Tallinn University Has a New Rector

TLU Rector Elections

Professor Tiit Land was elected to be the next Rector of Tallinn University (TLU) just a few hours ago, winning the close race with just by 7 votes (52:45).

I was part of the electoral body as a side effect of sitting on TLU’s Council (kuratoorium) since last November – by invitation of the current Rector Rein Raud with whom we were discussing some IT education related co-operation projects for years before. Not much did come of those at the time, but what I learned about his vision for and approach to building out what is the youngest and size-wise third university was intriguing enough to consider this invitation to participate an honor.

My involvement with TLU could look a bit surprising. After all it is definitely not the powerhouse of ICT education and research in Estonia with its ventures narrowly in computer science being quite inwardly focussed on using IT in Education. I am heavily involved in the Estonian IT education reform through sitting on the board of Estonian ICT Association with a focus on the workforce topics and that way also representing the industry in pushing the IT Academy initiative. Tartu University and Tallinn Technical University (the country’s #1 and #2 size-wise), along with Estonian IT College are the ones who need to drive and role-model that change, and they are in adequate dialogue with the industry too.

Where TLU comes in for me is the first part of the “man VS machine” formula of making any modern system work. As rector Raud loves to re-iterate, the number one employer of anthropologists in the world is Google. You just can not build perfect software before understanding how humans are built. How they behave, interact with each other and across cultures. It matters not only to systems built, but also to the teams building them – the practical examples of Skype’s Estonian engineers early experiences in dealing with Asian hardware partners over past 7 years can prove that all the knowledge in TLU’s oriental studies should be leveraged much further than just language studies.

When I look at the progress at TLU’s Baltic Film and Media School, the doctoral study topics of some of my friends at TLU, such as Daniel (researching virtuality) and Tarmo (superheroes) or my own wife’s masters-ventures that started from her research into the phenomenon of children’s blogs, it is clear that the school has come far from its narrowly pedagogy-oriented roots. I think Rein deserves a lot of credit for taking the school where it is.

My time invested to advising TLU could also have something to do with overall temptation to tinker with startups, disruptors and underdogs – which TLU could often be viewed as in local education market. However, I consider the notion of competition between higher education institutions in Estonia sheer nonsense – there is too little of everything (students, teachers, funding) here for that to succeed in the global, even regional marketplace. In order to win this game, to attract the best students and teachers and produce the best graduates and researches both Estonia and the world need, Estonian universities need to work together.

I hope the professor Land’s international background will be of help and I appreciated the co-operation oriented parts of his election program to bring TLU even closer with the other large schools in Estonia and abroad, complementing each-other with their strength. It is not either-or between Tartu and Tallinn, or technical and humanitarian schools. It is about making the best use of the diversity we get by combining the knowledge in all of them.