There is nothing like working with scholarship and culture. I have conducted research, published books and articles, curated exhibitions and managed cultural organisations in Finland, the United Kingdom and Sweden. I have recruited researchers, supported researcher mobility, and created positions and opportunities. As a docent, I have had the opportunity to teach and supervise.
I have witnessed in practice the significance of the contribution of scholarship and culture, those two intellectually pivotal spheres of thinking and creation, to the identity of society.
I have also realised how astonishingly little is known about the two. This question has been explored, among others, by Professor Lars Strannegård in his book Kunskap som känns: en lovsång till att lära sig något nytt (‘Knowledge that you can feel: A paean to learning something new’, 2021), in which he explains why Swedish economists should be able to discuss art, philosophy and literature.
Science and culture are the lifeblood of a vital and thriving country. Without science and culture, you have nothing. No knowledge of the past, no understanding of the present, no vision for the future. Nothing new is created. Without science and culture, there is no business either. And the country, in this case Finland, can be closed down.
Understanding this is essential right now, as the discussion easily narrows down in the name of societal polarisation, political squabbling and quarrelling on social media. Forced comparisons are made between disparate issues. The significance of research-based knowledge is sometimes even belittled to the extent that it hurts the eyes and boggles the mind.
Nevertheless, it is precisely in scholarship and arts that the key to the future lies. Young people must continue to have the opportunity to study and receive high-quality education and guidance. Scholars and artists, meanwhile, must have the opportunity to think, experiment, err and succeed.
Project funding must function well, and responsibilities should be shared as broadly as possible. Universities must safeguard their professorships, including those of smaller but important disciplines. It is no coincidence that growth-oriented societies in the late nineteenth century relied heavily on science and culture.
Investing in science, education and culture is a value judgement made by society. And that requires joint action. There are many parties sharing the responsibility for this: policymakers, public administration, experts, private and public organisations, funders and a large group people involved in the conduct of research and art.
Rethinking the allocation of resources, among other things, is needed to achieve significant results. We should rid ourselves of the tendency to avoid responsibility, tinker with trivialities and shun cooperation.
Universities play a key role in building value chains between various parties in society. Broad-based education, scholarship and culture lay the groundwork for the country’s economic success and identity. That is something we should be proud of. This can only be achieved if we genuinely want to work together and learn new things.
Susanna Pettersson is the Director General of Nationalmuseum in Sweden and an alum of the University of Helsinki.
Science, research and education are the building blocks of our wellbeing. Investing in them is crucial for our future. Read more about how research and education affect society and get to know our vision for the next Finnish government term 2023–2027. #ResearchMatters