What Determines the Success of a University?

Academician Sirpa Jalkanen

There are several global ranking systems for universities. The University of Turku is doing pretty well in these rankings percentagewise but there are about 400-500 universities to win for reaching the top. Can the University of Turku ever get there? Highly unlikely, I say, while hoping to be severely wrong. A university is as good as its people: successful scientists make marked discoveries and the best teachers provide the next generation with professional knowledge and make it ready for different duties in society. Administration, on the other hand, should make all the effort to avoid unnecessary formalities and form fillings, which in fact too often just take time from the ‘real work’ and do not get us any closer to the top universities.

How should the best people be attracted to build a shining future for the University of Turku? Could it be the climate? Despite climate warming and a lack of earthquakes, hurricanes and extensive flooding our climate is not a bestselling item in this game, although the dark season of the year provides a great opportunity to concentrate on the work. Moreover, the beautiful nature with fresh air offers a great possibility to relax, if the scientist sometimes happens to have free time. What about the salary? Most scientists I know do not really care about big money. It is fine, if the salary covers reasonable living costs.  That we can offer, but unfortunately many times only for a limited period. This, of course, increases insecurity and may make the top candidates select a choice with a possibility for a tenure track or equivalent. What about research money? This is fundamental for a scientist to succeed or even survive in a competitive world. As important is access to a modern infrastructure with core facilities, many of which are run by professional operators.

The Turku Collegium for Science and Medicine has existed almost for eleven years and served as a channel to recruit the best applicants to the University. We on the collegium board have been satisfied with the success of collegium scientists, as we can thus congratulate ourselves for selecting the right scientists from the highly competitive calls. A new call is opening shortly. Regarding the attractions listed above, we are not able to change the climate, there is very little we can do for salaries and the research money we can give is minor. However, the University offers great infrastructure, including most modern equipment, and enough critical mass in term of knowledgeable scientists in most areas in this multidisciplinary community. The late Professor of Medical Biochemistry, Eino Kulonen once said: ‘Excellent work will always find financing’. My long experience in science has shown that he was absolutely right.

Sirpa Jalkanen
Professor, Chair of the TCSM Board

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