Candidates` answers for the written questions. Eiki Berg, Raul Eamets
Dean candidates in the Faculty of Social Sciences Professor Eiki Berg and Professor Raul Eamets answer questions by the university family
Should the university have areas of priority or priorities in all areas, i.e. how would you associate the universitas principle with targeting the university’s development?
Eiki Berg: I believe that having priorities in all areas support the universitas principle and are in accordance with targeting the university’s development. Areas of priority, however, will alist the university’s development. I favour a balanced development model together with a clear focus on the strengths of the faculties.
Raul Eamets: Everything depends on the purpose of creating these focal points. What is the aim of this targeting? If the aim is to show society which of the society’s needs we would like to serve then these targets should be phrased broadly and cover most of the university’s areas. If the aim of focal points is the better use/redistribution of resources then it is clear that they should be narrower than the whole spectre of the university’s work. Otherwise there is no point in proposing focal points because the core activities need to be financed anyway. So, first the aims should be phrased and as far as I know this is being done at the moment.
Should something be changed in the university’s internal financing of faculties and institutes and if yes, what should change?
Eiki Berg: I do not think that there is crying injustice in the university’s internal financing scheme or that some faculty is operating at the expense of another one. Various aspects have been considered in compiling the university’s budget and they all have a reasoned basis. Also, there are signs of attempts to level the “soft” and “hard” sciences—incoming research money is taxed slightly more with an overhead levy, compared to taxing incomes from studies in earlier times. One might ask whether this is fair. And answer that in the bigger picture and having regard to Estonian higher education it is indeed.
Raul Eamets: I am not in favour of revolutionary changes. Certain principles and expectations have already been established. The faculty’s part in planning the faculty’s development and redistributing resources will probably increase. In which direction and how this process will occur, this is for the collegial bodies of the faculty to decide, not the dean alone. But if we want to finance the faculty’s activities which involve all institutes then resources must be allocated for this as well.
There is room for improvement regarding the scope of the university’s entrepreneurial agreements. As dean, would you feel the need and responsibility and if yes, what would you do and how would you motivate your employees to increase cooperation with enterprises?
Eiki Berg: The dean’s task is to promote more entrepreneurial agreements and applied research in social sciences because this way social sciences can (1) stay relevant for society (by noticing and recognising actual needs) and (2) convert academic knowledge into practical value.
There are often also much more pragmatic reasons for emphasising entrepreneurial agreements. For example, in empirical-analytical social science the most interesting data comes from the private or public sector and using this data enables to develop solutions and applications which are not possible or even motivated in a purely academic framework. Many interesting potential projects come against the considerably lower pay of the university’s researchers compared to other sectors—participation in entrepreneurial agreements enables additional remuneration and thereby maintaining higher motivation.
At the same time, academic employees’ participation in entrepreneurship, applied research etc. is often not considered good practice, whereas in hard sciences (or more generally in international universities) it is very common—in other words, it is a matter of changing attitudes and culture and the dean has an important role in this.
Raul Eamets: We must learn from each other’s best practices. One option is the colleges’ cooperation with local entrepreneurs. On the other hand, there is definitely room for improvement in using the graduates to intensify cooperation with enterprises. Here I would expect the university’s central support in creating a database of graduates. This has been discussed for years but without much outcome.
The curricula should be reviewed while keeping in mind the graduates’ output in the labour market. It is important that employers value our graduates. This requires more cooperation with enterprises.
Enterprises should be involved more proactively in supervising graduation theses, defence committees, programme councils. The new budget period should provide better opportunities to implement such activities. The more the entrepreneur sees the university from the inside, the better chance we have of work contacts in the form of contracts. The “tools” of socialia which the entrepreneur can use are not complicated equipment (although this cannot be excluded) but our knowledge and analysis skills.
Why do we need science if we have democracy?
Eiki Berg: What the person asking probably means is that democracy is mainly based on representation and making decisions which have the people’s mandate. Decisions themselves are based on popular “opinion” and not on certain “knowledge”. It would be short-sighted of politicians to surf on the waves of populism and ignorant to not practice knowledge-based governing.
Raul Eamets: The question is posed presuming that these two rule each other out. I do not agree with that.
If you could propose one thing to the Estonian Research Council, what would it be?
Eiki Berg: Let them make all rules clear, transparent and equally valid at all times. This applies primarily to the funding of research projects.
Raul Eamets: I would rather have a request: find a very efficient CEO who can put the whole mechanism into operation so that the universities would think of the Estonian Research Council as an important and useful part of the research funding system.
What is your strategic vision regarding the development of studies in English in your sphere of responsibility?
Eiki Berg: I fully support internationalisation. Especially in master’s and doctoral studies for specialisations which have the study and research potential required on an international level and for which there is a demand on the global market. Meanwhile, there are specialisations which are strongly Estonian-centred (e.g. teacher training, journalism and law) which receive plenty of admission applications. I believe that in the area of socialia there is potential for English studies in international law, media and communication studies, and psychology.
Raul Eamets: Internationalisation is crucial in socialia where the competition in Estonia is the toughest compared to other faculties. We simply do not have enough Estonian students. It is in fact possible and necessary to develop English studies in all institutes of socialia. As for colleges, it should first be discussed with their employees to find out what the market situation is and are there enough resources. Some steps have already been taken in colleges as well.
Even if it seems at first sight that there is no market for studies in English, then by combining sub-disciplines or cooperating with other faculties, it is possible to offer English curricula and do it on all levels of study. In some sense, this is our future, whether we like it or not. The effect of globalisation, if you wish.
What do you think are the most important needs of the former faculties that have merged that you would head if elected, but are not currently a member of? How would you address these needs?
Eiki Berg: The biggest challenge would be to create unity in diversity, so that different structural units both rely on and exploit their comparative advantages, and at the same time stand together whenever the issues at stake are related to the development of social sciences by and large. The fact that a new faculty will operate in four Estonian cities and in different campuses does not make things easier. However, the role of the future dean would be to listen to institutional concerns from below and address these to the top management. At the same time, the future dean has to address policy directions designed above to the institutes below. Presumably, the former faculties would like to preserve their autonomy to the greatest degree. I believe it is doable to the extent that these former faculties are willing to invest into the common activities which bring us all closer to each other.
Raul Eamets: First, I believe that the needs of different institutes and colleges are very different. One of the first tasks of the new dean (after staffing the dean’s office) will be meetings the heads of the institutes/colleges in order to map their problems and discuss future perspectives. Of course I already pick up information about the needs of the institutes from meetings with people during my election campaign but systematic work can start after the elections.
There are common problems across all university institutions and they should be addressed as a first priority. I have discussed these issues in my elections platform, e.g. decreasing the number of students, too many study programmes, some overlap between study programmes, not enough international students, etc.
What are the greatest opportunities and challenges of your faculty in the coming 5-10 years?
Eiki Berg: The biggest challenges for the faculty arise from the ongoing reforms: the structural reform, curricula reform, modifying the financial scheme. Within the faculty we must invest in the strengths of different structural units and specialisations which would empower socialia within the university and ensure a more visible presence by better integrating social scientists in society. The area of socialia has the biggest number of students and combines the biggest number of different structural units, curricula and specialisations. Society’s expectations are also highest for this faculty. Who else but scientists of this faculty should provide practical solutions to Estonia’s demographic problem, the refugee crisis, state administrative reform, increasing economic competitiveness or enhancing coherence in society.
- Maintaining the current number of students;
- Implementing interdisciplinary studies, developing and opening English curricula;
- Insufficient involvement in applied research;
- Low efficiency of doctoral studies;
- Not enough cooperation between different areas
- We have great academic potential to increase teaching quality, the faculty’s competitiveness could increase with cooperation between different institutes;
- Hopefully the ASTRA application, centre of excellence application and doctoral schools will receive funding, this will create several opportunities for us;
- Tartu is becoming more famous among international students, this improves our position in other countries;
- The Centre for Applied Social Sciences is our functional brand;
- A strong and productive management which cooperates with all faculties of the university.
How would it be possible to create synergy between the former faculties?
Eiki Berg: Synergy can only be created through mutual cooperation, within the faculty and cross-faculties. At the same time, it can only be achieved by creating the general opportunities and conditions for cooperation while taking into consideration the needs of different specialisations.
Raul Eamets: My answer to the previous question partially answers this one as well. I would add the following:
- Joint curricula;
- Joint teaching within one subject;
- Applied research;
- Marketing the faculty as a whole, in addition to marketing curricula.
What are the options for the common elements of humaniora and socialia?
Eiki Berg: One option is teacher training: common curricula and modules. Also, competence in research methods and general basic knowledge about social sciences and thought history.
Raul Eamets: We have already worked together with phrasing the university’s focus areas, there are definitely more possibilities for cooperation. For example, creating joint curricula, mutual teaching for base module subjects, preparing joint in-service training modules etc. Perhaps it is easier to coordinate these activities centrally (on the level of vice deans for academic affairs) than on the institute level. There are definitely research topics where the two faculties have a common part, for example, communicative diversity as a part of cultural diversity or values and values education.
How could we turn the results of the social sciences into consumer science in a good way? Where do you think we stand in this aspect at the moment?
Eiki Berg: Social sciences are already strong in basic and applied research. The University of Tartu psychologists are most visible internationally, several researchers in this field are in the so called “1%” club. It would be wrong to think that high quality research is only abstract theorising and does not address the society by pressing its sore points and providing solutions. Our researchers have contributed to the Estonian human development report, conducted workforce and population surveys, analysed how psychobiological factors affect traffic behaviour or how information technology applications influence governance and the use of other public services. Pedagogues are contributing significantly to the development of innovations in education technology. In addition, we have the Centre for Applied Research and the impact studies they conduct provide an important input in the development of various policies. The lack of practical aspects of social sciences is not the problem, the insufficient visibility is. However, we should not and cannot focus only on market demand where the customer not only funds but also prescribes the results of the research. Considering the interests of the consumer in such way is unfortunately no longer science.
Raul Eamets: The situation has definitely improved. Firstly, state institutions have the possibility to use means from structural funds to order more applied research from social scientists and the state institutions’ own competence to pose research questions has also increased. Secondly, we have the Centre for Applied Research which has already justified its existence in society. Thirdly, we have social scientists who are opinion leaders and take research results to the media. All of the above supports turning social sciences into consumer science in a good way.
“The real direction for all social sciences (in the end) is data analysis.” - for and against?
Eiki Berg: The main goal is to produce new knowledge. The road to this varies. Social sciences are by nature heterogeneous and use very different research methods. Which method is the best, depends on the object of research. I do not think that the law could use quantitative data analysis efficiently. I also do not think that those social scientists who are engaged in textual expression in its broadest sense would be more “scientific” if qualitative values were converted to numerical values.
Raul Eamets: I cannot imagine that researching society, which is the primary object of social sciences, could be done without data. Even if it is something that happens inside a person’s head (conceptions, values) it would be reasonable to prove your hypothesis with tests, experiments or surveys.
But in the end it comes down to where we draw the line between socialia and humaniora.
How could we guarantee that all data analysis methods of quantitative social scientists would go from descriptive statistics to deductive statistics and would also not be dry correlation analysis?
Eiki Berg: I cannot really imagine how descriptive statistics could be used without far-reaching conclusions. Also, I do not understand science where the meticulous use of methods “kills” the object of research. Various methods make up the content of a researcher’s toolbox – which method to use and when to use depends on the content of the problem in question. If necessary, correlation analyses must be used to determine how solid the relations are. If the conclusions have nothing to do with the relations, there is no need to use this method.
Raul Eamets: This has to do with the skill of teaching and using the methods, using research results in studies, the supervisors’ own methodological competence, the quality of scientific journals which are the target of publishing, etc. These topics need to be addressed on all levels.
Let us assume that financing discussions are in progress. What would be the arguments for you to agree to give your faculty’s money or other resources for someone else to use? Do you think you would be capable of that?
Eiki Berg: I would be prepared to do that if we are talking about the development of the whole university as universitas. And if such allocation of resources is reasoned.
Raul Eamets: It all depends on the priorities and activities for which the redistribution is required/requested. If for some reason the number of our students should decrease by half in the future then part of the budget will be distributed automatically, so to say. I hope that the unviersitas principle still stands in the university which means that all important academic areas must be represented at UT. Socialia has its strengths and weaknesses. If money is taken from somewhere, money should be given somewhere else. I assume that the general state funding from performance agreements to the university and faculty will not decrease and I will fend for that.
But for me there is a much broader issue here. Redistribution does not solve the problem of underfunding. The blanket will still be the same size, no matter how much you pull it over yourself or spread it over others. What matters is how to bring in more money to the faculty.
What should be done so that the employees and academic staff of the faculty would not have to be taught what the faculty teaches in the university? For example: There is a lack of information management and pedagogic competence in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Education (people operate contrary to what is taught or should be done) although information managers and pedagogues are trained in the same faculty.
Eiki Berg: If there are shortcomings in information management and pedagogic competence, it is important to get more specific knowledge about this so that the dean in cooperation with the head of the institute could solve the problems.
Raul Eamets: In-house training of employees would be the best solution. I know that several specific in-service training courses are conducted by people of the faculty. At the same time, these people could offer in-house training to our own people. In addition to the lack of in-house training, the problem is also that the employees are not aware of the necessity of learning such skills. I hope that the new system of attesting lecturers and research workers will to a greater extent take into account participation in in-service and in-house training. In addition to trainings we could also organize various seminars where people could discuss their best experiences and endeavors, a non-formal way of teaching between colleagues.
How to bring quantitative and qualitative scientists closer to each other?
Eiki Berg: Why oppose the two sides? Why should we think that representatives of one side cannot use the methods of the others? The choice of method depends primarily on the nature of the problem. Of course scientists have their own theoretical viewpoints and methodological approaches and a wider philosophy of science regarding the ways to do science. If we are looking for differences then these are more related to how to acquire knowledge which is valid at all times, objective and genuine and cumulates over time. It would be difficult to put positivists and poststructuralists into one research group on this matter.
Raul Eamets: You cannot force two sides together against their will. Cooperation and joint projects can only rise from organising mutual meetings, research seminars and conferences.
What should the dean’s role in the faculty be: for example, should the dean represent the faculty’s interests within the university (e.g. in the Rector’s Office) or the university’s interests in the faculty?
Eiki Berg: Both. The two options should be reasonably balanced. The dean is a member of the Rector’s Office and a higher level policy maker. But the dean is also elected by the faculty’s academic staff, their recognised leader and the representative of the interests of all the schools/institutes/colleges in the faculty. Neither of the roles can function alone because being an extension of the Rector’s Office causes mistrust and alienation within the faculty. Whereas, deeming the faculty’s interests more important than the interests of the university as a whole reduces the room for negotiations and makes the dean’s credibility questionable in the Rector’s Office.
Raul Eamets: When representing the faculty’s interests, the dean cannot ignore the university’s development priorities, strategic interests and focal topics. These are also the basis of the faculty’s operation. Good preparatory work and cooperation with other faculties is required to avoid conflict between the faculty’s interests and the university’s general interests. This way we will not have a situation where I as dean need to choose sides. But since the elections give the dean the mandate to represent the faculty, then in case of a conflict of interests the dean must stand for the faculty’s interests.
What are the three most important management principles that you follow in working with people?
Eiki Berg: Listen, include, recognise.
Raul Eamets: Shortly—direct communication, trust and result-oriented approach.
Eye-to-eye communication is important, calling and writing is not always enough. I could also say that my first principle is—talk to people, second principle—talk to people, and third principle—talk to people. The topics are not always pleasant but this is the only way to do it.
As I cannot reach all employees personally in a faculty of this size, it is very important for me to firstly, have a team who support the new dean’s work and, secondly, cooperation with heads of institutes and colleagues. Trust plays an important part in this. I need to trust the people who are in my team and who I am working with.
The third principle is a result-oriented approach. I do not prescribe and supervise how tasks are carried out, I am more interested in the final outcome. Of course the whole process must happen with mutual respect, politeness, ethics, our mutual values need to be considered but making decisions about the different stages of the process is up to the person carrying out the task.
According to a poll by CV Keskus, the University of Tartu is one of the most reputable employers in Estonia. How do you as head of the faculty intend to contribute to creating the university’s reputation as an employer so that the university would still be highly valued?
Eiki Berg: In my opinion it is important to value each employee’s contribution in carrying out their tasks. People are our most valuable asset. Academic buildings can be renewed, work environment can be modernised, and new equipment can be purchased. But all that is not good enough if Estonian researchers with a degree from Cambridge University do not stay here because their knowledge and experience are not valued worthily. The word “worthily” does not necessarily denote the size of salary.
Raul Eamets: First of all, the university’s and the faculty’s position and reputation in society are determined by the quality of our studies and research. Whether our graduates are successful on the labour market and are research results taken into account. This is why guaranteeing quality is priority number one. The second important aspect is people. The face of the faculty, within and outside the university, is ultimately formed by the people who work here and communicate with the public. The best way is to start by setting an example yourself and be the faculty’s spokesman in relations with society. Be it appearances on television, in the radio or journalism. I have this experience from earlier times. We should increase the number of opinion leaders from the faculty who are among the younger generation of academic staff.
One of the messages of the university’s work environment survey in the recent years is that the average work satisfaction index is high but many respondents think that there is room for improvement in the so called regular management activities, such as feedback, inclusion, recognition etc. Whether and how should the management culture change in this respect?
Eiki Berg: Of course it is nice if big or small medals are awarded on jubilees. But should one reach the age of 60, 70 or 80 in order to be recognised? Perhaps the daily work and tasks, regardless of the age of the nominee, are what should be acknowledged at all times?
Raul Eamets: Management culture can be changed by the people who are involved in management. So I see two main courses of action: firstly, training leaders which has to done constantly. Secondly, raising the new generation of leaders, giving the young a chance. We cannot be afraid of and postpone passing the baton.
The international accreditation committee pointed out the need to implement a systematic annual university-wide employee performance assessment. How important is it for you that each employee is given the opportunity to have a performance interview with their supervisor at least once a year during which they can conclude the previous work, make new agreements, receive feedback, discuss development options etc.? What would you like to change in your faculty regarding performance management?
Eiki Berg: Instead of the term performance interview I would use development interview and I believe that direct supervisors should meet their employees at least once a year to discuss how study, research and other work is going, are they satisfied with the working conditions and what kind of changes they would like to see. It is important for a supervisor to receive feedback, notice the results of completed work and give recognition. I do not believe that standardised measuring could replace the human aspect and increase work quality and the employees’ satisfaction.
Raul Eamets: Performance interviews and other types of feedback by the employer are certainly very important for the employee. Teaching feedback skills to leaders is no less important. Even experienced leaders tend to forget several basic principles about conducting performance interviews over time.
In any case, performance interviews cannot be taken as a formality, the conversation should be done with a sense of responsibility.
How to use academic buildings more efficiently with the faculty or campus?
Eiki Berg: There has to be an optimal number of academic rooms and structural units should use them together. At weekends, academic rooms can be used for in-service trainings or periodic studies. One way or the other structural units are covering the costs of using study rooms and, therefore, it is also a part of the budgetary expenses. If there are too many rooms and they are not used efficiently, some can be given up.
Raul Eamets: I cannot fully answer this question because I do not have an overview of the current use of rooms. The video rooms could definitely be used better but for this the current situation and needs should be mapped. At the moment I do not have such information. Based on the experience of the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, in the future we will probably need more small seminar rooms rather than large lecture halls. We may decrease the number of the latter and use them mutually.
Let us assume you have enough time: which 1–3 courses at the University of Tartu would you attend to educate yourself?
Eiki Berg: Modern teaching methods.
Raul Eamets: I like this assumption!
The courses I would like to take even if I do not have time are:
- Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, so that I could equally contribute to discussions on developing study quality;
- Online Course Design.
Let us assume you are elected dean of socialia. Whether and how will you take enough time to rest?
Eiki Berg: No person on any position can be irreplaceable and all employees deserve time to load their batteries. So do I. I intend to rest intensively and to the full.
Raul Eamets: This is a complicated matter. In recent years I have managed to take July off from work duties. I would like to keep it that way in the future. With a strong team it is possible to delegate tasks and find the time to rest.