Structural racism in some Finnish Universities: the treatment of blacks and foreigners

Structural racism in some Finnish Universities: the treatment of blacks and foreigners

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Diaspora Glitz Magazine started this petition to The Finnish Parliament


In recent weeks, several Finnish Universities have been in news headlines for identical structural and cultural issues concerning the treatment of foreigners, racism and open discrimination. News also carried the exploitation story of a foreign lady in another employment sector in Finland, highly underpaid and constantly promised to work hard for better contracts for her resident permit. As a pattern, the latter story correlated with a foreigner’s story in a university sector, Dr Doh who worked under very difficult conditions to prepare a project, with written and unwritten promises that when the project gets funding, he will have a sustainable contract situation. When the project eventually got a 4 million euro funding the university did not “tactfully” and “systematically” renew his contract on no reasonable ground, "human exploitation" after seven contracts. The project was handed to a Finn. Also, as depicted by a board dismissal of a Rector (recent news also carried), some analysis showed the high handedness of certain university authorities as a misconstrued interpretation of earlier university reform. All of these are signs that “it is time to reform”, the importance of more foreigner-friendly labour and retention policies and laws, which is the overarching objective of this petition.

There are several victims of structural racism especially foreigners and people of colour but the petition will focus on the university-related issues, then the case at the University of Turku at hand. This is due to the fact that the university hardly features as much as recently in the news because it is the ivory tower, whereas the Finnish say goes  “a lot that happens there, remains there”. That is why many interviewed foreigners and blacks say they have been “complaining, crying and dying in silence” for a very long time or put mildly, “for a while”, “trying to keep the dignity of the ivory tower from the rest of the society. Observers have been alarmed that some Finnish Universities copy that much vices from other sectors. These include rudeness and disrespect of blacks and foreign academics, horrible and abusive practice of fixed-term and short term contracts, hijack of foreigners' projects using short contracts, violated the right to permanent contracts and promotions. Whereas the university is “naturally” one of the most international, multicultural and transnational institutions in the world, “knowledge transcending boundaries”.Above all, the Finnish University is the first window of Finland to the foreign world. 


One leaves with the impression that the authorities do not also expect the above vices in Finnish universities. There seems to be a more paradoxical focus on internationalisation abroad than the home where charity begins, much focused on “student-driven internationalisation than the hospitality of academic corps members who have chosen to live with families in Finland. Also, a laudable but paradoxically, too much focus on job seekers than employers’ (especially attitudes towards foreign workers, then academic employers in the current case). It also seems paradoxical that in a high knowledge economy like lauded Finland, the highly educated foreigners are apparently missing in the employment strategy picture for non-teaching and research jobs; more focus on low, middle-level jobs.  Enough has not been done beyond the traditional belief that academics’  unique career path is in universities and research institutes. “Once thrown out by such structural discrimination the “foreign academic worker” either gets into the odd job or leaves to more open countries”...“the employment office specialists almost get embarrassed receiving a highly educated job seeker, with Master and doctoral degrees and academic-research profile". The employment office specialist has no option other than to send the highly educated to low skilled job training.
Again all the above require meaningful, transparent reforms. Some of the issues are general, intersectoral-inter ministerial, some labour and employment issues. That is why proponents of this protest suggest an inter-sectoral approach, the 4 mentioned ministries and Rector’s conference. Also since meaningful reforms suggest doing by example, the petitioners also strongly suggest concerted actions to solve the current case of Dr Doh at the University of Turku. We cannot commit the same  “opportunistic” moral error, seizing the opportunity to reform the system and abandoning the victim, case at hand. Dr Doh’s right to a permanent contract as per consistent letters from the labour union and the employment act of Finland has been baffled. The newspaper narrations also revealed that this right is hardly given to foreigners after they are used with short contracts. Solving the case also sends its own messages to avoid future scenarios. There is-was no better word than “systematic human exploitation” to describe the case of short contracts being used systematically to get foreigners to conceive projects (7 in less than 3 years) when the project is succeeding, transferred to the Finns. Whether it mostly concerns foreigners and blacks and Finns or not, using short contracts,  shuttling academics in and out of universities does not give human dignity to the academic profession. It is unacceptable to systematically turn academics to a “wage-earning" arena or as consultants, whose (the latter profession) in any case are regulated by another set of laws and high monetary rates for short assignments. There is a need for a more dignified and monitored tenure system; equal opportunity in integration, transition and final retention to achieve the "Equal Finland Programme Objectives.

Amongst the petition points-recommendations  are to:

1.    Provide a comprehensive, evidence-based (foreigner inclusive) report on the career prospect of blacks and foreigners in Finland focusing (with relevant statistics) on 

 a. Practices and experiences on the use of short and fixed-term contracts in Finnish Universities

b. Foreigner-black transition to permanent recruitment in Finnish Universities

 c. Foreigner-black transition to the academic promotion and administrative career prospects. Truth be told that one of the victims, Dr Doh could not accede to the coordinator of the FAPI he created and nurtured because he is black. There is a need for a change of mindset.

Commission study and report and statistics providing the state of the art of the other group’s involvement in the life of the University, should be helpful. One case of the University of Vaasa has been lauded and could be emulated/

2.  That all short and fixed-term workers be given the right to equal career mobility prospects and dreams especially in what they create; the seizure of projects from fixed-term workers creativity and handed to permanent workers (whether foreigners, blacks or Finns) be condemned and discouraged in strong terms.

3. Re-examine and possibly re-regulate (propose new laws) to avoid the abuse of short contract, labour probation clauses in Finnish Universities.

4. Render the performance-based dynamics concerning publications more transparent all to all foreign academics and researchers

5. Examine other means to protect and mitigate academics’ vulnerability to institutions, especially projects, a reward and incentive system for foreigner successful projects introduced ( i.e. than systematic seizure).

6. Design codes of ethical conduct across several practices of the university that marginalise foreign academics and scientists in Finland and possibly create a “Minority Affairs” office in the international offices of Finnish Universities.

7. Initiate broad base-inclusive racism and discrimination policy for all Finnish Universities. A law  generally granting the status of "minority" to the black (African) minority (curtesy of Ministry of Justice) is broadly generally helpful (A few European countries have done this)

For the University of Turku

8. University of Turku Board and Administration should ensure that the black victim's (Dr Doh's) labour rights are respected, notably the transition to a permanent position as per the recommendation of the expert organisation (labour union) based on the employment act. 

9. That the black victim, Dr Doh be given access to participate and involve in the coordination of his brainchild project, the Finland-Africa Platform for Innovation (FAPI).  

10. That Dr Doh be given, due compensation for the sacrifices and Free labour period exploited by the University of Turku to build the FAPI, as well as for the several months to struggle for the restoration of his rights. Free labour is illegal. 

11. That the University of Turku and its board should take the appropriate measures to deter current or future perpetrators of systematic human exploitation and open discrimination. 


12. The government initiates a national plan to eliminate all structural and cultural blocks to the freedom and career mobility of foreign and black academics (other employment sectors too).

13 That Foreigners, blacks and other vulnerable-minority groups should be sensitised on remedial strategies; where they go when they find themselves in such a vulnerable situation with their employing university.  Paradoxically the victim, unfortunately, has to defend him/herself. The current victim took several months not knowing where to go after the huge injustice.

14. Examine the design of a more employer-focused labour market insertion strategy for highly skilled foreigners, in addition to the current job-seeker approach, high lauded.

15. Create a national human resource observatory (or in each university, if in respect of its autonomy) to audit, follow up and ensure transparency and equal career opportunity and upward mobility for all.

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