rehtori puhuu vuosijuhlassa

Working together for a better future

The Finnish parliamentary elections are approaching fast – the election day is only a month away. At universities, we are worried about the future. Together with the Rectors’ Council of Finnish Universities UNIFI, the Finnish universities have created common goals for the Government Programme. We want to highlight that investment in universities is an investment for the future.

So what does this mean?

We see challenges but also opportunities in our future. Finland should be able to seize these opportunities, especially those created by green transition and digitalisation. We are already missing opportunities in Finland due to the shortage of skilled experts. If we cannot get more skilled experts to our professional life in the future, we will face a situation that not only stagnates Finland’s financial growth and productivity, but also our competitive ability and people’s well-being. We need to create sustainable growth in a productive way. To increase productivity, we must invest in top expertise, research, and innovations.

At universities, we are ready to make the most of these opportunities and do our part – to fulfil the mission given to us by society. However, to do this, we need resources. Not for ourselves, but for society and its well-being. In the next parliamentary term, universities’ core funding must be increased.

Investments in universities pay for themselves many times over, creating a virtuous circle that benefits us all.

We need top expertise to create common good. Towards the end of the decade, we will need to train hundreds, even a thousand new doctors for demanding RDI activities. This training must start now. Some of the RDI funding should be directed at training new talents. Over half of the RDI funding should be allocated to the recruitment and training of experts as the requirements for RDI activities continue to increase and the experts’ education level must rise at the same pace.

In RDI activities, the University of Turku must invest in regional collaboration. In the Turku region, we have active collaboration in research, development and innovation activities between different actors in business life. The University of Turku and other regional higher education institutions are closely involved in the collaboration  – actually, they are at the very heart of it. Each organisation conducts their own work as well as possible, on top of which the collaboration creates further opportunities and added value, leading in turn to increased competitiveness and well-being.

In the region, we have great examples of collaboration between different actors in business life, which brings resources and funding to the region. Funding can also be acquired so that a business applies for the funding and leads the project, and the university or higher education institution participates as a partner. This is the idea behind Business Finland’s funding model for leading companies, for instance. However, we also have a great deal of untapped potential in EU funding, both in research and RDI funding. So, let’s be active together.

One new approach could be the leading companies model where the universities provide a platform for large enterprises and small and medium-sized companies for solving national and global challenges.

These include, at least, climate change, biodiversity crisis, new energy solutions, challenges with social welfare and healthcare and their organisation, demographic and regional development, polarisation and inequality, and threats to democracy, also in Europe.

In addition to top-level expertise, we at universities are also worried about the current education level in Finland. At the same time as we have the greatest need for highly educated workforce among the OECD countries, the education level of young people in Finland has dropped under the average of the OECD countries. In other countries, the education level is rising.

This also has an impact on Finland’s crisis tolerance and resilience: high-quality research forms a basis for everything in terms of the security of supply in knowledge and competence. We must work out how to raise the education level so that half of young people graduate with a higher education degree – and how to attract international talents to Finland to fix our skills shortage and to keep them here as well.

In the Turku region, we are taking action to improve our ability to attract and keep the best experts and to increase competitiveness. For example, we have a joint UNICOM model funded by the European Social Fund which brings together international experts in the selected top fields in Southwest Finland. The goal is to meet the needs of the regional businesses for skilled experts.

As the elections are around the corner, we hope for a long-term and consistent science and education policy. Higher education needs a similar long-term parliamentary plan as the RDI activities. As it benefits us all that we educate experts, perhaps some of the funding for education could come from companies in the future?

We also have to consider that we need to uphold the acquired competence. It must be maintained, developed and supplemented. Changes can be big and fast and therefore their anticipation is difficult, as we have been forced to acknowledge in the last few years. Supplementing expertise – meaning continuous learning – will have a larger role in the future.

At universities, we have the latest knowledge and we have to make it flexibly available. This means supplementary studies and modules that do not lead to a degree. Continuous learning requires its own funding model, it cannot just be an additional task appointed to the universities. We share our knowledge gladly, but we need allocated resources to do so.

In addition to the universities’ common goals, the University of Turku has drafted its own goals for the Government Programme together with the Student Union. The goals highlight covering the universities’ funding deficit and protecting the Archipelago Sea. Despite the extensive public discussion on maritime research lately, our starting point is – and has always been – to secure maritime research and the Archipelago Sea in the future. This is also a national matter as well as a great example of a venture that requires collaboration on many different levels.

We want to communicate to decision-makers and our partners that the time to act is now. If we want to increase productivity, we need to ensure an adequate number of experts and raise the education level, and if we want to ensure that Finland remains as one of the most stable, free and happiest countries, we need to act now. We must look to the future together and set clear and ambitious goals. Only then can we turn the course of our economy, productivity, and proficiency.

Working together also applies to our University community. We need to remember how important our work is. All of us – and especially all of us together – are needed. When we work together, we are working towards a better future.

Jukka Kola

Rector of the University of Turku

Categories: Community, University


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