Rector Jari Niemelä: Negotiation result provides a solid basis for education and research

Government parties have published the negotiation result for the government programme. The end result is well-balanced with regard to both education and research and provides good tools for developing Finland into a forerunner in expertise.

We at the University of Helsinki have emphasised that the entire chain of upbringing and education has to be looked after: as the government programme states, we need both to rectify the funding for universities and to ensure that more young people graduate from secondary education as well as to secure investments in high-quality early education and basic and pre-primary education.

Another perspective is the development of Finland as a research and innovation environment. There are positive entries in the programme on this, too: the international competitiveness and attractiveness of the Finnish research and science community will be consolidated, for example, by investing in research environments and research infrastructures.

From the University of Helsinki’s point of view, it is important that we can now have more confidence in the future; in recent years we have saved and made cutbacks on everything possible. Cuts made by the previous government decreased our annual funding by approximately €40 million due to reductions to the university index and pharmacy compensation.

Based on the negotiation results, that is to say the commitment to the university index and the annual increase of €40 million to the funding of universities, our funding situation would improve significantly provided that the increase is distributed according to the financing model of the Ministry of Education and Culture and is allocated for performing existing duties. This would be good news, since it would mean that we could continue providing teaching and conducting research to the current extent.

We have highlighted the utilisation of research in decision-making with new structures and by increased interaction. It is good to see that the new government has committed to knowledge-based policy-making and wants to increase cooperation with the scientific community. This sends an important message.

The powerful entries in the government programme related to climate policies, building a carbon-neutral society in a socially just manner, safeguarding biodiversity and reforming social security all need to be supported by research. The University of Helsinki wants to participate closely in producing this kind of expertise. The realisation of social, regional and linguistic equality in higher education is an important goal to which we want to contribute also through research.

Separating science from the duties of the Minister of Education into a post of a Minister of Science and Culture is an interesting decision and is likely an indication of the significance of science to the government.

The government programme promises to significantly increase student intake in higher education in order to raise the educational level and mitigate the applicant backlog and skills gap. This is an important goal. At the same time we must take into account that increasing intake requires additional resources.

Developing the higher education study offering in a platform-like direction where students can flexibly select studies from the offerings of all the higher education institutions in Finland is a commendable initiative. The University of Helsinki is happy to participate in this work and we already have evidence supporting this kind of approach, for example, in the form of the Elements of AI course.

The government aims to increase RDI investments to 4% by 2030 and to develop Finland into the world’s best innovation and experimentation environment and intends to allocate both permanent and one-off investments to achieve this goal. We at the University of Helsinki have felt that the New Business from Research Ideas funding by Business Finland that aims to commercialise research is a well-functioning mechanism which should be developed further.

It is gratifying to see that the new government wishes to introduce making European education and research the best in the world as EU’s strategic goal and outlines that Finland will support the significant increase of funding for Horizon Europe and Erasmus+ programmes. A network-like European super university is an interesting idea and we are pleased to participate in promoting the idea.

We have also introduced measures to not only attract international experts and their families to Finland but also to help them find employment and stay in our country. An action plan to improve the employment of international degree students is needed and we want to make a strong contribution to this work.

It is important that Finland and Finnish higher education institutions consolidate their global responsibility. Consequently, we are pleased that according to the government programme, Finland will draw up an Africa strategy based on Agenda 2030 which will ensure the coherence of Finnish policies towards Africa. Research and education will play a major role in this strategy.

We are extensively engaged in cooperation with the City of Helsinki and this work will attain an even deeper dimension when separate programmes on strategic allocation of RDI funding between university cities are established to strengthen globally competitive ecosystems.

It is also important that the government programme aims to consolidate competence clusters of higher education institutions, research institutes and enterprises operating across Finland.

I would also personally like to highlight the significant increase of funding for nature conservation as a positive development.  The operating preconditions of the national IPBES panel will be ensured while its role as an independent scientific expert body will be strengthened and the necessary resources will be allocated to it.

Thank you to all the participants in the government negotiations; this is a good place from which to continue forwards in our cooperation.

Programme of Prime Minister Antti Rinne's Government
(see especially chapter 3.7: "Finland that promotes competence, education, culture and innovation")

Rector Jari Niemelä
University of Helsinki