Academy of Finland’s five-country comparison reveals:
Finnish science policy needs updating

21 Dec 2010

The Academy of Finland has reviewed the research- and science-policy measures carried out in the 2000s by five countries (Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland) comparable with Finland. The study shows that these countries have been successful in their research efforts because they have throughout the 2000s actively and consistently developed the preconditions and instruments for their research. Finland is one of these countries but does not play a leading role and is not a model country in this respect. 

The report “Research Policy: Tools and Practices: A Five-Country Comparison” was published in Helsinki today. The basic question explored was: What have these five countries done better than Finland, or what key measures with positive impacts on scientific performance has Finland neglected or failed to implement?

The national and international evaluations conducted in the past few years indicate that the relative quality of Finnish scientific research has not improved in the 2000s as expected. Several small European countries – such as Denmark, Ireland and Norway – have outstripped Finland and certain leading-edge countries in science – e.g. the Netherlands and Switzerland – have further increased their lead over Finland. A major reason for this is that Finland has not updated its science policy since the early 2000s, when Finnish science made rapid progress and approached the international forefront.

The report also shows that the countries seem to carry out – or at least try out – measures adopted by a forerunner country, even if there is no strong evidence of their impacts. 

According to Paavo Löppönen, Director of Evaluation and Development at the Academy of Finland, Switzerland differs from the other reviewed countries in an interesting way. Switzerland continues to further approach the US top in research and will most likely outstrip it in the near future. In its research efforts, Switzerland has relied on traditional methods, primarily such as strong, internationally competitive universities, substantial funding for basic research, extensive and versatile international cooperation, and researcher mobility.

Löppönen points out that it is not possible to identify one single factor that would explain the success of the reference countries compared to Finland. The following five major differences can, however, be listed:

• Degree of internationalisation of science: This is a particular strength for Switzerland and Finland’s most apparent weakness. When we compare the percentage of foreign researchers and students involved in the research system of these countries, Finland clearly lags behind that of the reference countries.

• Research funding structure within the higher education sector: In Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland, the public sector accounts for more than 60 per cent of the core funding for research at universities and higher education institutions: in the Netherlands the percentage is 75 per cent, whereas in Finland 45 per cent and in Ireland 35 per cent.

• Thematically targeted versus researcher-driven funding: The relative significance of thematically targeted funding schemes seems to be greater in Finland than in most of the reference countries.

• Research infrastructures: A common feature shared by all the countries reviewed for this study is that they are actively engaged in the development and use of international research infrastructures. The reference countries have, however, invested more in developing national research infrastructures than Finland, for example with concrete investment programmes for several years.

• Researcher salaries: The fierce competition for the highly skilled has also affected science policy. As a result, a number of different incentives, such as research career paths, have been created to attract new talent. The present study reveals that a particular challenge for Finland in its efforts to attract foreign talent relates to researcher salaries, which significantly lag behind those of the reference countries. This refers both to the public sector, universities and the private sector.

The report “Tutkimuspolitiikan käytännöt ja välineet – viiden maan vertailu” (Research Policy: Tools and Practices: A Five-Country Comparison, 128 pp.) by Kimmo Viljamaa, Janne Lehenkari, Tarmo Lemola and Terhi Tuominen, Advansis, has come out in the Academy of Finland publication series.

More information: Director Paavo Löppönen, Academy of Finland, tel. +358 50 5407 562 and Consultant Kimmo Viljamaa, Advansis, +358 40 5091 424
Academy of Finland Communications
Communications Director Maj-Lis Tanner
tel. +358 9 7748 8347, +358 40 729 6736

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