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Tiit Land’s Speech at the Inauguration Ceremony

03.06.2016 17:21:13

On 16 May, prof. Tiit Land was inaugurated as the Rector of Tallinn University. In his speech he emphasised the need for international cooperation and new challenges regarding interdisciplinarity.

land3“I wish to thank. To thank the entire university for honest and creative cooperation I was part of during the past five years. I am happy that our common efforts encouraged you to set me up as a candidate once again. I thank everyone who was behind me.

I thank Professor Hannes Palang, my competitor and a debate partner. It was an interesting and effective time, as we both were and are standing for our alma mater, we wish for its influence and reputation would keep growing. In this way, we are also standing for a better Estonia.

I thank the electoral body of the Tallinn University Rectorial Election. The many votes I received support my motivation and courage to take new steps during these next five years. As I said during my oath, I take this trust very seriously.

Trust gives us opportunities, but also obligations. Five years ago, I stood here and thanked the previous Rector for his work. What would I, as a new Rector, tell myself, as the previous Rector, today? I would say Tallinn University is not complete yet. It will definitely not be complete in five years, either. Tallinn University will never be complete. I say this not to deter, but to inspire us. Let’s go on knowing that there is a lot to do, a lot still to come.

The past five years can be summed up with the word “changes”. Our team set out by defining goals to help the university overcome the problems we faced due to our structure and changes in the society. A good example would be the natural decline in the number of students, due to our demographical situation. I must admit not every change we initiated was fast nor determined enough. We were not able to explain the reasons behind some of the steps we took. Then again, there were many actions that we had no say in. These past five years brought many changes in the environment, which in turn changed things in the university – e.g. the higher education reform and the new financial models that accompanied it.

Universities as academic institutions tend to be conservative. Changes are not often welcomed with open arms. This added complexity to the task of changing the structure of our university, focus on the new focus fields, and find new cooperation opportunities. I believe we should not be too conservative, at least not in the traditional sense. Of course it is comfortable to hide behind the notion of academic freedom, which is indeed one of the core values of academia. At the same time we must acknowledge that freedom means responsibility. These two must be balanced.

This is why I find that we should stand above our personal interests and ambitions. We should ask ourselves if our freedom to decide is in balance with the hopes and expectations of our partners. If we fail to do this, we will fall into a dangerous comfort zone and start to believe that the university is complete. Even more so, we will start to feel that the university is above us, pushing itself on us, leaving us no room to think freely. I assure you that under my leadership, Tallinn University will remain free in thought, but also a good and stern partner for everyone who wishes to contribute to promote intelligent lifestyle.

land4I am happy that we – meaning Tallinn University – do not only analyse the changes in the society, but act upon them. We were quick in progressing through important reforms – we reformed our academic structure, changed the financial policies within the university, modernised the governance model, and incorporated more representatives from academia to our highest decisive body, the Senate. Nearly a third of Senate members are elected by academic employees themselves.

As it should be in academia, the changes we initiated were constructive. There were times that compromises were made as a result of heated arguments. Yet, the differences in opinion – something that always comes with change – were never grand enough to interest the press.

I would also like to talk about our future. Yes, I am unable to predict it, but perfectly capable to plan for it. The Tallinn University Development Plan 2015-2020 gives us quite ambitious goals. Naturally, our main goal is to ensure high academic quality. In addition, we aim to develop interdisciplinarity, which would lead us to new and better results thanks to cooperation between various fields of study. In the coming autumn, we will start a new programme called Interdisciplinary Project. We have prepared this programme during many seminars, where 175 lecturers and researchers have participated. Our goal is to have every student – BA and MA alike – to get the experience of participating in an interdisciplinary project. Mostly, this will give them the skill to recognise and solve problems in real life. After all real life is largely problem-based!

One of the aims of the Tallinn University development plan is to work toward a better society. We are doing it in Estonia, as well as abroad. I am happy that today we have here the Foreign Minister of Estonia, who proposed five years ago to establish connections to universities in Afghanistan as part of a development cooperation programme of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We decided to act and started collaborating with Kabul University, the largest of its kind in Afghanistan. As this war-torn country lacked IT studies on the master’s level for decades, we helped them to establish and develop IT programmes. Two weeks ago we went to Kabul to give the first graduates their diplomas. It is difficult for me to express the emotions I had when I talked to the graduates and their families, and felt their sheer gratitude. These were the first fruits of hard labour. Lecturers from Tallinn University and Tallinn Technical University gave lectures in Kabul and supervised the students via e-solutions from Estonia during two years. They spent 201 days outside their comfort zones, in Kabul, during the past four years.

We are an international university. We have nearly 700 foreign students and one in ten members of the academic staff comes from abroad. Internationalisation is an integral part of our everyday activities. It has become even more integral, as the new Rectorate features an international member – currently she speaks Finnish, English and Swedish, but shortly Estonian as well.

I promise that we are open to changes and new challenges. Many important and interesting events await Tallinn University in the next five years. I would like to thank everyone once again, especially my family and close friends for their support.”

 

See the full gallery of the Inauguration Ceremony.

Translated by Karl Hallik.

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