Mr Chancellor, dear members and friends of the University community, dear excellencies,
In recent years, societies have faced major global crises. Following the coronavirus years, a war continues to be waged in Europe whose duration and eventual outcome remain uncertain. The summer has shown that the situation on the other side of our eastern border can change by the day. Unpredictable global circumstances have brought instability to the economy and new tensions to global politics. States are bolstering their own security arrangements while hybrid threats are increasing.
In many other aspects too, we are facing the unforeseen. We are hearing increasingly worrying messages on the progress of biodiversity loss and climate change. In a short period of time, the development of artificial intelligence has taken big strides forward and changed our everyday lives faster than we ever would have believed.
In Finland, the new government has commenced its work. As a result of the government negotiations, the direction of Finnish politics is changing markedly from the previous four years. The discussion on the values of our society has been heated.
Big and rapid changes and the difficulty of predicting the future provide fertile ground for uncertainty and even fear. If we do not know the causes of events and are unable to anticipate their consequences, it is easy to succumb to seeing only threats and potential loss around us.
Dear members of the University community,
At the University, we educate experts for an unknown future. Change and transformation are forces essential to driving us forward. Conducting research is about making discoveries, and knowledge is constantly regenerated. This is why the ability to act amid change is crucial.
Flexibility and the capacity for adaptation, or resilience, is a key ability for individuals, communities, and indeed entire societies. This ability cannot be passed on – it must be learned. The resilience of individuals is influenced by their motivation and skills in self-management. Another key factor is the experience of belonging to a community.
It is crucial that each of us feels they are a part of the University. In our diverse community there is no room for racism or other forms of discrimination. As individuals we belong to a faculty, a team, a student group, a course group, a student association – and all together we belong to the University of Helsinki.
Together, we make our University community resilient. As a community, we are only as strong as our ability to live through change and face the unknown challenges ahead of us. This requires everyone to help establish shared practices and ways of preparing for change.
In the two years of the coronavirus pandemic, university practices changed faster than they had done in decades. This demonstrated that good things too have come of the crisis, and that it has brought our community closer together. New ways of learning and teaching have come to stay. University teaching has become increasingly diverse, particularly through digital opportunities.
An essential part of building resilience is ensuring the wellbeing of the community. The coronavirus pandemic raised the demand especially for student wellbeing services. To ensure that no one is left on their own to deal with challenges, our investment in student guidance and wellbeing will continue to be systematic.
Societal resilience stems, among other things, from the understanding of equality that we have in our society. Through this understanding, we can accept change and see the opportunities it brings.
Global and national societal trends are the sum of complex factors and place great demands on university education. Tackling global sustainability challenges or laying down rules for artificial intelligence and other new modes of action that transform society requires long-term research and expertise, as well as the understanding engendered by such expertise. Solving complex global and local challenges requires many decision-makers and much collaboration and interdisciplinarity.
Skills in analytical and critical thinking and the ability to solve problems are the competencies we provide at universities. They are about identifying connections between things, recognising trends, understanding the whole and coming up with new ideas for solving problems. These skills are required on all levels of university education, from bachelor’s studies to doctoral education.
To look for solutions and increase our understanding of society, we at universities have the latest knowledge at our disposal. Universities are bringers of hope.
Our strategic plan places emphasis on advancing discipline-specific expertise, investing in top-level multidisciplinary and independent basic research, and consolidating collaboration between disciplines. We are part of the events taking place in society, creating the future through our actions.
One of our goals requiring a multidisciplinary approach is to be a leader in sustainability and responsibility. Our University is creating an increasingly sustainable society through research, teaching, public engagement and responsible everyday action at the University.
The University of Helsinki is a community the size of a mid-sized Finnish town, and so our practices matter both within and outside the University. We strive to become carbon neutral by 2030, and the related roadmap published in the spring introduced measures that all members of the University community can identify and personally promote for the achievement of our goal.
We also believe in innovations that generate sustainable growth. Our incubators bring students as well as researchers and innovators together with mentors and commercialisation specialists in the business world. The latest initiatives include Biosphere, which focuses on the bioeconomy and the circular economy, and Nexus, which boosts the potential of artificial intelligence.
Viikki Food Design Factory, an innovation ecosystem co-funded by the City of Helsinki, aims to transform the food system in a sustainable manner. The forest sciences are looking into the demand and operating model for establishing a similar innovation ecosystem known as Forest&WoodHub.
Nanoform, operational for just eight years, is one of the biggest success stories we have brought about through the commercialisation of research. The company utilises, in a unique way, drug candidates rejected in pharmaceutical research, making expensive and long-term drug research increasingly sustainable. Listed on the stock exchange three years ago, the company is now a global force in the field of pharmaceutical research.
Innovation is promoted on all campuses. We have bold talent and diverse expertise for putting research-based knowledge increasingly effectively into practice. Long-term multidisciplinary cooperation produces results that change the world.
In the summer, a new government was formed in Finland whose programme includes some decisions that are good for universities, and others that bring uncertainty about our future.
The government’s decision to adhere to the university index is vital to Finnish universities. Reliable core funding in the long term guarantees continuity in research and education. Also important for the future of Finland is the pledge to raise research and development expenditure to 4% of the gross national product by 2030.
Recently, there has been discussion on our University falling outside the top 100 in the Shanghai ranking of global universities. At the University of Helsinki, we think that returning to the top 100 with the very best of Nordic universities can only be achieved if researchers have internationally competitive resources at their disposal. This is why the planned annual RDI funding of €280 million should be emphatically allocated to the highest-quality research as well as to increasing the number of junior scholars and improving the support for their career paths.
Universities will also generate great benefits for society when additional funding for research and development is targeted at establishing innovation ecosystems around higher education institutions as well as to the universities’ commercialisation and business incubator operations.
At the moment, action on the part of the Finnish government to enhance the level of education and skills appears less certain. The increasingly strict immigration policy proposed has especially raised concerns in our community.
There are 2240 international degree students and 1675 staff members from international backgrounds at the University of Helsinki. Those arriving in Finland as students establish bonds with our society during their studies, making it easier for them to stay here after graduation. We are also one of the largest employers in the country, with a key role in the recruitment of international talent in Finland. We are therefore in constant dialogue with government ministries, striving to ensure that all our staff and students have the freedom to concentrate on their work.
Only by increasing skills and investing in them can Finland’s future success be guaranteed. This is why obstacles to entering, staying and legally residing in Finland must not be renewed and strengthened but dismantled with determination.
Dear members of our community,
For 383 years, the University of Helsinki has continued to work for the benefit of societies in the middle of war, political conflict and many other crises affecting us. This has required both having the capacity for change and remembering our origins.
The power of the community is always greater than the sum of its individual members. Today, the number of University community members and alumni amounts to no less than a quarter of a million. Being so many proponents of science and research, we are a strong force for societal change. This year too, we are working for the world – with the power of knowledge.
I wish you a great new academic year!