It’s the year 2016.
A resilient nation, full of potential, approaches its 100th birthday. There is a good number of things we’ve achieved in just 100 years. At this time of reflection, we also set our sights on the future.
No matter how you interpret today’s realities, there’s at least one thing that’s certain: Finland abounds with opportunity. As rector of the University of Helsinki, I see it every day.
Looking back, Finland’s success has always been based on high-quality education, research and innovation. I firmly believe it will continue to be that way in the future. The cost of education is nothing compared to the cost of ignorance.
So how can the academic world make the case for research? What role should industry play? And how do we sell that to the country’s, and also international, decision-makers?
If I were to boil down my vision into three parts, this is how I would suggest Finland usher in the next century with confidence:
- Build stronger national and global partnerships. Research is expensive. Instead of relying solely on state funding, the University of Helsinki is now exploring industry partnerships and international funding sources. We’re not just asking for money – we’re inviting collaboration. We want to create a win-win for both parties.
- Focus on transformative ideas from the best minds. We need to become more international. I want to see more new faces in Finland. The population of Finland is not big enough to always find the best people, whether we’re talking about a university, company, or otherwise.
- Invest in new skills and new mindsets. At the University of Helsinki, we want our students to keep an open mind and we encourage entrepreneurial thinking. We want to equip our students with tools to change Finnish society and the world for the better. New ideas are born at the margins of science, where education and research are multidisciplinary.
Top research – and higher education based on that research – give Finland a competitive advantage. Our vision should reach beyond the national level; our vision needs to be global. If a country is doing well at an international level, that means things are also going well at the national level.
Too often we don’t take other countries’ successes as an example; Finland is good at a lot of things, but not everything. There are other ways of doing things that are good, too. We do not always have to reinvent the wheel.
In the U.S., universities and businesses form a tight-knit ecosystem. But even closer to home, European countries are making significant headway in building this bridge. For example, the University of Leuven in Belgium and many others in the leading LERU* Universities are doing well at drawing money from industries, and industries are reaping the benefits as well.
Finland has all the means to arrive at a successful future. To help us get there, let’s open up the dialogue, take a closer look at our surroundings, and start encouraging an ecosystem in which the public and private sector, and academia, work together towards common goals.
Jukka Kola is the 137th rector of the University of Helsinki.
*LERU = League of European Research Universities, ‘by invitation only’; University of Helsinki is one of the 12 founding members in 2002, with e.g. Oxford and Cambridge