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Chairs of the boards of Finnish universities: The long-term nature and higher level of funding for universities must be ensured

 | Opinion

At the beginning of the year, the Act on Research and Development Funding in 2024–2030 entered into force. In practice, the implementation of the Act means that the central government will budget approximately EUR 260 million more each year for RDI in 2024-2030. The aim is to improve the productivity and competitiveness of Finnish companies, strengthen the funding base of the welfare society, and produce new solutions to societal challenges. The precondition for the continuous implementation of the Act is that private sector RDI investments will grow in proportion to public investments.

The Act obliges the Government to approve once per parliamentary term a plan for the use of RDI funding that is longer than the framework period. The parliamentary RDI working group published the first multi-annual plan on 1 March 2023. In our opinion, the plan is excellent, but its successful implementation requires from the next government a determined focus on the following issues.

High-quality RDI activities require skilled people. Finland already has the greatest shortage of highly educated workers in the OECD countries. In order to respond to the shortage of skilled labour, Finland has set the target that by 2030, at least 50% of the age group will complete a higher education degree. The parliamentary RDI working group estimates that in addition to those currently getting an education, 9,000 new employees will be needed in RDI work annually during 2024–2030, the majority of whom should have a Master’s level education and 2,000 a doctoral education. Such a development would mean significant increases in the number of students, especially in universities, as it takes 5 years to complete a full Master’s degree, and 4 years for a doctoral degree.

According to the estimate of the Ministry of Education and Culture, this growth requires an increase of at least EUR 350 million in the annual basic funding of higher education institutions. This is a minimum level, as this investment will only restore the funding at the level of early 2010s.  

The increase in the quantity cannot lead to a loss of quality. The ambitious objectives of the RDI Act require that RDI activities must be top-class in international comparisons. In addition to increasing basic funding for universities, this requires an increase in funding for basic research.  The Academy of Finland plays a key role in funding long-term and systematic basic research. The focus of Business Finland’s innovation funding should be restored to its original purpose, i.e. extensive cooperation between universities and companies.

The desired growth rate of private RDI investments is so significant that it is not credible to pursue it solely domestically. For this reason, it is essential create clusters of expertise and cooperation of an international size and quality in Finland, which also attract foreign and international companies to locate their RDI activities in Finland. These clusters must be of higher quality, stronger and more attractive than competing R&D environments elsewhere in Northern Europe.

The multi-annual plan for RDI funding rightly states that “the impact of public funding is greatest when it is targeted at basic research and higher education based on it”. For this reason, we consider it justified that the next government should select long-term research and the securing of the basic funding of higher education institutions as its strategic focus area. We believe that only basic research and the higher education based on it can produce the revolutionary ideas and level of skills that are needed for the renewal of business sector, industries and the society as a whole which, consequently, can turn the well-being of Finns into new sustainable growth.

Chairs of the boards of Finnish universities: Niklas Bruun (University of Helsinki), Juhani Damski (University of Oulu), Jorma Eloranta (University of Tampere), Eero Holstila (University of Arts), Teresa Kemppi-Vasama (Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology), Mari Kiviniemi (University of Vaasa), Antti Koivula (University of Jyväskylä), Mikko Kosonen (Aalto University), Hannele Niemi (University of Lapland), Lea Ryynänen-Karjalainen (University of Eastern Finland), Ritva Viljanen (University of Turku), Christoph Vitzthum (Hanken School of Economics), Dag Wallgren (Åbo Akademi University)


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