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Thursday's papers: Slippery snow in the south, Helsinki University's reform hangover and a trial to ban neo-Nazis

Today's print press review looks at fallout from the first snow on the roads in the south, a critical report on Helsinki University's handling of major reforms and belt-tightening, and a trial in Tampere to prohibit the Nordic Resistance Movement in Finland.

Autoja jonossa lumisella maantiellä
Snowy conditions in Tampere. Image: Marjut Suomi / Yle

Our paper review this Thursday kicks off with tabloid Ilta-Sanomat's coverage of the first substantial snowfall of the season in the south. Most of the papers report this morning that driving conditions are dangerously poor in many areas.

The worst situation is in the southwest, where 70 accidents have been reported in the last 13 hours.

IS reports that the snowfall has also affected capital city commuter train traffic, as the A and K trains are scheduled to run less frequently, at 20 minute intervals. Helsinki Regional Transport (HSL) says the departures have been scaled down to make sure that those trains that are on the move run without incident.

"Long-distance routes are operating normally, one run at a time. If some have to be cancelled, it will be on a one-off basis," train operator VR announced on its website.

HSL estimates that the snow will also cause some delays and cancellations to the capital city region's bus and tram services.

The Finnish Meteorological Institute warns motorists of dangerous driving conditions in the regions of Southwest Finland, Satakunta, Uusimaa Kymenlaakso, Pirkanmaa, South Ostrobothnia and Ostrobothnia, due to the wet snow and sleet. 

Bad grades for university brass

Next, the country's leading daily Helsingin Sanomat reports on a highly critical independent analysis of Helsinki University's leadership. Sue Scott, Honorary Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies at the University of York, presented her report on Wednesday at the university, describing how the disruptive Big Wheel reform, redundancies and administrative consolidations and have affected the premiere university's research and teaching community.  

A few years ago, Finland's austerity-minded government went back on its campaign promises and decided to cut higher education funding. In the autumn of 2015, Parliament made substantial cuts to university allocations. In early 2016, the learning institution's administration announced its intention to downsize its staff by 1,000, with plans to let 570 people go. One year later, there is a consensus that the university administration left much to be desired in its implementation of the personnel and programme changes.

Scott's group arranged open events at four different campuses, met with 60 people, held 17 group discussions and accepted written feedback from 400 people. The result of her evaluation work is sobering: just five percent reacted positively to the way the university leadership handled the sea change.

"Change was necessary, is necessary and will be necessary. But one important factor in the implementation of sustainable change is ensuring that the people lowest in the hierarchy are able to participate in the process. The reforms carried out now were seen to be entirely dictated from on high," Scott said in her appraisal.

Rector to seek second term

Criticism came from every corner of the university. Even workers in top positions reported being somewhat disappointed and frustrated with the thorny realization of the government's saving plan and the concurrent requirements of the degree programme overhauls.

"It's important that everyone at the university has had the chance to be heard and deal with the experiences of the last few years. This way, our community can learn from what has transpired, and jointly move forward, beyond the reforms," says Rector Jukka Kola in a press release.

HS also features a second article on Kola, reporting that he plans to seek a second term as rector of the university. The paper notes that this is very rare. It has been decades since a rector has stayed on for a second five-year term, as most move on to assuming the chancellor's post.

The University of Helsinki has issued a press release about Scott's evaluation, but told HS that it has no plans to release the actual results of the study to the public.

Police hope to ban Nazi group

And finally this Thursday, we move out of the capital city area to the east, and the Karjalainen newspaper out of Joensuu. The paper looks at a district court trial in Tampere today considering whether to ban the neo-Nazi group Nordic Resistance Movement in Finland. Joensuu has more reason than many to follow the trial closely, as the North Karelian city has worked hard to quell violent skinhead activity and racism, which reached a high point in the 1990s.

The move to prohibit the white supremacist group's activities was submitted to the court last March by the National Police Board, who argue that the association can be lawfully abolished as its operating principles are in violation of the law and against good practices.

One of the central justifications the police board's solicitor presents is the group's approval and even rewarding of violent behaviour. KS writes that the board lists several recent arrests for violent behaviour and assault in the last few years. If the court decides to outlaw the group, it will be the first time something like this has happened in Finland since the 1970s.

The Nordic Resistance Movement has branches in Norway, Sweden and Finland. Its goal is to unite the Nordics into a single National Socialist state. The leader of the Swedish branch, Pär Öberg told the Finnish news service STT in 2015 that the group's ideology is founded on Adolf Hilter's version of Nazism. Öberg is scheduled to testify in the Pirkanmaa District Court on Friday.

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