Rehtori Jukka Kola piti avajaispuheensa etukäteen kuvatussa juhlalähetyksessä, joka julkaistiin 8.9.

Trust in science should not waver

Our everyday life and activities have been tested, but we have also learned a great deal. The exceptional times we have experienced have highlighted the importance of a strong community – which has already been one of our main emphases. Prolonged remote studying and work have taken their toll on many, while to some the new ways of participating and working have also offered desired flexibility.

As a university community, we start the rebuilding of our communality and everyday life at the beginning of the new academic year. The most important goal is to restore students’ social contacts and safe physical communality. We know that being part of the student community and the entire University is important for the progress of studies and students’ well-being. We try to organise as much contact teaching as possible for all students. The well-being of the entire University community has to be the basis for everything, because only as long as we are feeling well can we successfully carry out our main missions of research and education – we proactively foster both well-being and a sustainable future in accordance with our vision.

More extensively from a societal perspective, universities and higher education institutions have a significant role in maintaining and increasing well-being. And that is how it should be – trust in science should not waver when we are confronted with questions related to the future of humankind and the entire planet.  Knowledge based on scientific research is needed now more than ever, which has also been demonstrated by the pandemic. Universities’ role in producing information and competence as well as in upholding creative and critical thinking and learning is highlighted amid changes.

In addition, the competitiveness that is crucial for Finland’s well-being is based on expertise, research, and innovations. However, we have clearly fallen behind in research and development investments when compared with other Nordic countries, for instance. At the University, this is evident in our everyday activities.

Without proper research funding, there cannot be strong RDI activities. It is a viscous circle that inevitably undermines the quality of research and through this its impact. Furthermore, the cuts are an unpleasant signal to early career researchers, create an even more uncertain image of the position of science and research in Finland, and weaken our international competitiveness.

The universities’ stance is that if the RDI investments are to be increased to four percent by 2030, the planned cuts to the research funding of the Academy of Finland should be revoked. In order to succeed in increasing the RDI investments to four percent by 2030, consistent and long-term operations spanning different governments have to be ensured in the next few years. Here, I wish to present the five main principles drafted by higher education institutions and organisations which strengthen science as well as research and investment activities and ensure that Finland will thrive.

Firstly and most importantly, stable and predictable funding must be guaranteed for research. Internationally high-quality scientific research creates prerequisites for the impact of researched information and for the entire RDI field. Top researchers, students, and research-intensive companies gravitate towards first-rate research groups, best research infrastructures, and excellent prerequisites for conducting research. This is important to us also regionally: a strong university strengthens the region’s international attraction.

Secondly, Finland has to invest in a strong and versatile research, development, and innovation system so that we can produce research, innovations, and experts for the needs of professional life and society. The regional RDI ecosystems are in a key position in this as well.

Thirdly, a shortage of experts cannot become a bottleneck in sustainable growth and well-being. High-quality education on all degree levels is based on researched information and pedagogic development. RDI activities, increasing degree numbers, and continuous learning form a wider picture whose parts cannot compete for resources among themselves. It is important that we at the universities can train teachers, research learning, and develop education. We also have an important role in supplementing previously acquired competence by offering, for instance, sought-after specialist training in different fields.

Fourthly, Finnish higher education institutions and organisations state that research, development, and innovation policy and funding must emphasise quality and enable different kinds of research avenues. The best solutions and important fields are not known in advance by the public funders and political decision-makers. The University of Turku is an extensively multidisciplinary university. We need opportunities to create groundbreaking combinations and new initiatives. This work is conducted in our strategic research and education profiles that promote sustainable development, decision-making based on researched information, global educational services, and other impact of research in society.

The fifth principle concerns funding instruments and RDI policies which have to support the versatile partnerships in the RDI network: collaboration has to be possible with both SMEs and global companies. RDI actors should be intensively included in the preparation of these instruments and policies. Our goal is to work with our partners in an even more long-term and goal-oriented manner. Collaboration is the most versatile and profound with our strategic partners, Bayer and Meyer, but we follow the same principles in all our partnerships. True impact requires that research results are put into practice. Partnerships generate conditions for creating and commercialising new innovations as well as for the development of business activities.

I previously stated that top researchers, students, and research-intensive companies gravitate towards first-rate research groups, best research infrastructures, and excellent prerequisites for conducting research. This applies to both Finland as a country and us as a university. We need resources so that we can constantly develop as an internationally interesting partner and an inviting place to conduct research. We also need the ability to keep our best experts. In this, the regional collaboration, for example, with the City of Turku, other higher education institutions, employers, and business life is extremely important.

I also wish to highlight the importance of mobility in this context. That is, we must not forget how important it is that the members of university communities and society venture abroad to create new networks and have an impact on how attractive Finland and Turku as well as the Finnish universities and the University of Turku are seen. The competition for the best experts is fierce and we have to work harder and better than the more well-known countries, cities, and universities. If we do not have mobility, I do not believe that we can have the ability to attract or keep the best experts.

We have many great things to offer: inspiration, broad-mindedness, top expertise, a strong university community, and close regional collaboration – we can be proud and happy of what we are capable of. Let’s show our strengths to the world.

I wish you all an exciting and inspiring new academic year!

Jukka Kola

The writer is the Rector of the University of Turku. 

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