Lappeenranta Junior University – city and university implementing equal science education

Lappeenranta Junior University, or Uniori, is a joint implementation model of science education by the City of Lappeenranta and LUT University. Uniori got its start from the inspiring cooperation idea of LUT University and the top management of the City of Lappeenranta in 2017. From 2018 to 2021, Uniori has developed into a versatile continuum of general education from preschool to upper secondary school. This is thanks to the cooperation networks of LUT researchers, students and business partners, as well as teachers, pupils and principals from the City of Lappeenranta.

Uniori activities are strongly aimed at strengthening sustainable lifestyles and ecosocial education. Responsibility, moderation and an interpersonal approach are key values guiding the activities. Uniori supports all children and young people studying in the schools of the City of Lappeenranta equally towards applying for university studies while reinforcing hopefulness and a solution-oriented mindset among pupils.

Uniori activities, which are based on curricula approved by the decision-makers of the City of Lappeenranta, reach all of the city’s preschoolers, comprehensive school pupils on grades 3, 5 and 8, and upper secondary school students every year. 3,200 pupils, 200 teachers and more than 100 experts work on these important themes each year. All Uniori study modules are based on the strategic research priorities of LUT University, which include clean water, clean air, clean energy, circular economy, and sustainable business and entrepreneurship.

Creating an equal path of science education that reaches all age groups has required strong commitment at all levels of the university of science and municipal organisation. Top management and elected representatives have created a favourable framework for development work and ensured sufficient resources. The actual development work has taken place in diverse everyday development communities. Teachers, researchers, specialists and students in general education have been the drivers of the development work from the very beginning. All activities are carried out in genuine cooperation, utilising the strengths of the various actors.

Strong commitment to long-term cooperation has also secured sufficient operational resources from the basic funding of the university and the city. This has allowed uncertainties about business continuity and reliance on short-term project funding to be avoided. Operating models have been built to be cost-effective so that activities planned in “fat years” do not need to be reduced in “lean years”. Cost-effectiveness also involves keeping Uniori activities at an appropriate scale. Uniori themes for different age groups have been applied to the points of intersection of the City of Lappeenranta’s early childhood education, basic education and upper secondary school curricula, as well as the city’s strategy and the university’s strategic areas of strength. These themes are implemented with high quality on the principle of continuous development.

Ownership of Uniori processes clearly lies with the City of Lappeenranta’s educational services and especially the teachers, as they have been involved in developing implementations from the beginning. The role of the university is to act as a strong partner and provide its own expertise, as well as to ensure that science education is executed in a research-based way. The university’s role is natural, for example, in teacher training, planning of implementations and also in the practical arrangements of Uniori modules when activities are carried out on the university campus.

An important starting point for Uniori activities is the promotion of equality. The activities are not a privilege of the selected few. Education, science and research belong to everyone. By building a path to university on a long-term basis for the region’s children and young people, the aim is to secure a skilled workforce that is enthusiastic about the development of the region for the business community of South Karelia and the whole of Eastern Finland in the future as well.

The joint Uniori operating model of the City of Lappeenranta and LUT University has been granted the 2020 International Sustainable Campuses Network (ISCN) Award. The activities have also contributed to the City of Lappeenranta being granted the European Green Leaf Award title by the European Commission in 2021. However, the biggest reward for the development work has been the joyful efforts of pupils and teachers in everyday Uniori activities.

Uniori actors are very grateful to all partners and developers of the activities. It is amazing that we can learn and build a better world together – “Go with the science!”.

For more information, visit the Uniori-website and Youtube.

The authors are Principal, EdD Vesa Raasumaa from Sammonlahti School and Coordinator, MA Laura Jouhkimo from LUT University.
Raasumaa also serves as the principal responsible for Uniori activities in basic education.