Rector Jari Niemelä: “Funding science and research is part of ensuring our country’s security of supply”

In his speech delivered at the opening of the new academic year on 6 September, Rector Jari Niemelä of the University of Helsinki highlighted the significance of research-based knowledge in resolving the climate crisis as well as pandemics.

This summer, the effects of the climate crisis on humans and the rest of the natural world were tangible: the month of June was the hottest ever recorded in Finland, hundreds of people died in floods in Japan and Europe, and heat laid waste to the preconditions of life all across the globe.

Climate change and the related biodiversity loss are a wicked pair – two factors feeding on each other.

“This wicked pair also affects our common health that is shared by the entire natural world and humanity, with the coronavirus crisis as an example of our common health being disturbed. We are all one – and we have no time to quarrel,” says Rector Jari Niemelä.

Niemelä points out that research and education based on research are needed to resolve the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, as well as pandemics.

“This year, the power of research has personally touched most of us. Drug therapies, diagnostics and vaccines associated with coronavirus have also been developed at the University of Helsinki. The pandemic has considerable effects on health, society, psychology and the economy, which research helps to understand,” he says.

Niemelä also points out that world-class research requires sufficient funding.

“No one can predict what kind of research will benefit society in the future. Funding multidisciplinary research based on an inquisitive mindset is an element of ensuring our country’s security of supply. Raising the level of research, development and innovation funding guarantees our continued success as a nation,” he adds.

Concrete measures to increase the accessibility of higher education

In the summer the Ministry of Education and Culture released an extensive report on the accessibility of higher education and universities in Finland. Rector Niemelä notes that the first step in improving accessibility and creating an increasingly diverse community is increasing awareness.

“Active efforts are ongoing at the University to promote cultural awareness. Inclusion training targeted at the University community, teachers and researchers in particular, will be introduced at our University this autumn. This training will provide tools that will help us take into account in our work and studies people’s cultural and class backgrounds, language, gender and functional capacity,” Niemelä says.

Niemelä believes that, from the perspective of regional accessibility to higher education, additional student places should be allocated to regions in proportion to the number of their general upper secondary school graduates.

“While roughly one-third of the matriculation examinations completed in Finland are completed in the Uusimaa region, only 29% of the student places available in Finnish universities are allocated here. The number of student places in the region must be substantially increased,” he concludes.


Rector Jari Niemelä’s speech at the opening ceremony of the academic year, 6 September 2021:

Speech by  Jukka Hoffrén, chair of the Docents’ Association of the University of Helsinki, at the opening ceremony of the academic year, 6 September 2021

Speech by  Jessika Isomeri, chair of the board of the Student Union of the University of Helsinki, at the opening ceremony of the academic year, 6 September 2021