Mr Chancellor, your excellencies, dear members of the University community and friends of the University,
This winter, we have come face to face with an enormous security policy crisis. Russia’s military actions in Ukraine have shocked the whole world and shaken international relations to the core. Our minds have been flooded with menacing visions that we believed belonged to the previous millennium.
Also, the coronavirus pandemic, now in its third year, has changed societies, communities and individuals. The pandemic has shortened our outlook into the future. We have lived in stretches of a couple of weeks at a time while keeping an eye on the ever-changing restrictions and specific dates. We have been forced to adapt to restrictions that have affected the fundamentals of our lives in order to safeguard each other’s health.
The coronavirus crisis will not end the same way it started, almost overnight. Also, the war in Ukraine broke out in an instant with enormous force, and will continue to cast a shadow for years to come. We are now facing a new situation and feeling our way forward.
Society needs a reliable, solid foundation on which to build. We need wisdom stemming from the mind and the heart. The University generates understanding for the benefit of society through responsible and ethical research and teaching – for the world.
Research-based knowledge springs from inquiry. Why do our communities become fragmented? What lies behind the outbreak of war? What will the future of work be like after the pandemic? What is our place in the universe? We shape our humanity and our lives in this world through the same questions that science and scholarship investigate.
Research-based knowledge provides solutions. We have recent experience of the swiftly developed coronavirus vaccines and are now better skilled in identifying new viruses. We have taken steps towards low-emission energy production, as researchers have succeeded in producing more fusion energy than ever before. We can build peace when we understand how social media bubbles and influencing through information affect us.
Research-based information generates understanding about what has happened to us. By comparing the present moment against historical events, we can better identify causes and anticipate effects.
At the University of Helsinki, research-based knowledge is generated on the basis of our values of truth, Bildung, freedom and inclusivity. We produce knowledge and cultural capital, which not only draw from knowledge but also from maturity, integrity and openness, tolerance and lifelong learning.
We function as a community marked by equal encounters and mutual respect. We support and promote openness and collaboration. Inclusivity springs from democratic empowerment. We want to increase understanding about each other and society.
Research-based knowledge also opens up a vantage point to the future and offers tools for taking action in the present. As our comprehension of biodiversity loss and climate change is continuously improving, we are increasingly aware of what we should do to keep our planet habitable for humans in the future.
Researchers estimate that if we do not change our course, at least more than a third of the earth’s biosphere will be destroyed by 2050. The climate is warming faster than previously estimated. We cannot wait a moment longer to solve these global problems.
Sustainability is one the four strategic choices defined in the University’s strategic plan: our University is a leader in sustainability and responsibility. This week, we published the University’s sustainability and responsibility programme covering the period to 2024. The key challenges of mitigating climate change, preserving biodiversity, using natural resources sustainably, and safeguarding health and wellbeing can be addressed by making use of the wide-ranging and multidisciplinary research-based knowledge produced at the University.
Last autumn, the University of Helsinki established a sustainability fund for the purpose of supporting sustainability research and teaching at the University and their societal impact, and hence promoting sustainable wellbeing in society. Through this fund, all friends of the University can donate funds to sustainability research.
The first donor to the Sustainability Fund was Jari Niemelä, our former rector and Professor of Urban Ecology. I wish to thank Professor Niemelä for his determined and dedicated work for the University of Helsinki. Let’s continue to join forces in our efforts for a sustainable future.
In recent years, trends in research funding have been a constant cause for concern. In a few weeks' time, the Finnish government's framework negotiations will cover the funding of the Academy of Finland and the entire research, development and innovation funding. I have strong confidence in that there will be no cuts to the Academy's funding. By investing in innovations based on cutting edge research and science, we can achieve the government's target of 4 % of GDP by 2030.
We only have eight years to reach this target. We must act now. The current government can take decisive action in this spring’s spending limits negotiations and in the budget negotiations next autumn. After next year’s parliamentary elections, the future government must take the baton and continue in the right direction.
A well-functioning research, development and innovation system cannot be built without universities. This expertise cannot be outsourced. Research-based knowledge as the basis of a
dynamic society is vitally important. Only the latest research-based knowledge and expertise enable us to produce groundbreaking innovations and educate people who can change the world.
Decision-makers and the academic community share the responsibility for ensuring a high level of expertise in our society. We want to generate wellbeing in Finland in a sustainable manner. In this, long-term and secure research funding is of key importance. We want to carry on our centuries-long work for the benefit of society.
Distinguished members of the audience,
The University is not an isolated unit, but rather an integral part of society, the surrounding city and our common sphere of life. We have a strong presence in all of Finland through the university consortia of Seinäjoki, Mikkeli and Lahti. We also have seven research stations, with the northernmost one located in Kilpisjärvi and the southernmost in Hanko.
Naturally, our impact is the greatest in Helsinki. Kumpula, Viikki, Meilahti and the City Centre Campuses, their students and the research conducted there exert a huge influence on Helsinki, its residents and the City’s decision-makers.
Concrete examples of collaboration between the City and the University include the development of schools and education. The Helsinki Upper Secondary School of Natural Sciences will soon move to Kumpula Campus. It will then be easy to supplement upper secondary school education with the latest scientific discoveries and enable upper secondary school students to complete university-level courses if they so wish.
Collaboration engaging Meilahti Campus and the University supports the wellbeing of Helsinki residents, as the healthcare system benefits from medical research on the campus and the work of the academic community at the Helsinki University Hospital. On Viikki Campus, the University and the City are collaborating to create an innovation hub which will seek solutions to modern food production and other global sustainability challenges by joining the forces of research, teaching and the business sector.
And when the pandemic finally subsides, Helsinki residents can again enjoy the programme offerings on site at Think Corner. Students also contribute to a lively city. To them, Helsinki should be the best place in the world to study.
The City of Helsinki greatly benefits from the various expertise of the University’s researchers, students and alumni, while offering the University and the University community a good home.
We are currently celebrating the University’s anniversary week, which culminates in the anniversary today. During the week, we have celebrated science and research together with the University community and our alumni, partners, donors and other friends of the University.
We have witnessed the importance of a sense of community. We have rejoiced in achievements both great and small, shared feelings and memories and heard the various voices of our community.
We have supported each other in times of grief and crisis. We have been part of a huge global movement that has brought people together in an unprecedented manner to oppose war and support those in distress.
Together, we will prepare for the future in a changed world. At the University of Helsinki, we have been building a better world every day for the past 382 years. Our University has been one of the pillars of Finnish society in the midst of enormous historical turmoil.
This holds true today as well. With the power of research-based knowledge, we will contribute to building a sustainable society and solving key challenges concerning our future.
I wish you all a happy anniversary!