Joni influences important issues as a student representative of Haaga-Helia's board

Joni Lappalainen was elected as a new student member of Haaga-Helia's board in April 2023.What does the hard-working and motivated first-year IT student from Espoo think about board work and everyday life at Haaga-Helia? How does the University of Applied Sciences appear through the eyes of an active young student? This article is based on an interview in May 2023.

Nuori vaalea mies katsoo kameraan, taustalla tiiliseinää ja ikkunoita.
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Joni started his studies in the new Digital Business Innovations programme at the Porvoo campus in 2022. He could proceed swiftly in his studies: a year was compressed into half a year, which made it possible for him to transfer to the Pasila campus and also to be much closer to his home in Espoo.

Joni's path to study in Pasila was through a serious illness, which interrupted his studies and pushed him into rehabilitation. However, Joni made an excellent recovery from a brain surgery to control his epilepsy and decided to pursue a university degree.

Haaga-Helia was his absolute number one in the search for a study place because it is a renowned business school at home and abroad, and, in line with its strategy, it opens doors to the world of work with the best students' employment rates. Joni had also heard about the quality of IT studies at Haaga-Helia before he applied.

Active participation paved the way for a seat on the board

Joni has a strong background in advocacy and student engagement. In the past, he has been an active representative of the Finnish Epilepsy Association, for example, in a working group of Vamlas Foundation to discuss challenges related to accessibility and equality. The many and varied positions of trust in and out of the classroom have not eluded him. His history includes chairing a student association at secondary school, sitting on a vocational college examination board, being a member of the student housing foundation's delegation, a youth councillor, etc. Currently, Joni is the vice-president of the Student Union Helga. One can confidently say that he has the right background for board work, even though he has not previously had a seat on the board of a limited company.

Joni sees board work as an interesting challenge on a personal level and as a representative and link for students. In Joni's own words, he is a representative of all students. Naturally, he is particularly interested in the issues of students with special needs because of his own background. He feels that his role is to hear what the students have on their minds and to bring these messages to the board. He hears and listens to students' feelings in a variety of ways at different events, trainings, organisations, workshops and other student gatherings.

What issues are students wondering about now?

Joni sees that students have both national issues to discuss and ideas for improvement in their own university. In the big picture, the mental and physical well-being of students, livelihood issues and possible changes in education policy brought about by the new government programme. Livelihood challenges, for example, have forced many students to work long hours alongside their studies, which in turn eats into their free time, which again slows down their studies and can further challenge their ability to cope. The squirrel wheel is complete.

In Joni's opinion, Haaga-Helia has made a commendable contribution to well-being. Helga's new sports club has been positively received and the Zone sports pass is in active use. In particular, new students have also been strongly encouraged to take part in community activities, such as a book or games club, which is important for their mental well-being. You can find like-minded people in clubs, and the power of community helps you to cope when you might otherwise feel lonely.

There is room for improvement, particularly in terms of grouping open path and blended studies students, and in terms of small but big issues around equality, such as unisex toilets. There is also a growing demand for non-alcoholic alternatives to student parties as a general trend. The Haaga-Helia equality and non-discrimination plan is being updated and students would like to be actively involved in this, as there is still work to be done in the areas of accessibility and equality.

Strategy binds us together as a common resource

I asked Joni how students perceive Haaga-Helia's current strategy, which is one of the cornerstones of board work. Joni told me that the strategy is discussed. A particularly good element of the strategy is the reference to an "inspiring working community of students and staff"; this is perceived as binding us all as a common resource.

The students would like to see a strong emphasis on well-being and community and on responsibility in future versions of the strategy. A thriving and inspiring university culture, based on bold experimentation, innovative solutions and continuous learning and development for all, must be the foundation for action. Students believe that we should be development-oriented as a whole, always ready to evolve and seek new solutions; just like in the working life!

Finance is about sharing scarcity

Monitoring the finances as a part of board work has recently involved some sharing of scarcity. The financial model is not going to get any more accommodative any time soon, so various adjustments have been made along the way. An essential part of Haaga-Helia's funding is graduating on target schedule. Joni and students believe that the role of teaching staff and support services is critical to achieving this goal. Students have a premise that there should be no cutbacks in teaching staff and that students should receive the necessary support to enable them to graduate.

Instead, potential savings could be found by streamlining various processes related to the identification of competences, such as RPL, screening tests and work & study. On the other hand, a more efficient use of the 3AMK interface, for example in various basic courses, could also facilitate implementations in 3AMK institutions as well as graduation.

Haaga-Helia the most workplace-oriented higher education institution in Finland?

Finally, I asked Joni what he sees as Haaga-Helia's most important strengths to be nurtured and, on the other hand, the most important challenges for the coming years. The strengths he definitely considered to be topicality and relevance to the working life. He believes that we have the potential to be the most business-oriented higher education institution in Finland! At the same time, however, we should not forget traditional learning and the importance of theory and its internalisation.

The intense pressure to get students to move on, graduate and enter the world of work can be a challenge. The danger is that we build a factory where students go in and out. Teaching staff should also have realistic opportunities to undertake work placements themselves and to continuously develop their own skills to maintain relevance to the world of work.

Joni also sees targets for growth in RDI activities, external funding and education for sale as a challenge. He hopes that Haaga-Helia will profile itself as a responsible player. It is impossible to profile oneself as responsible if at the same time human responsibility and a human rights perspective are not implemented. Social justice, equality and responsibility are values that should not be traded. The project portfolio needs to grow and external funding needs to be increased, and that will require a lot of work, but sustainability must remain a guiding factor ahead of growth objectives.

Finally, we discussed at length various issues of responsibility and equality and some moral-philosophical perspectives on education. Equality, responsibility, social justice and accessibility are important to both of us. We all have a lot of work to do! We reflect on what we as Haaga-Helia want to support and what kind of a message we want to send to our stakeholders. On the other hand, what we want to support and what we are willing to do to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities to work. That's a lot of food for thought in many forums!

Contact the student member at Haaga-Helia's board

You can reach Joni Lappalainen by calling 045 648 3696 and per email at You can meet Joni at the Pasila campus. At Instagram he is _jonilappalainen.

UAS board

All 22 universities of applied sciences in Finland are limited liability companies that have to have a board. In accordance with the limited liability companies act, the board decides on the strategy, the main financial objectives, the operational and financial plans, the budget, and, as a speciality of universities of applied sciences, also on various management rules. According to Section 19 of the Universities of Applied Sciences Act (932/2014), the board of the UAS consists of one student member and one staff member, in addition to the members appointed by the shareholders.

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