Idle modesty won’t beautify Finland

(25th Nov 2010)

"In Finland, there are still mental barriers standing in the way of broad international academic collaboration. Everyday issues often weigh heavy on the scales when researchers make their decisions on whether or not to stay in Finland. International researchers view us as a country with advanced technology, a high-quality educational system and exotic nature. We, as a nation, however, simply haven’t learned to internalise these values," states Terhi Mölsä, Executive Director of the Fulbright Center.

Mölsä believes that, in Finland, people are still affected by a cultural burden in terms of the way they view their own country’s position on the world map. Finland needs to move beyond this idle modesty that is holding it back.

"International news like the article in Newsweek is crucial. Finland is genuinely a stellar environment for academic scholars, we just need to learn to exploit our assets in marketing."

The Fulbright Center regularly requests feedback from the researchers in its exchange programme. Based on the feedback received, Finland’s advantages are its safety, functional infrastructure, pure nature, high-quality education institutions, advanced technology and exoticism.

Joint funding from different continents

The Fulbright Center is a private expert and service organisation that aims to promote interaction between Finland and North America in the area of higher education. The key objectives of the Fulbright Center include the gathering and forwarding of discipline-specific information in order to meet the needs of the Center’s different customer groups.

The Fulbright Center has exchange and grant programmes, of which the oldest and best-known is the ASLA-Fulbright grant that has been awarded since 1950. On an annual basis, the Fulbright Center awards approximately 90 grants.

"We have a broad base of joint funding. Our own Trust Fund provides for a quarter of our budget. The share provided by private foundations is 13 per cent and grants funded by Finnish universities already account for nearly 10 per cent. The Finnish and U.S. governments each provide approximately 20 per cent of the funding. The appropriation provided by the U.S. comes from the Department of State, and the Fulbright represents the most notable academic exchange programme of those it supports," Mölsä explains.

A shared model for daily management

Mölsä would like to see university and research professionals, together with different authorities and service providers, standardise the practices involved in researcher exchanges. She stresses that universities should not be left to create the infrastructure on their own, but that it should be created through collaboration to ensure functional services, also for international researchers.

"It is important for researchers with families to receive child care, a proper residence, health care services and the opportunity to build a social network in Finland. During the 1980s, my research in Tampere consisted of studying the factors that encourage or hinder foreign researchers from coming to and staying in Finland. I updated that study this past year and found that many of the same problems remain.
Finland is made less attractive by, among other things, negative stereotypes, a lack of information about Finland during the recruiting phase, the meagre funding in relation to the cost level, difficulties in navigating our bureaucracy and the language barrier. The language barrier is a negative aspect that few notice right away, but it is an aspect that is encountered eventually and that limits the ability to participate in the internal culture and administration of the department in question."

"I would like to provoke scholars to consider whether there is truly nothing that can be done to ease these practical problems, and if there are matters that cannot be changed, perhaps we could compensate for them so that foreign researchers would feel encouraged to stay in Finland and assimilate," Mölsä suggests.

The Academy’s role in initiating discourse

Mölsä believes that the Academy of Finland holds a primary role in the Finnish academic community and would, therefore, have the means to initiate discourse in this area as well as to visibly promote further internationalisation. The FiDiPro (Finland Distinguished Professor Programme) professorships are a fine example of successful international co-operation.

"We already work together with the Academy of Finland, and this co-operation will surely increase when we find ourselves sharing the same building next year. We feel that it is vital to do our part to contribute to the internationalisation of universities by, for example, organising study trips. For our next trip, university rectors will be travelling to the United States to gain more insight about different funding and administrative models."

The Finnish and American university systems differ greatly from one another. Mölsä states that the Fulbright Center’s task is to serve as interpreter for the two cultures and to further the exchange of methods and practices that have proven successful.

"The head of international affairs from a Finnish university attended one of our study trips and was initially frustrated when he was not met with a single, standardised national university system, but, rather, with multiple systems, as is common in the U.S. He felt that it would be impossible to create functional relationships between his own university and American institutions. At the end of the week, I met up with him and, with his face all aglow, he stated that 'the possibilities are endless, anything is possible here.' This is quite a succinct way to sum up Finland’s possibilities for international collaboration," states Mölsä.

Text: Liisa Tanninen
Photo: Mauri Ratilainen

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