Rector Jari Niemelä of the University of Helsinki: The next government must invest in education and research

Rector Jari Niemelä believes that the educational mission of universities is particularly important today as we use the educational capital generated by universities to renew our society and increase welfare. Our educational capital also contributes to social peace. This is why funding for academic research and education is an investment in the future.

The funding cuts that have affected Finnish universities in recent years are undermining their capabilities and potential as well as threatening their ability to promote education and welfare. 

“Finland’s goal of increasing research resources to 4% of the gross national product is a worthy one. If this goal is achieved, the international competitive position of Finnish universities will improve and their ability to deliver expertise for the welfare of our society will be enhanced,” stated Jari Niemelä, rector of the University of Helsinki in his speech at the University’s 379th anniversary celebration.

The University community is currently waiting to see how funding will change after this April’s Finnish parliamentary elections.

“Our message to future decision-makers is loud and clear: universities must be allocated appropriate resources. From 2010, the funding allocated to the University of Helsinki has dropped by almost 30% compared to what it would have been without the cuts implemented – the freezing of the university index and the abolishment of the pharmacy compensation,” Niemelä said.

“The falling birth rate is not a sustainable argument for curtailing higher education or cutting its resources in the coming years. A population forecast shows that, taking the impact of immigration into account, the size of the current cohort of 21-year-olds will not decrease from current levels until 2036. The appeal of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area means that the number of young people is not likely to decrease in and around Helsinki even then,” Niemelä pointed out.

“The aim now is to increase the ratio of young people completing an academic degree from the current 40% to 50%. This goal will remain elusive if university resources continue to decline. If we do not wish to compromise on our education levels or the quality of our research, an increase in public core funding is imperative. It is the only way for us to compete on the international stage and provide welfare for Finland. I would like to stress that the next government must choose investment in education and research as one of its focus areas,” Niemelä said.

Rector Niemelä’s speech in full

Speech by Director General Susanna Pettersson of the Swedish Nationalmuseum at the University’s anniversary celebration