Category Archives: Academic and campus life

Studying the future to help organisations and the planet

As Study Advisory’s vision lies in helping future and current students to craft their own future, we decided to write a piece on future studies, which is, actually, a field in its own right.

Ever considered studying the future?

Future studies seek to explore potential options for the future, and also likely scenarios. Sometimes a normative method is also used: which scenario is to be chosen or favoured, and why? The Finland Futures research centre is one of the few of its kind in the world. Others like-minded centres include the research centre for future studies at the University (of Hawaii) at Manoa and the more recent Taiwanese Graduate Institute of Future Studies, at Tamkang university (where the whole university has “futurizing” as an essential part of its mission statement).

stuyding the future
Planning and creating the future is all about solid scenarios and picking the preferred outcomes among various future options

But back to Finland. The Finnish futures research centre boasts a long tradition for the field, with research on the future happening in Finland from the 1960s. The centre itself was founded in 1992 in a forward-looking moment for the world and for Finland. The Finnish futures research centres organises and a yearly conference that attracts specialists from around the globe. The 2017 conference will be about complexity with a focus on globalisation. Also, interestingly, the UN organisation Study Advisory gives money to thanks to students’ reviews, UNESCO, is the same one Finnish futures research Markku Wilenius was recently appointed to. Wilenius’s UNESCO professorship’s aim is to support futures studies in developing countries.

A unique doctoral programme in Turku

According to Dr Jari Kaivo-oja, research director at the Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC), the number of foreign students in both the master and PhD programme has risen in recent years, showing the global impact of a forerunner in this original, multidisciplinary subject. In Turku (the centre is hosted by the University’s School of Economics), the doctoral programme in futures studies is unique in Europe.

Master and PhD students of futures studies in Turku come from all walks of life: engineering, economics, business research, natural sciences… They have started a blog, Black Swans, inspired by a 2011 book by Nassim Taleb on highly improbable events.

studying the future
Highly improbable events can shake countries, organisations, individuals or even academic subjects.

Upon graduation, these Turku trained students set up their own companies, or work in bigger organisations, while some join family businesses. Often, fresh graduates find themselves using the skill set of future studies tools they have been trained in. Futures methods are valued by research centres across Finland, in particular, including for internships and research positions, and are of course valuable for PhD candidates.

The Finnish Futures research centre also has offices in Tampere and Helsinki.

A universal field with a wide range of potential implications

Future studies are increasingly attractive to Latin American and Chinese universities and research centre, though China has its own tradition that dates back to about 100 years ago. And the Finnish parliament has its own committee for the future, science and technology policy with 17 members of parliament advising the government on the foresight using a long view.

Many management methods can be used to conduct future studies. Foresight, network and decision-making analysis are usually steps that ensure all aspects are taken into account by the organisation seeking to get insight into its futures. As a holistic field, futures studies can encompass topics such as food, sustainability, or security.

studying the future
Sustainability in particular is at the core of the Finnish Futures Research centre’s values and projects. The creation of Sustainable Development Goals has led to a pioneering exercise in integrating strategic foresight to sustainability.

Futures studies and higher education

Asked what trends are the most disturbing in higher education at this point in time, Dr Kaivo-oja answered that students will need to learn to use big data in the coming years, and the upcoming generation of youngsters is already being redefined as ‘artificial intelligence natives’ (with the Internet of things) rather than ‘digital natives’. And it is true that many classrooms already use tablets, interactive polls and games (Kahoot, which Study Advisory uses too during high school visits). But currently, most university students might still be “good old” digital natives, so what is at stake?

For Dr Kaivo-oja, a future studies perspective on higher education also unravels two trends: which proportion of private vs public education do societies want for the next generations? (an open question which is central to many reforms in education these days), and a fact: more and more people need tertiary education. This is particularly true of ‘developing nations’, while some free, efficient university systems like Finland are at a crossroads, with the introduction of fees for international students next year.

Another take-home point from Study Advisory’s meeting with the Finnish Future research centre lies in the ‘weak signal’ (first sign of a trend) that cultural interaction is being transformed by artificial intelligence and that more and more people can, through the Internet, engage with others while using their own language. This hints at a post-globalised world in which (native and non native) English ‘was’ the common language.

studying the future
Has the Internet already caused a revolution in universities? Digital natives are co-creating their learning environment, and as digitalization has already reached a point of no return, languages can be seen as a factor in improved digitalization and online communication across cultures.

Trends and scenario analysis might not help us determine what tomorrow’s university will look like (will more students use MOOCs for their whole degrees, will we speak Mandarin instead of Chinese in international MBAs? Or even will future studies still attract master and PhD students?). But, in a world that seems to be changing at a faster pace than before, the long view of the discipline might be valuable to take hindsight and ponder what to keep and what to change from a current society or organisation. In this respect, making sense of the future proves crucial to predict – and then decide – what emerging needs a country or company ought to be prepared for.

-Pauline Trabuc

Why studying the future may be valuable

  • You can work in many organizations, public or private, large and small
  • Your degree will be original yet traditional (research methods can be applied in other contexts), and you will have been taught original ways of thinking
  • A small but close-knit community of specialists around the world
  • A door to sustainability careers
  • A multidisciplinary cohort and impact, with a unique understanding of scenarios, including improbable futures.

More information

Finland Futures Research Centre

Note that future students at Turku also take part in an intensive short summer school in June, where they will hone their thinking about complexity and discuss the upcoming future studies conference.

Master’s degree in future studies and doctoral programme in future studies

University of Turku on Study Advisory (148 reviews, you can also rate)

University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, on Study Advisory (5 student reviews, you can also rate)

University of Tamkang on Study Advisory (be among the first ones to rate)

Strategic foresight and sustainability on Sitra, the Finnish innovation fund’s website

Attractive universities for businesses, with a touch of innovation

Have you heard of Universum’s rankings? This year, in Finland, Kone, Finnair, Google and Fazer rank first in terms of most attractive employers for corporate positions. For IT types, the ranking comes in a different shape and includes first Google, second Reaktor and third Supercell. Wait, you might think this has got nothing to do with education, attractive universities, and Study Advisory… But it does! In Finland like in the rest of the world, students get a higher education because, at the end of the day, they think these extra years after high school will land them a job close enough to their dream job.

attractive universities
Universum’s questions include the type of potential employer(s) you find most appealing or suited to your career goals and personality

While usually, at the end of high school, you might be too young to think of the company you would like to work at, you generally have a sense of what type of company or organisation would fit your values, or sell the sort of product you buy… And then, suddenly you turn 23, and if you are like the silent majority, you might regret not having known earlier where you absolutely wanted to (apply, and, hopefully) work. This suggests a missing link between the early stages of career planning and career starting.

In the meantime, the university you as a high school student are contemplating or you, university student, are attending might well be interesting to particular employers. Especially those surveyed for the French consultancy Emerging by the German firm Trendence. The tendency to start ranking universities not only for their academic strengths like publications, or mere employment ratios post graduation, but also with regards to actual attraction for a critical mass of global employers is worth noticing.

The latest Emerging-Trendence ranking, which surveyed almost 6000 employers in 20 countries of the world, presents a story rather diverging from the research focus. As Emerging explains the ranking only describes the ‘market’s viewpoint’, i.e. of recruitment and international specialists recruiting or managing a least 50 new young graduates per year, taken across major industries.

A German university in the top ten of higher education institutions’ employability ranking: TU Munich

Most top 10 finalists on the list are United States-based institutions, but not all. For instance, the Technical University of Munich (Technische Universität München) ranks 8th, just above Princeton. If you are studying a whole degree in Korea, there are 5 universities you can go on an exchange to TU München. If you are from France, TU München is a university you can go to as an exchange from the prestigious (and well-ranked) Ecole Polytechnique, but also the Ecole des Mines de Nantes, and Aix-Marseille University. So there is no need to pay high fees to study at a top institution in terms of employability.

But what does ’employability’ mean? Of course it is, first, getting a job. At a multinational or an SME, or one that you create in your own brand-new start up, whatever… The crux of the matter lies elsewhere: in the soft skills you get at university are also very valuable. Soft skills can be languages, but they can also include adaptability, emotional intelligence, or being capable of presenting well the result of your research on any given project. Among Finnish universities, the University of Helsinki ranks 72th on the Emerging global employability ranking.

attractive universities

But universities are not only good for employers or future employees, they are also valuable for society, which can be measured through innovations, in turn measured by patents’ number, quality, reach, and impact. This is where another ranking can be described as influential: the Reuters innovation ranking of European universities, which relies on publications and patents data gathered by Thomson Reuters Intellectual Property & Science.

Study Advisory’s partner university KU Leuven came first in 2016, followed by Imperial College London, Cambridge University (both in the United Kingdom), and the Swiss EPFL. The fifth most innovative university is perhaps well worth mentioning again (TU Munich), should one want to compile a personal ranking of valuable rankings… of the kind that would aggregate employability and innovation. Meanwhile, other Study Advisory’s partners are in the top 50 of innovative universities: Erasmus University Rotterdam and Vrije University of Brussels.

At the global level, the Reuters innovative university ranking shows an expected American dominance, but a little Asian surprise at the middle of the top 10, KAIST (profile of KAIST, Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology on Study Advisory). For Finnish or Finland-based students, KAIST is a potential exchange destination if you are enrolled at one of these two institutions: Helsinki Metropolia or Tampere University of Technology.

Yes, broadening your horizons can be as simple as an exchange…but, beyond that, innovation or career plans can stay at the back of your head, or maybe just the idea that you can factor in employability and innovation when choosing your university.

If you are interested in patents… as well as employability

Here is a table that gathers the top 15 European universities for employability and innovation:

Employability rankings (taken from Emerging Trendence world ranking) Innovation (retrieved from Reuters: Europe most innovative universities)
Cambridge University UK KU Leuven Belgium
Oxford UK Imperial College London UK
TU Munich Germany Cambridge University UK
Imperial College UK EPFL Lausanne Switzerland
HEC Paris France TU Munich Germany
Kings College London UK Erlangen University Nuremberg Germany
Manchester University UK Delft University of Technology Netherlands
IE University (Instituto de Empresa) Spain Oxford University UK
EM Lyon France University of Munich Germany
ETH Zurich Switzerland University of Zurich Switzerland
University of Munich Germany University of Copenhagen Denmark
University of Edinburgh Scotland, UK Technical university of Denmark Denmark
Ecole Normale Supérieure France ETH Zurich Switzerland
EPFL Switzerland Pierre et Marie Curie University Paris 6 France
Mines Paris Tech France Paris 11 Paris Sud France

At the end of the day, patents and publications of tomorrow’s graduates will differ from the 2016 rankings, but general trends last. University-business cooperation is strong in certain countries or at certain universities of applied sciences and this does not change year or year, it might rather depend on which European funding a group of researchers might secure for the coming years. Likewise, universities might help you find your job, but not to be successful at it.

attractive universities
Applications are not only about determination: an innovative approach will help, just like in the university world and to be good at any job in the long run.

Some universities think getting their graduates onto the job market means they have fulfilled their duty… But do graduates consistently satisfy employers, and do they satisfy them in the long run? According to the definition of employability given by surveyed employers in the Emerging study, there is a ‘professional know-how’ dimension that comes into play, in addition to the expertise required to get the position.

This is in line with what the vice-president for institutional advancement at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology told Times Higher Education: a university should help you make a good job after you have landed it. That is why being in contact with innovative researchers or conducting research for a company during your studies might be worthwhile. (In other words, do not focus solely on the first column of the table above!)

More information:

Universum’s ranking of most attractive employers in Finland

Emerging-Trendence: Global and German employability rankings

Reuters: world’s most innovative universities and Europe’s most innovative universities

Studying with a baby on board – combining studies and a child

Sometimes there are situations in life when you need to — or want to — combine different life phases, that are equally important to you. Combining studies and building a family might sound complex, but it can also give you the most precious memories of your life. Here are three different true stories told by anonymous people, two mothers and a father, who have experience in studying with a baby on their lap.

Studying with a baby
Building a family and finishing your studies are a combination that might sound messy. Read the true stories.

Language student reads epic poetry to the newborn

I am studying Finnish language in a humanistic faculty and am just about to graduate. I started my studies in the autumn 2011 and my daughter was born in December 2012. At the same time, I was still finishing my studies in the University of applied sciences. I didn’t have any maternity leave, but my husband was taking care of the baby, as I was attending to my exams. For a long time, I was not able to stay outside the house, only enough to write the examinations!

The best memories of those times came from the baby, of course! I realized I started to deal with my studies in much more relaxed way, as I noticed there was something even more special and valuable in my life. I was doing my literacy studies while my child was a newborn, so I read out loud some of my exam books, for example the Finnish epic poetry Kalevala. My life in general felt quite laid-back and carefree. I was doing as much studies as I could, and sniffing the baby’s pink smell.

Studying with a baby

The biggest challenge for me was to really get myself to the uni and to find time for the studies, since being a mother is quite holistic and all-encompassing. Usually I was trying to finish my exams before the baby would get hungry again, cause she wouldn’t eat from a bottle. I was always doing my study tasks while she was sleeping. Actually, I have done all my studies in the evenings, after she has fallen asleep — it can get quite tough! What I am looking forward to about my graduation, is that I am finally going to be able to have a moment in the evening when I don’t have to do anything.

Coffee and bun, makes a happy student-mom

My husband’s parents have been priceless help for us. They have been helping me the whole time and supporting me with my studies. It has been so lovely that every time after each of my exams, my husband’s father has served me with coffee and bun! Then we have discussed about the topics of my exam. I was also lucky that during my husband’s parental leave, I was able to attend to a few courses at the uni. There is also a very nice Children’s Stop at my university, where I could leave my baby, before she went to a proper daycare.

Studying with a baby

Journalist mother of two got strength and inspiration from her studies

I studied broadcasting journalism by the time my son was born, and I already had a daughter aged four. I wasn’t planning on having another baby, and the times were extremely hard. I had no maternity leave, I had to both study and work part time at the same time, when taking care of the kids. I was basically always the sole guardian. I don’t really even remember much of the times when my son was a baby; it’s all a blur and too traumatic to remember —  a black hole in my life.

Studying with a baby

The studies were a life-saver — both in a symbolic and practical meaning

I was extremely unhappy, but having a burn out or giving up was not even an option. My social life was somewhat non-existent, I had nothing of my own. I lived only hoping that once I pull through, I can one day build a life I can be happy with.

My studies were a gateway to another kind of life, to independence, to self-value. It was really important to study something I was so keen on, it gave me hope and meaning! Of course I didn’t really excel in my studies because of my situation, and I regret that. But for me, the most important thing was that my studies helped me to get there where I’m today professionally. I think being so young as I was helped me in a way, to manage the physical stress that the situation caused me.

Studying  — “the best possible investment in the future”

The children motivated me into working hard and developing my skills, so I could have a career and a job I actually like, or even love — a thing not many young, teenage and /or single mothers can achieve. At the moment, I enjoy my current professional status and the fact that my children are already in school age, getting more and more independent all the time. Other women of my age are starting to stress about having kids, but I can focus on my career and my own personal happiness.

Studying with a baby

Sometimes I do feel a bit saddened by it though: I never got to experience a maternity leave nor was I able to offer a prosperous start in life for my kids. And who can say where I’d be in my life — both professional and personal ways – without my kids. Then again, had I not had them that time, maybe I never would have experienced motherhood.

Studying was the best possible investment in the future —  both for me and my kids. The cost was my youth, but in situation I was in, it was the best thing to do.

Statistician father — the small things made the days

Studying with a baby and multitasking

When my son was born, I was finishing my university studies majoring in statistics. I was able to stay home for eight months after he was born, because I was writing my Masters’s theses. It was a great thing, that the theses were the last task for my study program, so I was able to study at home before I started to work.

The best memories of that time, were the moments when I got to see how my baby was developing every day and learning new things. The small things made my days — and they still do. For example the moments when I saw how the child was making contact with a lion toy. He was afraid but making contact at the same time! I also got a good buddy to join me with my hobbies.

Studying with a baby

The biggest struggle for me was to realize, how the feelings can change so rapidly. Especially when I was trying to get him to sleep and I was not succeeding — he struggle is real! What helped me the most, was to acknowledge that the baby is not doing things difficult just to piss you off, there is a true matter and need behind the behavior. It was also helpful to know that the baby-times are not going to last forever.

Studying with a babyIf you are planning to combine your studies with a baby, you should know that the graduation might take more time than the usual, but it is still possible to go on one step at a time.