Home - UNIVERSITY - Rectorial Election 2016 - Candidates' Views

Rectorial Election 2016

See the candidates' viewpoints:

Questions to the Candidates:

Prof TIIT LAND
Prof HANNES PALANG
One of the long-term goals of the university is to diversify the research and learning activities through internationalisation. New nations tend to come with new cultures. If and how should the university adapt to the cultural, religious, and other traits of its employees?

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One of the long-term goals of the university is to diversify the research and learning activities through internationalisation. New nations tend to come with new cultures. If and how should the university adapt to the cultural, religious, and other traits of its employees?

Mutual cultural enrichment is one of two main goals in internationalisation, alongside raising our academic quality. It is elementary that a university is equally tolerant to all its members – regardless of their cultural background, religion or colour of their skin, their gender or sexual disposition.

It is the responsibility of the university to introduce Estonian culture and traditions to foreigners, as we all know the old saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” We wish to help our international students and staff feel welcome in Estonia even when they are outside the university.

At the same time, the university must accommodate the cultural and religious background of the staff and help find solutions for their needs. For example, we have offered our doctoral students from Afghanistan a separate room for their religious rituals.

In addition to considering the differences, it is important to participate actively in introducing various cultures. A good example is the series of Chinese culture events at the campus.

The University is an intelligent organisation and tolerance is a mark of intelligence. The university can meet and consider their needs up to a point. The exact frame of reference should be worked out with all related parties, once everyone’s needs and opportunities are met. The university can definitely support Estonian language and culture studies.

The University has a growing number of Bachelor's students in Finland, and these students suffer from not having the same support facilities (e.g. career counselling, group work and self-study spaces) as the students on Tallinn Campus. How do you intend to further include the students in Helsinki to the "academic family" of TLU?

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The University has a growing number of Bachelor's students in Finland, and these students suffer from not having the same support facilities (e.g. career counselling, group work and self-study spaces) as the students on Tallinn Campus. How do you intend to further include the students in Helsinki to the "academic family" of TLU?

It is true that the students studying in Helsinki are difficult to immerse into the “academic family” of Tallinn University – they cannot receive the benefits of the academic life on our main campus. At the same time we work toward them having all the necessary conditions for studying (including rooms for group and individual work), as well as support services (including career counselling). Career counselling can be offered through the University’s career counselling centre, as well as our Finnish lecturers (given most students will stay in Finland after graduation).

The room problem ought to be solved by the unit itself, everything else demands specific solutions. For example career counselling should consider these students specifically (most probably, they will find employment in Finland or elsewhere outside Estonia). It is important to guarantee quality and collaborate with Helsinki University.

How do you plan to contribute to diversifying our learning activities and helping the lecturers pass on their knowledge more effectively? (The original question also featured a description of the current state of lectures and teaching at TU from the asker’s point of view. For the full question, please contact karl.hallik....at....tlu.ee)

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How do you plan to contribute to diversifying our learning activities and helping the lecturers pass on their knowledge more effectively? (The original question also featured a description of the current state of lectures and teaching at TU from the asker’s point of view. For the full question, please contact karl.hallik....at....tlu.ee)

I feel giving good lectures, in addition to good research, is extremely important. At the same time, it does not seem right to make every lecturer use a standard “new teaching paradigm” methodology. The choice of methods and the design of the whole learning process has been and should always be up to the lecturer, this is an essential part of their academic freedom.

The reason behind changing the learning processes is creating new development opportunities, but the best way to get there has to be found by every lecturer personally and the choice is ultimately theirs. The university has to offer trainings to make sure the lecturers have the basic knowledge on learning and teaching, different methodologies, and encouraging the students to participate more in the process. We are currently renewing our feedback system, so the lecturers would get information on how active the students are at various courses. Many units are planning events where lecturers can share their teaching experiences as well as give feedback to the units. Their cooperation is also aided by larger courses and project-based courses, where many lecturers cooperate in teaching.

We aim to achieve high teaching competence among our lecturers and this needs systematic work and resource planning – when we talk about the influence of the university in the society, our nearly 1,500 annual graduates are the big influence.

1. Lectures with more EAPs; 2. Less students at courses; 3. More lecturers/researchers who specialise on certain courses. Let’s be honest, this would counter the current developments, but it would be worth a try. Thus, the solution would not be more rigorous control, but redesigning the work of academic staff. More efficient feedback systems and trainings would of course be a part of this.

The question actually lies in what we consider learning at a university. We should draw a clear line between high school and universities. A university should teach people to think and analyse. Everything else (wider scope, more knowledge and skills) is also important, but our first priority should be to enrich the society with people who can think and analyse. This calls for didactics that influence, role models, and charisma. Not all scholars become great teachers, as not all teachers become great researchers. Both sides are necessary for the university.

Do you, and if yes, then how do you plan to increase the credibility of Tallinn University in Estonia? We cannot deny that we are currently in a different league from TTU and UT in public opinion as well as international statistics. Have we decided to be a public university (and if so, then why?) and if not, then how should we rise our level of academics?

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Do you, and if yes, then how do you plan to increase the credibility of Tallinn University in Estonia? We cannot deny that we are currently in a different league from TTU and UT in public opinion as well as international statistics. Have we decided to be a public university (and if so, then why?) and if not, then how should we rise our level of academics?

I believe we already are as credible as other universities in Estonia. For example, we can look at our success in EU grant applications as well as the influence ratings of our media coverage. Naturally, there is room for development. The first factor to look at would be the dynamics of our development. TU has been the largest merger project in Estonian higher education, which means bringing together units with varying background and research capabilities.

Unlike UT and TTU, TU has not been part of various international rankings. We have to accept that our size, focus and resources do not allow us to be part of the top 100 or other university rankings. This does not mean we cannot offer our best in Estonia and internationally. Our researchers participating in Horizon 2020 projects shows that we are internationally competitive and our potential is seen. The Estonian Research Council analysed the first two years of Horizon 2020 recently and pointed out the growing contribution of Tallinn University: “Once again, Estonian universities are the most successful participants – more than half of those projects have Tartu University related to them. At the same time, Tallinn University is taking a strong stand, with only eight projects (three of which they coordinate), but with an average budget of €512,000 per project – the highest in the group.”

TNS Emor conducted a reputation research of our universities, wherein the big three (UT, TTU, TU) have become increasingly reputable, with Tallinn University gaining most. The proportion of media coverage on the research of TU has doubled annually for the past three years. We hold a strong third position and given the size of the top universities, our position has risen faster, compared to others.

In 2014, the international student research iGraduate showed TU as very popular and positive among international students. They value the quality of the studies, the opportunities to participate in research activities, the learning environment, as well as counselling.

We are determined that the goal of developing interdisciplinary problem-based focus fields, which benefit the society, will raise our credibility in research, development and creative areas, as well as seem more attractive to students. I am glad to see that our focus fields have gotten positive feedback from our partners – the ministries and other universities, as well as the society in general. I am certain that Tallinn University has a future among academic and influential universities.

One of the criteria for credibility is doctoral studies, the other is research projects with external funding.  Acquiring the latter, especially international ones, is a sure mark of quality. But let us leave statistics aside – our dignity as researchers and lecturers starts with an adequate self-esteem, our identity and our self-conception. We have our own themes and a certain role in Estonia, we have good reason to be glad about those.

It has been said there is too much bureaucracy at Tallinn University. Do you feel the same? If you do, then how would you solve this problem?

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It has been said there is too much bureaucracy at Tallinn University. Do you feel the same? If you do, then how would you solve this problem?

I agree that both academic and non-academic units feel there is a lot of bureaucracy. At the same time, I must say that a large part of internal bureaucracy stems from the state’s demands, which in turn are connected to EU regulations. The university can be a credible partner to ministries and other institutions, if we adhere to the rules and follow regulations. We must follow the rules that come with funding, especially those we receive from the EU structural funds. Nevertheless, we must admit that some of our expenses have been deemed ineligible due to faults in accountancy or not adhering to deadlines and/or rules. Such cases raise tensions and create the image that bureaucratic rules hinder our activities.

What I have just said does not mean we should not take a stand against increasing amounts of bureaucracy, we must also direct attention to unreasonable regulations. I will bring the example of the new draft of the Public Procurement Act, which is currently circling the ministries – in there we find many questionable points regarding universities and will increase the amount of administrative work within our units. Addressing such questions demands cooperation among universities, as any university alone would be too weak for this fight. We have proposed our corrections via Universities Estonia. As the chairman of this council, I have met the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Public Administration, and will soon meet the Financial Committee of the Parliament to present the common case of the universities.

We can fight unreasonable bureaucracy by increasing the proportion of academic members in the governance of our university. For example, we recently accepted the regulation by which academic employees could elect their representatives to the Senate, which is responsible for most regulatory acts within the University. Likewise, the support units must help the academic staff see the idea behind regulations. Here the fact that the academic family acknowledges the position of structural units is also vital. On the one hand, we have regulations and norms that are created to help regulate situations we most often come by while reaching for our goals. On the other hand, there is the will of the people who fall under these regulations, which often does not comply with the will and goals of the legislator. We try our best to understand both parties, as a judicial environment that changes constantly is a very difficult one to work in.

In conclusion I believe that nobody wishes for unreasonable bureaucracy, but we must admit that in reality, bureaucracy might be necessary in more instances than we wish for it to be. For example, 36 of our study programmes passed qualitative assessment in 2015 – the self-assessment report for the language and culture study area alone was more than 600 pages. At the same time, these assessments are important, as those programmes that pass the scrutiny have a certain quality and are more sustainable.

There problem here lies not in the amount of bureaucracy, but rather in its content and function. Currently, we are hindered by too much of a formal approach to issues. The biggest concern is the role of support units in the University.

The need for administrative structures stems from the complexity of the organisation. The more rules (or holes in the regulation, which demand time to fix) there are, and the more hierarchy there is within the organisation, the more we need support units. Currently, the university is headed in this direction. We must assess the quality of both our regulations as well as support units, I am sure we can find ways to cut costs.

As to support units that bring in resources, we should tie their assessment to their results – the more they bring in, the more we can allocate for their own work.

The third issue is the role of support units in the university – is our direction determined by support units or the academic structure? In some parts, the balance is currently lost, which means we must assess the roles once again. The university is an institution, where students study, lecturers and researchers give lectures and conduct research, and the support units supports them.

What will Tallinn University be like in 2020, and how many employees will it have?

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What will Tallinn University be like in 2020, and how many employees will it have?

As a researcher, my wish for 2020 is to have equal volumes of research and studies. The number of employees would be similar to today, with the added difference that there are more researchers, and a part of lecturers’ salaries comes from research projects. In reality, such changes will most likely not be reached in 4-5 years, but we are about to take a large step toward this right now. The fact that the past few years have brought along a stable increase in both research financing and the number of defended doctoral theses, gives us optimism in this field.

In 2020, Tallinn University will have a definite role in the society – we will have developed our focus fields into distinguished centres of excellence, our new study programmes are high-grade and attractive, our researchers are active and sought-after cooperation partners.

The image of the University has become clear, at the same time the University is innovative and flexible.

Academic, trustworthy, and practical. The University will have a clear role in the Estonian society, as well as on the international education stage and research activities, in governance and culture, with a well-developed partner network and alumni association. The University will be the generator and importer of novel ideas, a contributor to the renewal of the society. The University is a positive and mentally developing environment to its staff. Students and student life of Tallinn University will continue to be one of its core strengths.

In addition, there could be 100-150 added employees (researchers, project managers, lecturers, support staff)

The structural reforms have had mixed consequences. Hierarchy, competition and individualism have thrived. It feels our university is becoming more of a private enterprise and moving away from academia. How would you address these problems to keep the university n employee-friendly environment?

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The structural reforms have had mixed consequences. Hierarchy, competition and individualism have thrived. It feels our university is becoming more of a private enterprise and moving away from academia. How would you address these problems to keep the university n employee-friendly environment?

I feel these problems are mostly connected to the complexity of the reform period. I cannot agree that the new structure supports hierarchy, competition and individualism, but at the same time I agree that any reform comes with initial insecurity, increased workloads and tensions. This is the price we must pay to make the Tallinn University of tomorrow offer a motivating and employee-friendly environment. One of the goals of the reform is to offer competitive salaries and decrease the pay gap among employees within the university. This is something I wish to keep working on. An employee-friendly environment stems from cooperation between employees and recognition by colleagues.

I completely agree with the statements in this question. In my opinion, the decrease of academia is currently one of the main problems of Tallinn University. What could be done?

  1. A reasonable division of labour would have the academic employees giving lectures and doing research, and the support units helping and supporting them in their endeavours. This demands a rise in the competences of support structures – to a level where they would be of substantive help, complete all the technical tasks, etc. At the same time, the funding of support structures should be tied to their ability to give added value to the university. This, though, is a longer process and demands cooperation with all parties involved.
  2. We need to keep the current system of rectorial elections (where the rector is elected by an elective board, not people from outside the university), and let the academic staff elect institute councils, directors, heads of study areas. This will end ignoring the opinion of academic staff in management.
  3. Functional bureaucracy and effective administration are a necessity for every organisation. Despite that, a university cannot hold administration in such honour that academia becomes its servant. Administrative tasks are necessary only up to the point where they help academic problems and can be used as tools for fulfilling academic goals.
  4. We should revive academic discussion in units, e.g. think tanks for dividing research grants, sharing opinions on subjects regarding the university as a whole. The more personal opinions get voiced, the easier it is to adapt common values and consider opposing views. This is what will determine the academic identity of the university.
  5. Allowing academic employees to focus on their research and lectures by releasing them from administrative duties was one of the declared goals of the structural reform. At the same time, there are no ways to apply the academic contribution to create added value through cooperation. I believe finding solutions that value the contribution of employees is one of the key indicators of success in this reform, and if this is unreachable, the reform must be complemented.
  6. The university should regard the new focus fields seriously and organise people to meet these goals. This demands an academic leadership to each focus field (in addition to the administrative side), we must appoint roles and set rules for assessing the process. This will also help us create an actual development plan and a proper plan of action.
  7. The university is essentially a whole. This means academic values and academic ways of thinking must not “belong” only to the academic staff. Both support staff and students share the same culture, which should make us strive toward adding everyone who works or studies here into academic discussions. Among other factors, common values and an academic way of thinking are the factors that would make it difficult to make power-centred decisions.
  8. The university is made for the people who work and study here, not the other way around. Those that work and study here should develop an understanding that a university demands something more than modern phrases such as “client”, “education market”, and “effective production”. For more than a thousand years, in other European universities it has been the norm to value academic life and academic values. If this becomes our common value, this university can be one in the future, as well. Vivat Academia!
The employees of the university expect a rise in both research funding and salaries. What do you plan to do to meet those wishes, while research if funded via government grants and all inter-university monetary decisions are determined by the TU Regulations of Economic Activity, which can only be changed by a Senate decision?

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The employees of the university expect a rise in both research funding and salaries. What do you plan to do to meet those wishes, while research if funded via government grants and all inter-university monetary decisions are determined by the TU Regulations of Economic Activity, which can only be changed by a Senate decision?

In order to increase the university's role in supporting research, I have stated at Universities Estonia and other forums that state research funding must grow, especially the proportion of research base financing. As of today, the Ministry of Education and Research has raised base financing for 2016 by 50%. In addition, the Ministry has stated they will continue this trend. This will give the university and its rector a better chance to decrease the instability that stems from a competition-based system. At the same time, it is clear that the biggest potential for development comes from indirect support to research, which would increase the capabilities of our research teams to bring in project based research funds. We plan to conduct the latter by allocating large proportions of both base financing as well as the ASTRA measure to the development of top-level research groups, to support project application writing, and to increase expertise in consultancy.

I have already stated that I am a team player; therefore, I do not see a conflict between the rector and decisions made by the Senate. The current economic regulations, as well as other documents, such as the Remuneration Regulation, have recently been renewed by proposal of the rectorate, in cooperation with the Senate and other members of the university, in order to achieve our common goals. The new Senate represents our academic employees even better, which is why I am convinced the rectorate and Senate will and do cooperate successfully in supporting research and raises in salaries.

Supporting research and raising salaries are not as conflicting as this question shows. First, research funds should reach the university from other sources as well, not only state funds – be it international research projects (Horizon2020, etc.), state institutions, corporations, etc. By the way, Horizon2020 lets us to pay people our regular salaries, so raising the salaries in the university will allow us to ask for higher salaries from these projects. Therefore, raising salaries has multiple benefits for the university. Secondly, all statutes must adhere to actual needs and aid development, instead of hindering it – I hope we have already established that.
In the short term, a solution would be to overview the teams and workloads on every project, while also increasing cooperation between researchers and lecturers, which would lead us to using base financing to test new ideas. In the longer perspective, this may create larger teams with networks, a critical mass and a sufficient level to participate in international projects, and functional study programmes – in other words varied income sources and enough courage and competence to change the current situation.
I will also repeat that the greatest value of every organisation is its people. Without competent staff, neither the economic regulations nor increased funding will not have any effect.

How to motivate the employees exhausted by the structural reforms to set new goals and achieve them?

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How to motivate the employees exhausted by the structural reforms to set new goals and achieve them?

One of my goals as rector has been and will be the valuing and supporting of self-fulfilment of our staff members. One of the goals of the structural reform was to raise motivation and content in our staff, for example by creating new possibilities for research and studies development through developing the new focus fields. The structural reform is not a goal in itself, it was necessary to lay a base for a sustainable university, which naturally means having happy and motivated employees with competitive salaries.

A few years ago we declared an ambitious and seemingly impossible goal of raising the base salaries 1,5 times. By today, we have raised the base tariffs for academic staff twice, inching ever closer to the salaries of our biggest competition and partners. This is a fraction of the main goal, but today it does not seem like an impossible mission. We have set our emphasis to support those starting their academic careers, i.e. we separated the researchers and lecturers with a doctorate degree from those with lower degrees. Since January 1st, the base tariffs for employees with a PhD went up by 41%, which should keep the university a youthful and rapidly developing establishment. An important goal in our salary policies was and will be the bridging of cleavages within the university to increase cooperation and help develop interdisciplinary teams.

I wish to continue to develop the distinction system of our employees and creating a supportive and stable work environment. I believe being recognised is an important motivator next to increasing salaries. We have to become a university where people want to work, where they are demanding toward themselves and their colleagues, where we are constructively critical and recognise excellence and achievements. In addition to publishing research articles and giving lectures, we must increasingly notice and value our colleagues for their role in the society in general. We have the chance to be the pioneers among Estonian universities and initiate a change in the system, as we have already done by setting our development plan to follow certain focus fields.

To every person, the chance to express his or her opinion within the university is important. I myself am a team player and have tried to negotiate every action I take. I support the formation of a collegial work culture and try to create different opportunities to discuss plans before actions. For example, I have initiated the formation of the Advisory Board, and after the structural reform the academic staff has the chance to elect their own representatives to the University Senate.

The structural reform must be followed by a period of stability, wherein the new schools can integrate internally, work toward achieving set goals and set new goals.

I wish every member of the university would like working at Tallinn University!

Motivation must be returned to everyone, not just the employees who participated in the process itself. The first tool would be the working environment that adheres to academic values and academic freedom. Research and new knowledge are not items made to order. Competitive salaries are elementary. It is also important for the university to value its people and use the social capital we have already acquired. In a situation where material resources are scarce, we must thoroughly consider using non-material resources wisely. The university begins where the lecturer/researcher steps into a classroom and interacts with students, shares their experience and knowledge. And does so with joy and passion. The role of the rector in this situation is to develop the values of the organisation, and stand for the academic values that help make a university a university and value its people through them. A part of the solution lies in the balance of academic creativity and bureaucracy – the division of work and collaboration between academic and support units, where everyone feels and carries out their role in a team. The employees should want to work in our university and they will want to, if this organisation is a good and interesting one. One where they are considered important and where their job has a meaning for the management and their colleagues.

What are the advantages of a graduate of an interdisciplinary Tallinn University in the job market in five years?

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What are the advantages of a graduate of an interdisciplinary Tallinn University in the job market in five years?

Developing interdisciplinary studies and projects is not a goal in itself, but they help develop the general skills of students, such as identifying problems, generating ideas for solutions, developing said solutions in cooperation with other students and in the end show others the usefulness of those. As the fences we tackle in life are increasingly interdisciplinary, success in the job market depends of having these general skills in addition to professional skills. We do not know what jobs are there in five years, but interdisciplinary studies help us give the students a maximally broad and strong foundation for future success. This includes the skill of knowing oneself as a learner and valuing life-long learning, which grants success in the job market as well as entrepreneurship.

I believe every student should participate in a project during their studies, where students from various programmes solve actual problems from the, while contemplating their own futures. A pioneering step is the developing of a course called “Interdisciplinary project” (IDP), which currently encompasses over 70 lecturers. In autumn, the first IDP’s giving 6EAP’s will start for both new BA and MA students. Every group will have students from at least three different study programmes.

We can also be proud of our first steps in integrated study programmes. I would like to promote the digital learning games programme, which was developed and is currently run by four schools in collaboration. The programme encompasses pedagogical and technological skills as well as creativity.

I believe we will give our students a major advantage in the job market, if we continue to be the only university that gives them the experience of interdisciplinary learning, where they develop solutions to problems in collaboration with students from various fields.

The optimist in me hopes that our new study programmes will lure in the best students, who do not draw the line at a Bachelor’s degree, but value the Masters’ as well as the Doctorate degree. That in five years the first students have passed the new Masters’ programmes, received wide-based skills and knowledge, in addition to specific skills, with the help of demanding and smart lecturers. That they have received, in addition to other skills, the ability and courage to think critically and seek for solutions to problems. Interdisciplinarity will definitely give them better chances at the job market, but we must not forget that the university is not so much a place to learn a trade, but rather a school, which should primarily develop a human’s thinking and analysing abilities.

Interdisciplinarity will teach us to see processes and life on multiple levels, allows us to see correlations and systems more widely.

In what way could Tallinn University increase its role in Estonian higher education, research, and the society in general?

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In what way could Tallinn University increase its role in Estonian higher education, research, and the society in general?

As to setting goals for the university, my principle is that clear goals and focused operations are vital for the strengthening and insuring of Tallinn University’s position in Estonia and internationally, as the number of students is gradually decreasing and state funding for singular fields of research is becoming increasingly unsure. We have set a goal to develop five research-based interdisciplinary focus fields and our choices – digital and media culture, education, cultural competences, healthy and sustainable lifestyle and an open society – speak to every person who cares for their living environment. The focus fields are concise, yet give every member a chance for interesting challenges and help the university keep its diversification.

As we develop a basis for top-level research, we adhere to the same interdisciplinary foci, which help us gather our strength and resources from EU Structural Funds and research financing funds. A good example is our ERA Chair project, which was funded by EU Horizon 2020 and encompasses the educational as well as digital technologies field.

Applying the principle of interdisciplinarity in both studies and research increases our chances to offer an attractive education, which answers the employer’s needs, and also gives our academic staff better chances in participating in cooperative projects both within Estonia as well as internationally. We must keep applying for EU Horizon 2020 funds and the Structural Funds mediated by the Estonian Research Council. The focus fields we have chosen are easily applied to entrepreneurship and we have better chances for cooperation with corporations than ever before.

One of our missions is to bring international knowledge to our society through research cooperation. We support the external tenures of our researchers and the stay of foreign researchers at our university. Studies in English have become a natural part of the university. Our goal is to raise both the volume and quality of English curricula, including common modules and joint study programmes in every institute.

We must increase the promotion of our research, development and creative activities in the society, a good example being our One Minute Lecture series. At the same time it is important to show our constructive wish and will to cooperate with partners – universities, research institutions, ministries and companies.

I believe our thorough reforms have taken us a step ahead of other universities – we all face the same problems and bottlenecks, but Tallinn University has taken the first step to solve them. We must strive to keep this lead.

This question leads us to the issue of resources. If Tallinn University manages to keep the best researchers and lecturers, and generate enough resources to keep them motivated, we will have influence; if not, we will lose what we have gained by now. A prerequisite to this is keeping the university an academic establishment, which focuses on creating new knowledge. Naturally, bigger demands toward ourselves and genuine, not illusory quality, are key factors. Slogans will not help her, we must be hard at work. The role of Tallinn University in the society will only increase, if we can prove our expertise with actions – first-rate and useful results of research/analyses, as well as educating excellent and well-learned members of the society.