Prime Minister's former aide arranged Microsoft donation to Finnish schools
Mikko Alkio, the new State Secretary at the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, who had previously served as aide to Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre), was a key instigator of a donation from Microsoft of computer software to Finnish schools.
Alkio was still working as manager for information society relations at Microsoft a couple of weeks ago when Prime Minister Vanhanen visited the United States.
During his US visit, Vanhanen met with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who promised Finnish schools a free package of the Windows Live@edu service platform.
"A request came from the Prime Minister to meet Gates. We helped him do that. During preparations for the meeting, it we examined whether or not this gift might be made public at the same time", Alkio says.
Vanhanen received the gift while in the United States, saying that it corresponded to Finnish goals with respect to the information society.
He immediately came under severe criticism in Finland, with critics saying that the software, supported by the Ministry of Education and promoted by the Prime Minister, restricts competition, and binds schools to Microsoft products.
"I cannot comment on whether or not it was easy or difficult to get permission. I can also not say how the Prime Minister reached his decision", Alkio says.
Microsoft Finland CEO Ari Rahkonen says that the proposal to promote Live@edu software to Finnish schools was his idea. Microsoft had already discussed the matter with individual schools, and the meeting between Vanhanen and Gates brought the project "a certain amount" of additional visibility.
In the previous Parliamentary term Alkio worked as an economic affairs advisor in Vanhanen's cabinet.
Alkio moved to Microsoft in April last year, after failing in his bid to get elected to Parliament on the Centre Party ticket.
In mid-January Alkio joined the staff of Minister of Economic Affairs Mauri Pekkarinen (Centre).
He does not feel that the gift received by Vanhanen poses any problems.
"It is not necessarily a donation. It is simply technology that is offered to Finnish schools - not a simple gift package. I don't know how much further work it requires at the schools. The basic question is that it is also possible to turn it down", Alkio says.
He also sees no problems related to the recent sudden changes in his own career.
"On the contrary, I would hope that there would be more movement between the private and public sectors. This can be twisted to take on all kinds of appearances."
Minister of Education Sari Sarkomaa (Nat. Coalition Party) is aware of the problems linked with the gift from Bill Gates. She notes that schools can decide themselves what kinds of systems to acquire.
"Under no circumstances is there an idea to tell schools to use a single company", Sarkomaa insists.
She adds that decisions on software acquisition by schools are not a matter for the Ministry of Education. She could not yet say if the ministry will provide information to organisers of education on the possible hidden costs linked with the Live@edu software package.
"It is clear that we have to hold discussions on this and to make sure that educational institutions have all possible information for making decisions."
Previously in HS International Edition:
Bill Gates promises Finnish schools will get free use of new service platform (18.1.2008)