Degree students make the decision regarding which Master’s program they will enter. Sometimes an additional 60 ETCS may be required for the Master’s. These are considered remedial or core credits in addition to the 120 ETCS required for a Master’s. All entering students create a study plan in cooperation with up to 20 supervisors. Particular credits can be required by a department or faculty; however, the focus is on individual attention and accountability. Students must be motivated to  engage in this kind of education.

Generally students are admitted to a 5.5 year undergraduate degree at SibA where they earn both the equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree but graduate with a Master of Music. In fact, the Master’s degree is not called a post-graduate degree. Many students, especially those intending to teach music, take 6 or 7 years to complete their degree, primarily by taking more courses than the minimum required. One of the changes brought about by Bologna is that SibA students will first graduate in 3 years with a Bachelor of Music degree. Therefore, if we compare this to our Canadian context, it is not so different in terms of time spent to gain the education to become a music teacher. Students at Queen’s complete the BMUS/BED degree in 5 years. One major difference for Finnish students in the 5.5 year program is that these students are not required to prepare to teach in any subject other than music. The 5.5 year program includes courses to prepare students to be professional music educators and supporting courses in humanities, social sciences and education. There appears to be more fluidity between the Faculties responsible for the degree, so that the SibA students do not have to complete a separate degree in the Faculty of Education at the University of Helsinki. Just as the ETCS applies across different countries, it applies across different universities within the same city and different faculties within universities.

The ETCS has much to recommend it, but it seems reliant on motivated students and many more professors than we have at Queen’s. It is not a way to reduce costs of a university education. Providing students with credits for the actual time involved in their studies makes sense where there can be close supervision. Undergraduate students do joke about how many ETCS credits they will get for a one-week excursion north to Suomiland during the February ski holiday. Seriously, my contact is primarily with doctoral students who do receive ETCS credits for conferences attended, presentations and articles published. Some common ETCS credits in research methods and across-the-discipline fundamentals are required for all doctoral students, but the major focus is on developing a study plan to accomplish research goals. This makes sense for doctoral students who are learning to become researchers. Students remain pre-doctoral students until both the study plan and research plan (equivalent to a Queen’s dissertation proposal) are accepted. It is usual for a student to be pre-doctoral for a minimum of one-year, although some who become excellent candidates have taken 4 years of pre-doctoral work. Students are not eligible for doctoral funding until they are fully accepted. This means that most students spend a couple years working full-time or part-time post-masters before they become fully supported doctoral students. Full support amounts to approximately EUR 1100 per month at SibA; this is not a lot to live on in Helsinki. However, doctoral students are then able to be included in other funding applications and apply for additional scholarships.

I have heard “on the street” criticism of SibA music education Master’s degree graduates that they are such high caliber musicians that they do not want to teach in the public system. Yet I went to an end-of-year performance of Resonaari, a music school for people with mental and physical handicaps, where the teachers are SibA graduates from music education, jazz, and folk music departments. The music educators are hired as teachers within the Resonaari School. Those teachers who perform as professional musicians and are recognized by the Helsinki public as musicians donate their time for the rehearsal and concert. One of the outstanding factors of this program is that the Resonaari students and the professionals work side by side, so that sometimes it is not possible to tell who is the professional and who is the student. This is the intention of the pedagogical program. In fact, a hip-hop group of Resonaari students who write their own raps about respect and being accepted for who they are has been hired at a local club.

The Bologna Accord was a long process. It did not happen overnight in the wake of a ‘financial crisis.’ It is a treaty among nation-states. It has much to recommend it. The European nations began preliminary discussions in 1998. The implementation began in 2003 with full compliance in 2005. Each university has timely public records available that document the process and make Quality Assurance reports annually (I quoted from the 2008 Sibelius Academy report that was available in April 2009.). Such a process has much more chance of making an actual difference in university education than does a little discussed and nebulous plan. If we are to take these ideas from the Bologna Accord seriously–and I believe we should–then we need to do so without having our collective necks on the guillotine as we watch the blade drop.

–Roberta Lamb

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