Meet Kalervo Väänänen, Rector of the University of Turku and seasoned academic who knows a thing or two about bringing the worlds of research and business together. What would a man with such a background prescribe for a nation striving to move towards growth?
Väänänen says that “in order to understand Finnish society today, we have to take a look backwards.” We all know what is said to happen to those who do not learn history.
Unrealism, confusion, and a lack of diversity – these are some of the ideas that have formed the trajectory landing Finland in its current situation, according to Väänänen.
One of the central phenomena that has continued to be an obstacle today began in the late 1990’s. In Väänänen’s words, the Nokia boom fostered a “period of unrealism” and self satisfaction – a notion that “we are so good that we don’t need to get any better”– that ultimately led to a lack in critical diversity in the economy.
The financial crisis of 2007-2008 set the scene for a new era in Finnish society – an era of confusion that the country is still recovering from to this day.
So, how does Finland recover? What prospects lie on the horizon for a country with an undeniable amount of potential for success?
Väänänen says he is “very optimistic,” and that “the solution is at our doorstep, we just have to welcome it in.”
He argues that the future of Finland is very much dependent on a higher influx of diversity through immigration. Likewise, Finland would benefit from major reform in policy surrounding innovation. Väänänen insists that “our innovation system is still in the early 2000’s.”
Digging deeper into an actionable plan for the future, Väänänen uses his expertise to paint a picture of his vision for Finland – more fruitful collaboration between industry and academia.
He has found that industrial research in Finland is very much focused in life sciences and lagging behind in industries that Finland has historically excelled in, such as chemistry and engineering.
There is a need to get the focus areas of research and industry closer to one another; research in cross-disciplinary industries needs to become a priority. Industries and universities are being called upon to put more effort into working with one another to leverage each other’s strengths.
Väänänen is enthusiastic that students in Finland have a renewed sense of excitement and are equipped with the skills needed to take on the cross-fertilization process.
He is optimistic that younger and more entrepreneurial generations will be able to bridge the gaps between universities and business.
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