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  • Petri Koikkalainen
    President, The Finnish Union of University Researchers and teachers


    Grand Schemes and Tiny Issues Should Meet in Science Politics

    The Council of State and Ministry of Education and Culture are pushing Universities and research institutes into directions they find desirable for them by using performance management, profiling and strategic resourcing. The new management model in the Universities has transferred power to the rectors and governments, so that these can effectively lead their institutions in the competition, in which the main discipline seems to be the meeting of the requirements set by performance indicators.

    It is widely believed that once the right cuts and choices have been made and the more efficient organization has been created, the doors will be open for science that represents more quality and influence than its contemporary counterpart.

    The researcher, however, approaches various kinds of ”new openings” from quite another angle. Should it happen that the researcher has a hunch of a nearing breakthrough, it will usually not become apparent in the prevalent administrational model, but rather on the screen of a microscope or in a short piece of text on a tiny scrap of paper found in an archive. In the organization of research teams, the posts, background institutions and nationalities are secondary matters, which can be turned into a problem by incompetent research management. The trust in the ability of organization charts to enhance the quality of research appears theoretical and seems to be based on good faith.

    Is it possible for the viewpoints of science and science politics to ever actually meet? University without science would be absurd, but science politics is needed, because the development of the University institution, or even just one University alone, cannot be based solely on science – and even if it could, on which science? Physics, theology, or marketing, one might need to ask?

    Due to the fact that science politics should be able to comprehend both the grand schemes and the tiny revelations, it will probably turn out as a compromise even in the best scenario. But there are various ways of conducting science politics.

    The strengthening of strategic management moves the power over resources and management upwards in organizations. One of the risks caused by movement to this direction is that the contact surfaces between research and higher-level science politics become more narrow. There will always be influential parties that will describe Universities and the ”requirements of the society” weighing on them with alarmingly restricted and offhanded remarks.

    If the contact surface between science and science politics vanishes, the results will, in one direction, be hollow strategies and uncovered wishes. In another direction, there will be a crowd of frustrated researchers with real and actual problems before them, but no resources for researching.

    The challenge for national science politics is to make the headlines and the reality to correlate better with one another. Science, however, is largely international and follows its own autonomous logic. Its progress cannot be regulated by national decisions. Situation awareness in research should not only mean ”more intense international competition”. It should also include better information on the contents and substance of what is happening in Universities and research institutes at the moment. Mere quantitative indicators are not enough, as they tend to just produce more quantity.

    More concrete argumentation is required for the new reforms. For instance, what would those study programs and research projects be like that are now sought for through the co-operation and even combination of Universities and Universities of applied sciences. What would they be like in practice? ”New openings” and ”wide-ranging” are phrases that we often here in these contexts. Regrettably, they are rather vague. Those who promote these projects have the readiness to dismantle the existing structures and to ”choose away” small units and fields. Apparently, they have less readiness to discuss the contents of the teaching and research with the personnel and the students.

    Correspondingly, researchers and those in favor of research should be more adamant in bringing their views and ideas to the awareness of the ”administration” and the public at large – otherwise it may happen that no-one comes asking about them. Saying something well-argued and interesting publicly is often the best form of speech on behalf of science. Still, compared to party politics, for instance, science in itself has little direct or immediate power, or means and channels to brighter publicity. The kind of system, where the weaker has the means of affecting a change in the stronger, would be preferable.

    Petri Koikkalainen
    President, The Finnish Union of University Researchers and teachers

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