The University of Oulu will be divided into three campuses, according to rector Jouko Niinimäki

The University of Oulu will be divided into three separate campuses, rector Jouko Niinimäki says. He told us about the city centre campus project on our new podcast.

In English  | 

Text Iida Putkonen

Along with the city centre campus, the campus of the University of Oulu will be divided into three campuses, Jouko Niinimäki, the Rector of the University of Oulu says. He talked about the plans for campuses in our podcast which was published November 5th. The first episode of the Mitä kuuluu kampus -podcast (‘What’s up campus’) deals with the city centre campus planning of the University. Read this in Finnish.

In the future, the University will operate at Linnanmaa, Kontinkangas and Raksila. The development of the Linnanmaa area and campus by order of the University will still continue after the construction of the city centre campus. All faculties or all teaching is not meant to be transferred to the city centre campus. For example, laboratories and other heavy teaching facilities will stay at Linnanmaa.

The whole interview is now available in podcast servers as well as in written form below.

MITÄ KUULUU KAMPUS -PODCAST EPISODE 1

Host Iina Tauriainen: Welcome to the Mitä kuuluu kampus -podcast (‘What’s up campus’)! This is the Oulu Student Magazine’s podcast, where we will discuss different topics, phenomena and people related to higher education. My name is Iina, and in this episode we will dive into the city centre campus project of the University of Oulu.

And who better to tell us more about it than the Rector of the University of Oulu, Jouko Niinimäki, welcome!

Jouko Niinimäki: Thank you!

Iina: If some of our listeners have not heard of the city centre campus project, could you briefly introduce the topic here at the beginning?

Niinimäki: Well, the city centre campus project came up in a board meeting about a year ago, when we started to think about our real estate strategy and we realized the fact that student admissions are being increased in Finland by a lot, and at the same time the youth in Northern Finland will quickly decrease about 30 % during a span of ten years from 2027 to 2037, particularly in the age group of people who will be coming to the University.

We discovered the fact that if we do nothing for the attractiveness of our University, it can mean bad things from the perspective of the University and of course Northern Finland as well.

Niinimäki: We started to think more about what the students themselves would actually want and especially those students, who are not studying yet. We quickly came to the conclusion that in the past, students have come from rural areas, but recently more and more of them come from urban areas, which means that there are also expectations that this is a city full of social life and that we have lots of services here. That is why we decided that our future’s answer for these questions is a city centre campus.

Iina: Where did this idea come from and why just now?

Niinimäki: Well, it has been somewhat of an age-old dream of the University of Oulu, or of some people at the University. When I first started my job as the Rector in 2005, it was almost the first thing that the Advisory Board suggested to me that the University should be moved to the city centre.

Surely I have also considered this city centre campus as a big change, even though the entire Linnanmaa campus is not moving, but rather we will continue to operate here as well and Linnanmaa will be further developed. But yes, I have considered this as a big change that we are moving to the city centre, but then, through this kind of thinking we arrived to this conclusion, and precisely because our facilities, from the perspective of attractiveness, have reached the state where we need something new.

Iina: What would you be pursuing with this city centre campus, what is the objective that you are trying to accomplish with it?

Niinimäki: Well, what we want from the city centre campus is that the campus would be accessible: you can very easily access it by train, you can very easily access it by taking the bus without having to change between buses, and you can access it with a bike from all around the city. This way it would be easily accessible and in that regard, the carbon footprint of the city centre campus would in the long run be lower than here, where very many people have to drive their cars to get here.

On the other hand, the city centre campus will surely be a new kind of a learning space. We are moving towards this kind of a model of several different locations more and more. In the future, the University of Oulu will have three working circles so to say. One will be home, where independent work will be done, and of course there will continue to be other facilities for independent work here at Linnanmaa and at Kontinkangas, and the city centre as well, first and foremost for the people who can’t or don’t want to work at home. Then there will be laboratories and facilities specialized in experimental work, which will primarily exist here at Linnanmaa and at Kontinkangas. Then there will be the third, so the facilities specialized in communal working, where students, researchers and teachers from different study programs will encounter each other, and where the citizens will in turn encounter the University.

Niinimäki: We believe that with such a central location we can accomplish the same kind of activity naturally to the campus than what for example, the University of Helsinki does in the very centre of the city. I believe that the campus will offer a lot for everybody: to students, teachers, researchers, cooperation partners, citizens, that the location is so central. And when we are building a campus that’s entirely new, we can approach it with the kinds of visions that might not even be possible here. I am surely looking forward with great interest to what we can accomplish, and we are aiming for world-class solutions.

Iina: Yes. You already told us that applications have been accepted and that this is a very topical issue at the moment. What happens next?

Niinimäki: Well, next up we have to determine how many people will be moving there, and how many students will, in their time, be working there. Then there are these different logistic needs related to these people: what kind of a road network is needed, what kind of public transportation is needed, how much parking space is needed. What kind of spaces for bikes are needed, what kinds of biking roads are needed, so we have to quickly change the so far pretty general ideas into something quite concrete.

Niinimäki: I suppose it would be worthwhile to mention the road and traffic infrastructure, since there has been so much talk in the papers that this will be very expensive for the local residents. So it is good to mention that there is a plan for an event arena in the area, as well as two supermarkets and the University, so I really don’t believe that the University would be the main burden that determines the construction of the road network and traffic connections, but rather the University will be involved in using the infrastructure, which’s size and weight will be determined by other measures than the needs of the University.

Iina: In an Instagram poll that our magazine conducted, 64 % of our readers did not support the moving of the campus. Who do you think this move will benefit the most?

Niinimäki: The move will of course benefit most the students who will eventually study there. I truly understand that some are not directly on board with this plan. I believe it is because we have not been able to communicate about this project broadly and sufficiently enough. My own experience from tens of events, where I have spoken about this myself, has been that when we explain the backgrounds and the facts behind this decision, people understand what this is about and they support it.

Naturally when we have a big group of people, we have 3000 staff members and then there are over 20 000 students, so bringing the issue comprehensively forth for such a large crowd has been difficult. Surely this has been presented to the Student Union (OYY) and the groups of people there which we have been able to present it to. But maybe in public communication we have had some difficulties getting our message through, when this has been opposed so energetically and perhaps even systematically, that the opposing messages have drowned the information that we have given about the issue, and that might be one reason why people don’t support it.

Niinimäki: From the perspective of the University, the students who are studying here now, won’t be studying anymore when the city centre campus is ready. So that might also lower the support, that it is seen as a risk, that it will harm the development of Linnanmaa, but the students of today don’t get to enjoy the benefits of it.

Iina: I have to ask, how does it feel to be in charge of a big project like this, that is getting such a negative response?

Niinimäki: To me the response has not seemed that negative, because where I have been talking and discussing about it, the response has been more positive, and there is also a big, enthusiastic group of people bringing this forward. I think that the conversation around the campus topic has been extremely useful to us, to the University and to this project, that is has surely been welcomed. The conversation was bound to happen at some point and it is good that it has been going on since the beginning.

Iina: That is true. What would this move of the University mean for Oamk, which has recently moved to Linnanmaa?

Niinimäki: Well it doesn’t.. Of course Oamk has been aware of this matter and we have done these things together with them. I don’t think that, now that we are building close cooperation with Oamk in our own profile, it is in no way an exaggeration to think that Oulu University of Applied Sciences is going to work in collaboration with the University at the city centre campus in one way or another.

Niinimäki: Then it goes without saying that the fields and the areas that are especially important to this polytechnic community, and the facilities, the joint facilities that we have, they will remain here in Linnanmaa. As well as with the research institutes, I don’t think that when we talk about the University having changed its strategy, that it might not be true.

What is true is that the University has changed its real estate strategy, but the University has changed its real estate strategy so that it can carry out its own strategy, which is to remain as this kind of a large, high standard Northern science university.

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Iina: In this part of the podcast we tend to ask our readers for questions on our Instagram and that is what we have done this time as well. There were many questions because there are many interested in this topic. Let’s start with the concerns related to the lack of space. The first question is what happens to the laboratory facilities at Linnanmaa? Are they going to come to the city centre campus as well?

Niinimäki: The laboratory facilities will remain in Linnanmaa. The city centre campus will be a space for learning and and encountering and collaborating and holding meetings. Heavy laboratory facilities are not meant to be moved there.

Iina: Okay. How are opportunities for student organization facilities arranged on the new campus?

Niinimäki: This was the first thing that we discussed with the Student Union, how the guild spaces are going to be. And yes we have promised that guild spaces will continue to exist. We will examine with the construction planning whether it would be possible to arrange such amazing underground guild spaces that we have here. This matter indeed needs to be planned carefully together with students and staff members. And of course it means that appropriate spaces will continue to be available in the future as well.

Iina: That is awesome. In fact, we received another question about it, which is are students going to be included in the planning process?

Niinimäki: Absolutely. Naturally, students are an important interest group and of course we are going to include our students and also try to include high school students, who are those, and maybe middle school students too, who are of that age that they will come here eventually and what are their propositions.

Iina: Yes. Then we have a question based on history. So, 40 years ago we witnessed intense opposition when the University moved to Linnanmaa piece by piece. Now, partially the same people are intensely opposing the move to the city centre. Where do you believe that this change of opinion is coming from?

Niinimäki: Well, I think that opposing things in general is very human, that when we keep up with the same old that we are used to, it is in some way safe and familiar even if it wouldn’t be exactly optimal. A big change is always something that creates threatening scenarios and creates the unknown, and that is why I think that it’s very natural that with these kinds of big projects there are those who want to stick with their opinions even if they were the ones who originally opposed the previous big change.

Iina: Well, we already talked about the laboratories staying here and that there will be activity on several campuses. We have people wondering, that will the student community become scattered on three campuses or will the entire unit of Linnanmaa move to Raksila?

Niinimäki: The entire unit of Linnanmaa will not move to Raksila in any case. A part will move from here and the University of Oulu will continue to develop Linnanmaa as well. I don’t think that scattering students is what we want to do here, but rather now that there has been research saying that most students want to live in the city centre and students want to live near a campus, then of course we have to consider that the idea of the city centre campus is not just being there for some faculties but that it’s a shared city centre campus for the whole university community.

The question is, that how are we going to arrange studies in a way that everyone can get those studies on the city centre campus. We don’t want that a student’s day or a teacher’s day would be scattered in a way that they would have to go back and forth the city centre and another campus, but rather we have to create such solutions where we can operate in a sensible way without that.

Niinimäki: I believe that when we go, when we think about this city centre campus solution, we are making the kind of solution that will tie our hands until 2065, that is how far reaching these investments are. I believe that studying will largely change into more digital and during that time when the city centre campus will crucially affect the operation of the University of Oulu, and I truly believe that the effects will be the kind that those gatherings in one place for a lecture, kind of like naturally, and encounterings will decrease, we will need more and more attractive places for encounters that people will come to for the sake of the encounter. In that sense this city centre campus, which will be easily accessible, pleasant, near services, near quality student housing, it will be a place where we can accomplish this.

Iina: Yes. This has actually been thought of, will the remote studying situation affect the future, is the situation here to stay. Will this have any impact on the size of spaces or something like that?

Niinimäki: Yes it has an impact. This is of course in no way a completely new situation. During the past 10 years, universities have given up I think nearly half of their spaces, generally in Finland, and the use of university spaces has decreased. In the University of Oulu when the city centre campus planning had begun, it was thought that the use of our spaces will continue to decrease and that we can decrease the use of those spaces in a way that the studying and working experience would improve.

In that sense the decrease of using spaces was already the objective at the time. Somewhere at the University we can already see the kinds of phenomena where lectures are being streamed online, and most students at this moment as well are taking those lectures as online streams and only a small part of students attend the lecture in the lecture hall. Surely the conclusion already before corona was such that the time of these megacampuses and massive lecture halls is over.

Iina: Okay. The scattering between three campuses made me think of the campus of Kontinkangas. Has there been any thought of its fate?

Niinimäki: Kontinkangas will also remain. The hospital there is very important, and the fact that we have Dentopolis on the campus of Kontinkangas, where the dental hygienists of the University of Applied Sciences and our dentist students and the patients of public dental care encounter, and that has been an excellent learning environment. Here in the health care district, other than dental care too, it is important to think about similar solutions.

In that sense, Kontinkangas as an operational environment is also a subject for us to consider. The consideration of Kontinkangas can’t wait for the finishing of the city centre campus, but now that we are getting this city centre campus into planning, we have to start thinking about the issue of Kontinkangas. I might think that the city centre campus is an important place for Kontinkangas as well. One new relevant thing that the city centre campus enables is that the students of Linnanmaa and Kontinkangas can encounter each other there. Let’s hope that all kinds of great things will come from that.

Iina: So this sounds like we have a trinity of three campuses and one place for encountering. Did I understand correctly?

Niinimäki: Well yes. Certain laboratory entities have been centered here, and also entities of natural sciences and technology, and at Kontinkangas entities of bioscience and medicine. I dare to suspect that the movement of students and their encountering on the campus is very little in the time management offered by the University. Surely students encounter each other in their free-time but let’s hope that the city centre campus will function as a place for that encountering, and let’s build it that way so that our entire student population from all fields will encounter each other there. You are understanding correctly that the city centre campus will precisely be an environment of encounters.

Iina: Our readers have also wondered how sustainable development is considered in the campus planning?

Niinimäki: Sustainable development is considered in the construction materials and the construction itself in such a way that, at least my own wish is that wood would be used as a construction material and in that way work as a carbon sink. The central location of the building in relation to the where students live will lead to people coming there more by bike and by foot than here on average, and it will decrease the carbon emissions that way, and of course when we build the campus in the framework of sustainable development, we consider our possibilities for energy supply, heating questions and such.

Then there is the interesting matter of energy symbiosis coming from nearby stores or indoor ice rinks and other places. If the neighbour needs cold and the other needs warm, then how can we draw more from that coexistence from the perspective of sustainability. One thing that has been written in the city’s planning reserve, is that along with the stores and the city we must think how we can consider the carbon footprint in the area’s planning.

Iina: This last question is a good way for us to end, which is this: Is the city centre campus project the megalomaniac way of Rector Niinimäki to earn his place in history?

Niinimäki: Well that is certainly not what this is. It is the decision of our Board and perhaps the Rector’s courage would have never been enough to start something like this, but afterwards thinking about how our Board found this matter to be essential and started working on it, I have appreciated that bold decision very much.

Iina: Yes. Thank you so much for visiting.

Niinimäki: Thank you.

Iina: I hope that this episode will clarify student’s thoughts on the matter, because this is a big topic and it’s very understandable if it is not fully understood.

Niinimäki: Let’s hope so and let’s get back to it if necessary, we are happy to talk more about this and its background, or anything. This is a very good way to communicate this matter through you.

Iina: Yes absolutely, and we will return to the topics of higher education in our next episode. Bye bye.

The podcast will return every month with new topics regarding higher education. Stay tuned!

Translated by Saana Haapala.

Published 11.11.2020

Iida Putkonen

Oulun ylioppilaslehden päätoimittaja. Tiedeviestinnän opiskelija ja glögin ympärivuotinen kuluttaja. Etsii revontulia, riippumattoja ja juuri oikeita sanoja.

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