| 16.11.2020

40 Years of Hanken in Vaasa – “A gem in two locations”

Sören Kock
Political discussions about whether to merge Hanken in Vaasa with Åbo Akademi University or with the University of Vaasa have been ongoing ever since Hanken in Vaasa was established in 1980. Today Sören Kock, dean and rector’s representative in Vaasa, sees the possibility of Hanken in Vaasa remaining as Hanken in a positive light. “I find it fascinating that a Triple-Crown accredited university manages to operate in two locations,” Kock remarks.

Stepping through the gates of Hanken in Vaasa, one is reminded of its history. The Tiklas property in central Vaasa was until 1960 a textile factory; among other products it manufactured the textiles used in the popular Finnish maternity packages (baby clothes and other products distributed to every Finnish newborn). The industrial interior of the factory has changed over the years, and today the premises can boast the latest that our information society has to offer.

At Hanken in Vaasa you can study the same subjects as at Hanken in Helsinki, and the departments are the same:  Finance and Economics, Management and Organisation, Marketing, Accounting and Commercial Law. There is, however, a difference between the units: the city of Vaasa has a strong manufacturing industry lacking in many other cities in Finland. The context in  Helsinki is more focused on service , Sören Kock points out.

“Vaasa has Wärtsilä producing diesel engines, ABB produces electrical motors and Danfoss produces frequency generators.”

There is one more difference of note between the two cities.

“When students here decide to work outside of Ostrobothnia, the first alternative doesn’t have to be Helsinki, it might just as well be Stockholm or some other place even further away.”

Many rounds of merger discussions

The need for a mercantile education in Swedish in Ostrobothnia was first actively discussed in the 1960’s.

“There was a student potential here, but if you wanted to study trade and business in Swedish you had to do it in Helsinki or Turku. Sweden was also an alternative then as well, and once the University in Umeå was established in 1965, many students chose to go there for their studies,” Kock explains.

A task force was appointed to expedite the establishing of Hanken in Vaasa; it consisted of Lars Erik Taxell from Åbo Akademi University and Lars Wahlbeck from Hanken.

“Their proposal”, continues Kock, “was that students begin their studies in Vaasa and after two years move to Helsinki or Turku. However, nothing came of that as agreement couldn’t be reached as to how to divide the students between Helsinki and Turku after the initial two-year period in Vaasa.”

During the next 20 years the discussions continued with new committees, proposals and political involvement. The main proposal, according to Kock, involved moving the School of Business and Economics at Åbo Akademi University to Vaasa; Åbo Akademi University was not, however, in favour of giving up its Business School. Finally, in 1980 Hanken opened its own branch in Vaasa and two years later Hanken in Vaasa moved to its present location. The discussions between Åbo Akademi University and Hanken continued and for a period, Österbottens högskola saw the light of day.

“Österbottens högskola coordinated the activities in Vaasa to a certain degree. What was first noted was that the two universities had a common telephone exchange.”

Kock doesn’t regard it as realistic today for Hanken in Vaasa to merge with another university, as Hanken is already a university – working in two different locations. And Hanken with its accreditations is something of a rare gem in Finland, says Kock.

Business studies in the wake of school fatigue

Kock himself is the first student to have completed both his master’s degree and his doctorate at Hanken in Vaasa – where he began studying purely by chance.

“I was really tired of school and studying after completing comprehensive school, so I didn’t go on to upper secondary school. I worked a little and then I decided to do my military service as a cannoneer at The Nyland Brigade. After that I studied trade and commerce at the business school in Vaasa.”

During Kock’s final year, one of his friends turned up with an application form to Hanken.

“I asked him to get me one too. And here I still am.”

Kock became interested in research examining how businesses that are in fact competitors can work together, not having the necessary resources to cope on their own. As a doctoral student and ultimately as a researcher, Kock has visited many universities from Uppsala to Stanford, and most recently The University of Otago in New Zealand.

There have been many changes at Hanken in Vaasa throughout the years – individual grades for courses are, for instance, no longer made public on the notice boards, something that Kock found motivating when he himself was a student. Today’s students are motivated by other things, but the desire for good grades hasn’t disappeared.

“Hanken in Vaasa plays an incredibly important role in business life and in society in general. Our alumni can be found in almost all the enterprises in Ostrobothnia, and have given many of these businesses a push forward. Ostrobothnia with Vaasa at the forefront is one of the most productive and most international business areas in Finland.”

Kock mentions EnergyVaasa, one of the largest clusters in the Nordic countries with its 160 companies.
“Vaasa is the natural location for an internationally oriented, Triple-Crown accredited school of economics. In this context, we can contribute with our know-how and our relevance,” Kock concludes.

Text: Maria Svanström

Foto: Linus Lindholm