Aleksanteri Institute Advisory Board Meeting 6 June, 2008

Advisors demanded for Dialogue in Russian Expertise

The new high-level advisory board of the Aleksanteri Institute convened for its annual meeting on Friday 6, June, 2008 to discuss the Institute’s strategies and challenges.
In his opening remarks Chairman Jaakko Iloniemi pointed to individual integration and institutional changes taking place in Russia, as well as steps toward liberalism made by President Dmitri Medvedev.

In assessing contemporary Russia’s intellectual challenges, Director Markku Kivinen argued for open dialogue and awareness of different scenarios: the India model with slow economic development and degradation, or the optimistic scenario towards economic diversification are both possible in the foreseeable future, as well as increasing patrimonialism. Society is underpinned by strong defence industry, and the level of inequality is high. Research communities must approach these issues by research programmes and policy implications. Theories of mega processes like democratisation do not explain what will happen in twenty years. Instead, Aleksanteri Institute will rather focus its research on concrete issues like structures and actors.

“Go Inside Russia”

Professor Arto Mustajoki encouraged researchers to do more fieldwork in Russia and build more on their field work in assessing what is going on instead of relying on second hand sources only. CEO and Russian energy market specialist Seppo Remes shared the view and pointed out that doing research inside Russia could make a special niche of Finnish Russian Studies. “We must understand different interest groups within Russian state policies, and we should target our studies also for the Russian audience. And one cannot understand Russian foreign policy without understanding Russian energy policy.”

Vice rector Oleg Kharkhordin pointed that decline in the funding of Russian and East European studies in most Western countries have raised the importance of the Finns. “Create a European player role; invest in sending European professors to Russia. Do not tell Russian decision makers what to do, create bridges first.” Raw data production prevails in Russian scientific institution; analysis is lacking. Development is sometimes discontinuous and dislinear. “We need more analysis about the education system in Russia, or what investments in nanotechnology have given”, mining counsellor Tor Bergman said.

Dialogue between actors was specially underlined in further discussion. Bridges to decision makers must be built and researchers should listen to their advisors. Alliances with other players, like the Södertörn College in Sweden, are vital. During the past twelve years, the Aleksanteri Institute has reached the point of 20 new doctors and 200 masters; now these resources must be used effectively.

Demand for the Finnish Centre of Expertise

“So far the university has been too reactive. There is no reason to be afraid of business influence. We need a dialogue between the actors, not only funding by the businesses,” Kivinen demanded. “The University must have specific strategies in different fields like government, economy, or civil society. The launching of the energy policy professorship is a vital example of building a new dialogue. “

To better meet the task of university’s third role, the University of Helsinki proposed to establish the Finnish Centre of Expertise in Russian studies. However, creation of FCE is pending in the Ministry of Education, because of launching of the new Aalto University. According to CEO Ilkka Herlin, if the State of Finland and SITRA invested in the FCE, the businesses would also join. “Go inside Russia”, Herlin demanded, and added that purely academic research cannot be funded by businesses. From academic researchers’ viewpoint, the FCE should prove useful in interacting between area studies and disciplines. The centre should be open for international competition, Professor Tuomas Forsberg commented. Several speakers noted the importance of language skills. The FCE should offer language studies for first year students, since e.g. lawyers with a working knowledge in Russian have good job opportunities.

Co-Funded Professorships – Steps in Dialogue

So far, several new professorships have been established within Russian studies. The Russian Energy professorship is co-funded by Porvoo City and Itä-Uudenmaan liitto as well as by companies Ensto and Fortum Oyj. Another one on Russian defence studies will be established jointly with the National Defence College. The University of Helsinki has funded professorships in Russian History and in Russian Philosophy.

Printable release (PDF)