Professor Markku Kivinen has acted as director of the Aleksanteri Institute since its founding in 1996. Under his time, the institute has grown from a handful of determined scholars into an international, multidisciplinary unit of more than 50 people. The ethos of growth and diversity has continued as a driving force to this day. Markku Kangaspuro joined the institute in 1998 as coordinator of the research programme in Russian and East European Studies. After finishing his PhD, he worked as an Academy of Finland post-doctoral fellow and researcher until taking up the position of research director in 2009 and vice director in 2010.
How does Markku Kangaspuro see the present and future of the Aleksanteri Institute at this point?
— The future looks bright. We have successfully overcome the stormiest times, including the massive lay-offs at the University of Helsinki and the reorganisation that followed. We have re-defined our role and special duties as an independent research institute affiliated with the Faculty of Arts and as a national actor. During the current academic year, we have established several new professorships and recruited some very talented people. The prospects for research funding are looking good.
— We are almost ready with the new research policy plan that has been crafted in thematically organised working groups of researchers. The new plan places Russia firmly in the context of global challenges. Once all the pieces have found their place, we will have a research policy that not only reflects the current situation in Russian and Eastern European research but also points us towards the important challenges that lie in the future.
Research lies at the heart of the Aleksanteri institute but it is by far not the only important task of the multidisciplinary unit. The role of a national coordinator in graduate and undergraduate studies in the field has been central from the beginning.
— Study programmes continue to be of crucial importance. The network of twelve Finnish universities produces a great number of courses that we coordinate through the ExpREES programme (previously known as the Master’s Programme). This programme has for 20 years produced outstanding results both in the number of graduates and the level of the post-graduate theses. Student satisfaction surveys also show that we are on the right track here. The East Central European, Balkan and Baltic Studies programme and Ukrainian studies became readily available for a larger student base after we joined the faculty.
— What’s new is that from the autumn of 2018 we will have an international Master’s Programme in Russian Studies, one of the first international Master’s programmes at the University of Helsinki. Another fresh initiative is the evolution of our nationwide doctoral school into an international FRRESH programme with the support of the Kone Foundation. The foundation also supports our growing cooperation with the European University in St. Petersburg, whose PhD students have greatly suffered from the restrictions the university has faced lately.
Global networks strengthen domestic cooperation
Despite the growing role of international networks, the institute’s strength lies in national cooperation. It is guided by an executive board whose members represent universities all over Finland as well as relevant ministries and other domestic bodies.
— This is crucial for understanding the situation of the field in general: what the needs and resources are and how can we improve things. The advisory board is also important in this respect. It is a channel through which we can reach wider society outside academia.
The Aleksanteri Institute is known for its active approach to societal interaction via both briefing key political, administrative and business actors, and providing research-based insights to the wider public. Kangaspuro encourages his colleagues to take up the chances offered by the media and the organisers of public seminars.
— The combined expertise of our staff stretches from Serbian rap music to Central Asian migrant workers and Russian security policy. It is incredible, really.
But will Kangaspuro himself find time for the media in the future? He is one of the most asked-for experts in Russian politics in the media after all.
— I’ll have to ask Markku Kivinen how he did it and do my best to follow. Luckily he is still very much on hand, too.
Markku Kangaspuro started as director of the Aleksanteri Institute on 1 April 2018.