Rector Jari Niemelä: We should foster science, education and learning regardless of economic cycles

In his opening address marking the beginning of the academic year, Jari Niemelä, who recently became the rector of the University of Helsinki, emphasised the educational mission of universities.

“The educational capital generated by universities also enables us to improve our society’s wellbeing. Our mission of edification will only become more important in our increasingly complex and fast-paced society. I find it imperative that the University not only reflects on current social values, but also initiates discussion and sets the direction. However, discussion is not enough – we must also take action. Accordingly, the University of Helsinki wishes to be a pioneer in issues of equality and diversity,” Rector Niemelä stated in his opening address of the 2018–2019 academic year.

He also stressed the importance of the autonomous role of universities.

“The strengthening of the University requires that it is autonomous. We must remain vigilant to ensure that our autonomy is not eroded, so that we can continue to make our own decisions in the future. Only an autonomous university can direct its activities so that its research, education and public engagement become stronger for the benefit of learning and society at large. The principle of democracy is the cornerstone of decision-making at an autonomous university.”

Drawing on research to develop the education system

Rector Niemelä also noted that the welfare of a small country such as Finland depends on having a first-rate education system, from early childhood to higher education. It is important to ensure that early childhood, comprehensive and upper secondary education together provide an excellent basis for academic studies.

“I am especially concerned about the number of school drop-outs,” Niemelä said. “Adolescent boys, in particular, are at risk of being excluded from the education system. Up to one in five Finnish men aged 30 have completed no qualifications after comprehensive education. I would like to emphasize that the University of Helsinki continuously produces new research data on the different development stages of young people. Decision-makers should utilize the research in their educational planning.”

“As the rector of the University of Helsinki, I have a request for decision-makers: we need to develop a shared understanding of science, education and learning as areas in which we as a nation invest regardless of economic cycles. We need not only sufficient resources, but also the opportunity to engage in long-term development based on the specific needs of science and research. This is how we can produce the high-quality research and expertise that generate learning and wellbeing,” Niemelä pointed out.

Speech at the University’s opening ceremony, Rector Jari Niemelä, 3 September 2018

Elisa Hyytiäinen and Lauri Linna: Speech for the opening ceremony of the academic year at the University on 3 September 2018