Finland has an opportunity to bring research, education and innovations into focus in the EU

European universities have appealed to the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council to double the EU’s research, innovation and education budget in the next multiannual financial framework.

Negotiations concerning the budget of the European Union from 2021 to 2027 are currently ongoing. The League of European Research Universities LERU and twelve other European university associations have communicated broadly to decision-makers that the budget for research, innovation and education should be doubled in the next multiannual financial framework (MFF 2021–2027).

The budget of the European Union faces pressure from all sides: the effect of Brexit, for example, has been estimated at over €10 billion, in addition to which there is pressure to increase the budgetary allocations to defence and security, as well as the response to migration. There have been some positive signs for an increase in investments in research and education: Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, has expressed hope for doubling the research budget from the current €80 billion to €160 billion, estimating that this would create 650,000 jobs by 2040 and increase the bloc’s GDP by 0.5 per cent. At the same time, the EU would become a global leader in the field of research and innovations.

The union should invest in research and education, since the region’s success in the distribution of work on a global scale hinges on high-level expertise. Top-level research and a relevant research infrastructure will also attract international businesses to the region, thus creating jobs and increasing wellbeing.

Competition on the international scientific arena is toughening day by day. Conducting research has become increasingly challenging, requiring larger research groups and international recruitment. Domestic resources for keeping up with the competition are limited. Funding from Finnish sources alone is insufficient for advancing the quality and impact of research. Furthermore, as domestic funding is not being allocated to a sufficient number of internationally significant research areas, the importance of EU funding and the large-scale projects it enables grows.

Another reason for Finland to actively increase investments in research and education is our growing success in applying for funding granted by the European Research Council for high-level research: in 2017, for example, altogether €44 million in ERC funding was allocated to Finland. In the last decade, the ERC has granted €100 million to more than 60 projects at the University of Helsinki. This funding has enabled wide-ranging high-level research. I wish to particularly highlight the philosophical disciplines at the Faculty of Arts, where no fewer than four of our researchers are funded by the ERC.  Among Nordic universities, the University of Copenhagen is the only one with a better track record in applying for ERC funding than the University of Helsinki. According to assessments, over 70% of ERC-funded research leads to scientific breakthroughs and scientific progress.

From Finland’s perspective, the EU budget should be modernised to meet the challenges related to security and defence, but also to engender economic growth, as well as increase expertise and available jobs. Finland’s Minister of Finance Petteri Orpo has stated that contributions can also be increased, as long as resources are used in an increasingly effective and impactful manner.  As a rule, all funding provided by the EU must create concrete additional value. Giving an example of activities that generate such concrete additional value, Orpo mentioned research and innovation activities. This is a good starting point for finalising the EU’s next budget during Finland’s presidency of the Council of the EU in autumn 2019. We will be provided with a tangible opportunity to have a say in the budget and to improve the EU’s competitive edge with investments in research, education and innovation.


Writer: Jukka Kola, Rector of the University of Helsinki, Member to the LERU Board of Directors