Mayor of Helsinki Jan Vapaavuori: The most functional city in the world needs a partner in the most functional university in the world

Universities and cities across the globe have always been important mutual partners. This also applies to the City of Helsinki and the University of Helsinki. Both benefit from each other’s success.

The interdependence of the university and the city is increased by global megatrends, above all urbanisation. This phenomenon turns cities into key actors in the global economy – clusters of people, a skilled workforce, creative thinking, and business and innovations. In other words, cities will become increasingly hospitable environments, also from the perspective of universities. On top of everything else, they offer fascinating and important problems for the academic community to solve, stimulating the birth of new ideas.

Through their second-to-none ability in creative and practical problem-solving, cities are future pioneers as solvers of the trickiest societal problems. What this requires from cities is flexibility, agility and regeneration, abilities that can only be based on knowledge.

For solving multidimensional problems, cities also need their cooperative networks, above all their academic communities, which can provide kindling and new knowledge for urban activities and development. Through the production of new information and skilled professionals, the University of Helsinki also promotes the establishment of a solid foundation for business in the City and the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. This is central from the perspective of both Helsinki’s attractiveness and ability for renewal. The city's competitive edge on the international stage also stems from high-quality institutions of higher education and highly educated people.

The above highlights the fact that a city cannot become the most functional city in the world without the most functional university in the world supporting it. Through its actions, the city can foster the university's success and development – and vice versa. Collaboration with the University of Helsinki and other higher education institutions in the metropolitan area is a strategic goal for Helsinki, as described in the City Strategy. A thriving university benefits the city – and vice versa.

Success for the University of Helsinki is also of national importance, as its achievements – much like the success of our capital – extend throughout the country. The University is faring well, often overwhelmingly outdoing other Finnish universities in various international rankings. Together with its higher education institutions, the Helsinki Metropolitan Area comprises a competence cluster – a unique critical mass of skills, resources and potential – with every opportunity to succeed in escalating international competition, thus benefiting the whole of Finland.

However, this potential and these strengths will only be realised if the region is developed by allocating sufficient resources and investment to science and the arts. Therefore, the next government should refrain from further chipping away at the capabilities of universities and cities through regional policy operations. A high level of education, the continuous development of skills and funding for higher education institutions and research are key to our success as a nation in the future. They are the foundation of our future welfare.

Today, the Royal Academy of Turku, relocated to Helsinki in 1828, is known as the University of Helsinki, but the collaboration between the University and the City dates back much farther, some 200 years. The University of Helsinki and the research and teaching conducted there have always been of great importance to the establishment of Finnish education and identity from the perspective of both the City and its residents. This will continue in the centuries to come.


Jan Vapaavuori
City of Helsinki

In the series Science Advocates, people describe the significance of research and research-based teaching for themselves. Read the other instalments on the Researchmatters website (scroll down).

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