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Anita Lehikoinen

Anita Irmeli Lehikoinen
Born April 27, 1959, Riihimäki

MA 1987 (English Philology), University of Helsinki

Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC), 2013-
Director general at the Department for Higher Education and Science Policy in the MEC, 2012–2013
Various duties with higher education and science policy in the MEC, 1989-
English teacher, both hourly and at adult education centres, while attending university

Author of multiple national and international MEC working group reports

Written by Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta
Translated by Joe McVeigh

Head of Civil Societal Activities

While studying at the University of Helsinki Anita Lehikoinen taught English at a vocational training centre and worked as a salesclerk at Marimekko, a chain of Finnish fashion stores.

– Teaching was kind of a “job trap,” because at the time being a part-time teacher paid very well. The money alone made it tempting. Fortunately I never felt like teaching was something I would want to do for the rest of my life and dared to make some bold choices with my minors.

When Lehikoinen graduated with a Master’s Degree she was working at the Ministry of Employment and in 1989 she moved to the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC).

– The centre of international internship program was at the time located at the Ministry of Education and Culture, and later moved under CIMO. It was an endlessly fascinating time when Finland genuinely began to internationalise and we took part in Western European integration.

Already back then the MEC was thinking of ways to make Finnish universities more attractive to international students.

– Sometimes it feels funny that we are still thinking about the same thing, though internationalisation has of course progressed by leaps and bounds.

At the beginning, Lehikoinen’s work consisted partly of mundane tasks, but over time her responsibilities grew. She had the opportunity to be involved in international higher education and science policy on a wider scale. After several temporary positions she found permanent employment at the MEC in the mid-1990s.

– The 1990s was truly a fascinating time from the point of view of internationalisation. It was then that an international aspect became a part of higher education policy. At that point it no longer seemed possible that we could make decisions here without considering the international context when it came to both teaching and research. It was new and ground-breaking.

It was the intertwining of research and politics in the wake of European integration that was of particular interest to Lehikoinen. Closer international connections on multiple levels also helped to develop higher education and the collaboration between the MEC and the universities.

Today Anita Lehikoinen is the Permanent Secretary of the MEC. She enjoys her work and the vantage point it provides her.

– This position gives you a perspective on higher education and science policy that really allows you to influence matters. And that is important, because all the fields under the MEC affect the entire society. Correspondingly we have to show interest and awareness towards the activities of other ministries.

As the Permanent Secretary her days are filled with meetings and the ministry’s internal issues. The ministry has a staff of almost 300 and there are several departments and institutions under it. The field of higher education is diverse and their institutions enjoy considerable autonomy.

– Collaboration between stakeholders is continuously expanding. My ministry deals with issues from infancy to retirement and even beyond, because ecclesiastical matters are also within the sphere of the MEC and therefore so are things like funeral services. In addition to teaching and research there is culture, art and physical education, or all the aspects of a civil society.

Lehikoinen was instrumental in bringing about the university reform through which the new university law came into effect in 2009. The reform was a significant endeavour that was achieved through collaboration by several parties.

– With the university reform the pieces finally fell into place. In addition to general pressure for reform there was a desire for change on the academic side of the equation, political expediency and business support. Even with all these coming together it was not easy to push the reform through, but without a wide range of interest groups and public discourse it would have been impossible.

The Permanent Secretary has a large role in drafting political propositions and in their implementation. The current state of public sector finances, as well as the savings and structural reforms required to balance the budget, are constant themes in her work.

– A new election term is a dazzling experience. As a legislative period comes to a close we go through the large projects we have completed and then we prepare for the future. When the new government drafts a policy statement I have an advisory role in determining what the best methods are in achieving social change and various political goals.

When a new election term begins Lehikoinen is responsible for acquainting new ministers with all the activities under the MEC. The variety in her work is what keeps her motivated.

– I enjoy being able to work with people smarter than myself. I also have a personal appreciation for all the fields under our ministry—they hold great significance to me. Something new is constantly being created within them, so I get to meet people who are wise, creative and able to think critically of what has come before them. Wide international co-operation and interaction between different actors in civil society and different governmental branches constantly teach you something new.

Lehikoinen keeps any potential stress in check with her hobbies, which are literature and theatre in particular. Her family unit, which has become international through the foreign spouses of her sons, has brought a new kind of joy to her life, not least because of her granddaughter.

Over the years she has also come to tolerate the fact that there is not enough time for everything. On the other hand excitement and interest towards her work and the possibility of learning something new light a fire under her:

– Sometimes I don’t even notice I am at work. Often participating in the MEC seminars and other events does not feel like work, because I get so much from meeting new people and encountering new ideas.

There are not many opportunities for action-packed photographs when on the job. You either stand and talk or sit and listen. Influence and be influenced.


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