Rector Sari Lindblom: Speech at the anniversary ceremony 26.3.2024

Mr Chancellor, dear members of the University community, invited guests and friends of the University! 


When asked to describe the current global circumstances, the first thing to come to mind for many is uncertainty. The concept of uncertainty recurs too often in the prospects for young people. Uncertainty also describes the feeling stemming from the current state of world politics, threats against democracy and a polarising culture of dialogue. 

The last few years have been a time of large-scale global crises. After the coronavirus years, war is being waged in Europe. Biodiversity loss and climate change continue to threaten our future, and people are uneasy about the growing global influence of artificial intelligence and tech giants. 

It is precisely circumstances like these where universities, science and research are needed – to replace uncertainty with hope, and to fill our minds not with bleak prospects but with optimism. 

The mission of universities and scholars is to carry out research and teaching to provide society with new knowledge and promote research-informed debate. This mission also includes bridge building between different views. 

Research has a unique role in predicting phenomena, investigating causalities and carrying out retrospective analyses. At their best, gathering data and conducting research help prevent future crises.  

In the face of conflicts and crises, researchers help decision-makers and the public understand what complex phenomena are all about. When everyone else in our fast-paced media environment is already turning their gaze from one storm to the next, researchers continue focusing on their work. 



Distinguished members of the audience, 

The University of Helsinki ranks among the top percentile of universities globally. We are a broad-based institution, ranging from the biological and natural sciences to the health sciences, the humanities and the social sciences. 

We are world leaders in fields including atmospheric science, the humanities, behavioural sciences and cancer research. Thanks to effective collaboration, our disciplines overcome the boundaries between fields.  

Of all the examples of this multidisciplinary approach, I will highlight here one in particular. In investigating and teaching matters of technological change, our computer scientists work with space physicists as well as specialists in medicine, law and the humanities. This collaboration is producing knowledge about the kind of technology needed in the future and ways to ensure that development is fair and sustainable for both people and the environment. 

I believe our comprehensive approach and interdisciplinary interaction are becoming increasingly significant, as we cannot be sure about the complicated national and global challenges future decades will bring. 

We do not know what the next crisis will be. Will it be an extreme natural phenomenon brought about by the climate crisis? Will it be a consequence of increasing inequalities and mental health problems? Or will it perhaps have to do with the economy, global migration, civil wars, the rise of populism or terrorism? We just do not know. 

What we do know is that all of this is currently being cooperatively investigated at the University of Helsinki with various parties. Instead of remaining within the University, research-based knowledge benefits the entire world. Knowing this engenders hope.  



Honoured guests, 

The impact of research requires interaction with parties outside the academic community as well. We are continuously tackling the above problems in collaboration with, among others, the HUS Group, government ministries, businesses and the global academic community.  

We provide not only our researchers, but also all others with tools for improving the provision of research knowledge in support of decision-making. A concrete example of our efforts with the power of knowledge – for the world is the recently published online course focused on the societal impact of research, the first of its kind in Finland. Available in Finnish and English, the course is free of charge and open to all. 

High-quality research, teaching and research-based innovation also require sufficient resources. In the coming weeks, the Finnish government will be making significant decisions on the central government spending limits for the next four years. My message to the negotiators is that investment in universities is an investment in the future. Without a solid knowledge base and a research framework, it will be difficult to continue building a sustainable and successful society capable of responding to future challenges and seizing coming opportunities. 


Dear listeners, 

Demands for consensus have increased year after year, and academic freedom is being undermined. It is not the duty of researchers to tell the public or decision-makers what they wish to hear. The topics of research and their scope are not decided by social media activists or politicians. Targeting and threatening researchers are not part of free democracy.  

In contrast, disagreement is a fundamental element of science and research. And yet, dissent is too often considered synonymous with slander and disparagement. Arguments based on facts and competing knowledge are not personal comments or threats. Our researchers can certainly cope with challenges based on research knowledge, but no one should have to put up with obscene comments for doing their job.  

Besides researchers, journalists and politicians also face increasing harassment. This is unacceptable. We cannot just ignore this trend, which has a loudmouth, but silent consequences. 

The increasingly harsh tone of public discussion has already resulted in researchers’ reducing their involvement in it. Hate speech weakens democracy and makes decision-making increasingly narrow. It also restricts the information and knowledge available in decision-making.  

As a university, we support our researchers who face harassment on social media, but that cannot be a long-term solution. The widespread use of such harassment is unacceptable. 

At the end of January, the European Parliament approved recommendations to the Commission on the promotion of academic freedom in the European Union. Among other things, the resolution urges Member States to respect and defend the freedom of scientific research. It requires increasing public awareness of the significance of this freedom through education, public outreach, and support for science journalism.  

The justifications are the same as highlighted by us as a university. According to the resolution, the erosion of the freedom of scientific research results in brain drain, caused by top researchers emigrating and academics self-censoring. It also reduces the critical analysis of social and political issues, interdisciplinary cooperation, public discourse, and debate. I hope this lucid message from the European Parliament will be heard loud and clear in the Finnish Parliament. 


Dear members of the University community, 

The importance of community is particularly great at a time when the world around us is unstable and our researchers are being attacked.  

Our 8,000 employees and more than 30,000 students make up Finland’s largest academic community, a major player even by European standards. 

In addition, our community of more than 50,000 alumni constitutes the largest network of experts in Finland. 


Distinguished members of the audience, 

In a community as large as ours, individual roles in fostering inclusivity are easily blurred. We are the community, every one of us. Each person’s engagement and commitment to maintaining the community and nurturing inclusivity are crucial to the staying power and wellbeing of our University community. 

The strengthening of community identity and solidarity have many positive implications. When everyone feels accepted and appreciated in the community, it boosts our mental wellbeing, motivation and commitment. A thriving and strong academic community is fertile ground for creativity and the production of new knowledge. 

I wish to maintain and build a strong, diverse and open academic community with you. I wish to promote the multidisciplinary resolution of societal problems together with our partners. I wish to encourage our researchers to engage in public discussion and promote the impact of science.  

This is the kind of community that Finland and the world need.  


Distinguished guests,  

Hope is a concept that can be used to describe what research-based knowledge can generate in these uncertain global circumstances. Each of us can contribute to hope becoming part of young people’s future outlooks, and hope is what our community radiates. 


I wish you a happy anniversary!