On the Threshold of Something New

The new year began a new decade. At the end of the old one, Finland made a proposal for the EU budget. Unfortunately the plan for a considerable increase of the Horizon 2021—2027 research programme funding did not make it to the budget. By now it is time to stop the political hair-splitting about how Finnish science will improve by applying for EU funding.

The new decade, then, opens with a rainy everyday life. The central themes of 2020 include the universities’ collective bargaining that begins in February, the preparation of the state budget for 2021 and open science and copyrights. This is also the decade when the Vision for higher education and research in 2030 will be implemented.

The main contracting parties in the collective bargaining will be the Negotiation Organisation for Public Sector Professionals (JUKO), Trade union Pro and the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors JHL. Universities are represented in the negotiations by the Finnish Education Employers. The general situation in the labour market has been exceptionally difficult since the autumn. JUKO’s new negotiation manager for the university sector Katja Aho and her team will face a challenging task. I believe I speak for the entire university sector when I wish our negotiators success — We are the university 3.0.

During the spring of 2020, the next state budget will also be prepared. Last autumn’s budget reinstated the university index and brought 40 millions of extra funding to universities. However, the money seems to go into advancing lifelong learning and producing degrees. The money reserved for research and development will not take Finland towards a 4 % R&D activity share of the gross domestic product. The R&D deficit that Finland has is in the billions. Reaching the four percent level by 2030 would require constant public and private additional investments of a few hundred million euros – every year – for ten years.

In addition to the amount of money, universities need to be concerned about the quality of money. When research funding fragments into projects, it is an inefficient use of money. Universities are not subcontractors who conduct reviews. Universities are strong concentrations of competence and knowledge, and they should be developed further as such. One central act that would strengthen universities’ position and autonomy would be their significant capitalization. Every euro that capital produces helps a university to function more independently than currently.

Another issue that has become current is open science and the self-archiving of peer-reviewed academic articles. This is a desirable principle, but with qualifications. The constitution and the copyright law guarantee that researchers have a right to their works and their financial utilization. Researchers have a right to decide about the publishing of their works in ways of their choice and in channels of their choice as well as about the financial utilization of copyrights. Researchers also have a right to decide not to publish their works. The university community should not allow erroneous talk about how copyrights are decided by someone other than the researchers themselves.

The vision for higher education and research in 2030 is the most visible entity that will be implemented within the next ten years. Many tasks have been loaded onto it: a nation with the most competent labour force, a reformed higher education and an environment for digital services, cooperation and transparency driving research and innovation, the best learning and learning environments of the world and higher education institutions as the best workplaces in Finland. The goals have been written in such a way that one cannot disagree with them. I do, however, criticise the implementation. The first basic rule of management is the realistic resourcing of tasks. If resources are inadequate, the amount of tasks needs to be decreased. It is irresponsible to push unresourced extra tasks to universities with an accompanying note saying that you need to be creative.

Finally, some happy news. The year 2021 is the year of research-based knowledge. A new possibility opens for the science community to increase the visibility of its activities. In order to advance close cooperation, the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, the Academy of Finland and the Federation of Finnish Learned Societies are launching a project called The Year of Research-Based Knowledge 2021. This is worth participating in.

Jouni Kivistö-Rahnasto
Chair, The Finnish Union of University Professors

Painetussa lehdessä sivu 48