Academy President Mannila:
How do we best support science and research?
Professor Heikki Mannila’s term as President of the Academy of Finland began in March. He has already received many invitations to visit the Academy’s key partners – the universities – and is looking forward to getting things rolling:
“Now, with the university reform that increased their economic and administrative autonomy, universities have become much more active in implementing their own strategic policies and strengthening their activities and research environments. At the Academy, we need to know what’s going on with the universities and the research institutes – our key partners – to be able to continue supporting their research efforts. From their perspective, the Academy of Finland is a facilitator of research.”
More dialogue to ensure development continues on the right track
Next on the agenda for Mannila, who previously worked at Aalto University as Vice President for Academic Affairs, is to sit down with the universities to discuss, among other things, how the new University Act and other such changes have influenced the Academy and the Academy’s funding schemes. For example, is there a need to fine-tune the range and mechanisms of Academy funding instruments?
“The Academy’s research funding is based on scientific quality and impact. And this will not change. Our goal is to raise the quality even further. The key question here is how we can best help universities, research institutes and individual researchers to produce the highest possible level of science,” Mannila says.
Mannila is keen to hear from researchers how they view the Academy’s funding system: Is it working well and is it useful? What is the optimal number of centres of excellence and research programmes? What are the key development needs the Academy should address?
Mannila emphasises the importance of working together with universities, research institutes and the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture to share ideas on how to develop the Finnish system of science, universities and education, and in what kind of international collaboration Finland should and could participate.
All aboard the research infrastructure express
A topic that has been the subject of much discussion recently is research infrastructure. The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture has mandated the Academy with the administration of Finland’s national research infrastructure policy.
“The Ministry’s appropriation for 2012 is very modest, but it’s nevertheless a strong signal in the sense that research infrastructures are now specifically mentioned in the Budget. This represents a recognition of the importance of the issue, which is very good indeed,” Mannila says.
The practical work of drawing up the infrastructure policy will be conducted by a broad-based group of experts, which the Academy is in the process of appointing. The group will be composed of representatives of all key actors: universities, research institutes, the Ministry and the Academy. Any funding decisions on research infrastructures will be made by the Academy.
Mannila is convinced that the joint use of research facilities and scientific equipment is a viable operations model in many different situations. Good examples of this can be found in the field of biosciences, for instance.
A crucial question for the near future, and one that will require much joint deliberation, is in which international research infrastructure projects Finland should join.
Putting a face to the name
Researchers and research teams come into contact with the Academy of Finland above all when they are applying for funding. It is a regrettable fact that there is never enough money to provide everything the researchers need, but even so, the Academy has received positive feedback on its services for applicants.
Researchers have especially welcomed the events where Academy staff visit universities to explain the different funding schemes and the application process. Mannila supports this activity enthusiastically. He became convinced of the benefits of such personal service during his time at Aalto University.
“As with all customer service, it’s about being present, reaching your audience. It works amazingly well. People tend to find it easier to ask questions when they can put a face to the name.”
Mannila feels the Academy should organise the events together with the universities’ own support services. In that way, everyone gets the same information: the hows and the whos. “It would improve our services, and save a lot of time and money,” Mannila says.
Research and education not to be disconnected
Mannila wants to stress the significance of a close connection between research and education, and says the Academy needs to support that connection.
“Solid research and research-relevant education are vital for good university education and a prerequisite if we are to attract top talents to Finland. They’re equally important for innovation, too, and for creating new jobs. High-quality research environments also mean new jobs,” Mannila explains.
“The most important skill we need to teach students today is the ability to constantly acquire new knowledge. It’s a skill that will improve, if you’re provided with a broad and deep knowledge base in a given subject. And that’s only possible when education is closely integrated with research.”
Text: Paula Böhling