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High-quality research requires proper funding and facilities

25.01.2008

“Research in the natural sciences and engineering is making strong headway in Finland,” says member of the Academy Board, Professor Erkki Oja from Helsinki University of Technology.

Oja, who is also Chair of the Academy’s Research Council for Natural Sciences and Engineering, is nevertheless concerned that the research is a bit pushed for resources.

”In terms of funding volume, we are the biggest of the Academy’s four Research Councils, but even so, we can finance only a small fraction of the best projects.” 

How about infrastructures then?

Another current concern in several disciplines, and none more so than in the natural sciences and engineering, is the question of infrastructures. In physics, chemistry and biosciences, for instance, research often requires expensive equipment costing hundreds of thousands of euros and more.

The universities’ core funding, Oja says, means that they have little funds to spend on other than basic education, salaries and rental costs. The funding made available through the Academy and Tekes, on the other hand, is earmarked for research purposes, and cannot therefore be used for sizeable equipment acquisitions.

“Out in the field, researchers have been put in a tight spot, as there’s really no one who provides funding for infrastructures,” says Oja, hoping for a speedy resolution to the matter, which is being prepared by the Ministry of Education. 

The situation adversely reflects on the standard of research and education, and it also affects Finland’s worldwide reputation as a technological superpower.

”I wouldn’t rule out having a fifth Academy Research Council, dedicated to infrastructures, as in many other countries. We just need to find the necessary extra funding,” Oja envisages.

Towards more genuine internationality

There is also a scope for improvement in international research collaboration, which Oja feels is at times a little fixed and forced.

“Genuine international collaboration stems from the grassroots – from researchers themselves. It isn’t something that’s dictated and enforced from above.”

One good way to increase international cooperation, according to Oja, would be to encourage greater mobility among young researchers.

”The four years spent at graduate school could include at least a six-month stint at a foreign university. A similar condition could also be applied to postdoc funding.”

Young researchers should be offered a carrot: larger numbers of international exchange opportunities.

Enter the virtual university

Oja also wants to bring up the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) – a virtual institute for postgraduate education, research and innovation being set up by the European Union. 

The EIT will operate through partnerships designated as Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs), the first two targeting the areas of environment and energy as well as future information and communications technology. In due course, the institute will offer degrees and diplomas at Master’s or Doctoral level and provide a strong framework for networked research.

”This will give the Academy of Finland and Finnish higher education institutes a new avenue to participate in the top tier of European research clusters and consortia. However, we need to be active, so as not to be left out of the game,” Oja emphasises.

”The EIT is a response to the challenge the US and Asia have presented us with.”

Text: Paula Böhling
Photo: Nina Dodd

Discussion: Do you want to comment on views expressed by Professor Erkki Oja, Chair of the Academy’s Research Council for Natural Sciences and Engineering, or share you own views with the Research Council?

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