In this month's Anniversary blog, Markus Laitinen, Head of Development of the University of Helsinki, looks back at what UniPID was and how the Network has transformed to what it is now, having one question in mind: What might lie ahead for UniPID, will it be able to keep the momentum and build on past successes?
As others in this blog series have noted, UniPID has been around for twenty years. One could easily argue that it has become of age; and is currently institutionalized in many ways. I have personally had an opportunity to observe this process slightly from the sidelines. I attended one of the very first meetings in Jyväskylä, but since then my role at the University of Helsinki has been more that of providing occasional administrative support; presenting new network agreements for formal approval, coordinating the nominations of UniPID Board members, and other similar issues. Even in my non-active, supportive role, I was able to witness the development from a club of like-minded friends to a more and more institutional network of Finnish universities, which UniPID is today.
What has driven these changes, one might ask. Certainly, the excellent work put in by the early UniPID pioneers still plays dividend today. If less had been jointly accomplished, there would not have been opportunities for growth and development. The founding parents’ commitment to increasing and enhancing collaboration with the Global South still lives on. A second important factor in this writer’s view, has been the significant professionalization of the secretariat, hosted by the University of Jyväskylä for much of the network’s existence. Many university networks become irrelevant or obsolete, unless there are structures in place to ensure continuity, while making sure the members are both aware and on board. In this regard, the UniPID secretariat has done an excellent job.
What might lie ahead for UniPID, will it be able to keep the momentum and build on past successes? I think there is every opportunity for this, but only if certain key developments are taken into account. The most important one relates to member universities’ strategies. Issues of sustainability and responsibility, including global social responsibility, are now embedded in these strategies in an unprecedented way. Collaboration with the Global South, and various ethical and practical considerations related to it are now much more mainstreamed than in the early days of UniPID. Similar developments are also taking place in member universities operating environments; government ministries and agencies, cities and regions.
I am very happy and reassured to have noticed UniPID taking on a new role, and re-imagining itself. Clearly, it is no longer sufficient for the network to remain a club of like-minded individual actors, but rather to consider how the network and its secretariat can add value to its members, whose strategic thinking has shifted significantly. Additionally, the network needs to further enlarge and expand the circle of both internal and external stakeholders. On the opportunity side of things, the demand for expertise on matters related to UniPID’s expertise has never been higher. The challenge, however, may lie in how to meet this growing demand.
The University of Helsinki became the host of the network secretariat in 2021 for two major reasons. First of all, the University’s new strategy very much aligned with what the UniPID represents, and becoming the host seemed like an obvious choice. Secondly, and perhaps equally importantly, the University was and is committed to supporting the network to remain relevant under the changing circumstances, and to be part building pathways for the next 20 years of continued UniPID success, perhaps in developing the next great era.
Photo credits: Linda Tammisto, Uni Material Bank, University of Helsinki