Riitta Maijala

Riitta Maijala: Fast-track funding calls open after exceptional spring – but basic principles remain unchanged

30 Jun 2020

We’ve talked a lot about the role of research knowledge in decision-making, but often approached the subject as a matter of principle. This past spring has provided an opportunity to concretely see the great significance of science and research to society. The exceptional situation has also made clear the self-corrective nature of research knowledge and its essence as a peer review-based, collective endeavour.

Additional funding for research on pandemic vaccines and medicines, crisis preparedness and security of supply, and climate change

Under the third and fourth supplementary budgets approved by Parliament in the spring, the Academy of Finland has received authorisation to allocate 91 million euros in research funding.

The importance of internationally high-quality research to anticipating and resolving the challenges facing society today is clearly reflected in the themes specified for the one-off additional allocations and in the funds committed to promoting the goals of the National Roadmap for Research, Development and Innovation.

Thematic funding has been made available for research on COVID-19 vaccines and medicines (third supplementary budget whose funding decisions have already been made) and on crisis preparedness and security of supply (fourth supplementary budget). In addition, the General Government Fiscal Plan has earmarked funding for climate change research in 2021, and based on this plan the Academy has now announced a funding call for system-level research into climate change mitigation and adaptation. Funding decisions will be made in early 2021.

Three calls to implement RDI roadmap

The National Roadmap for Research, Development and Innovation says that Finland’s competitiveness and wellbeing are built on the foundations of competence, research and innovation. Recovery from the emergency caused by the pandemic and Finnish success in global competition require the generation of new knowledge, innovations that will bring social benefits and added value, and a high level of competence.

According to the RDI roadmap, the competence spearheads must be broadened and strengthened by bringing research together to form larger competence centres and ecosystems.

During the course of preparing the roadmap as well as the ongoing process of implementation, the Academy has had regular discussions with Business Finland about different funding opportunities and the wider funding structure that they constitute.

The fourth supplementary budget for 2020 allocates funding for implementation of the RDI roadmap, especially for partnership instruments: flagships, research infrastructures and RDI partnership networks. These three calls for funding applications have just been announced.

Flagships are important competence centres in their own right and as such significant players within their own ecosystems. The funding that is now open for application will be channelled to strong research and competence clusters that work closely with business and industry and possibly with other sectors.

The building and development of competence centres and ecosystems will also be supported from special funding for RDI partnership networks. This theme has also been raised in connection with the Academy’s reviews of the state and quality of scientific research in Finland, for example, and it is very welcome that funding has now been made available to this end.

Funding for research infrastructures as collaborative platforms is intended to strengthen and develop the broad and diverse utility of research infrastructures. At the same time, this will support the development of competence centres and high-quality ecosystems. Furthermore, the call implements the objectives of the Strategy for National Research Infrastructures in Finland 2020-2030 (pdf) with regard to the broad and diverse impact of infrastructures.

All three funding calls mentioned above share in common the goal of advancing closer collaboration between high-quality academic research and the business and industry sector. Unfortunately, the time limitations that come with the supplementary budget mean that these calls will have to close before the end of summer.

On the other hand, with calls for three complementary funding opportunities open at the same time and research organisations having to weigh their strategic priorities, this may have a beneficial effect on application planning. As the calls will be closing at the beginning of September, we will also be able to have a solid peer review process and to make our funding decisions within the time frame given.

Fast-track funding calls – but no changes to the Academy’s basic principles

For reasons directly and indirectly related to the pandemic, the Academy of Finland will be announcing several special funding calls in 2020, all of which will follow a fast-track procedure. However, we will not compromise on our basic principles but decide on the allocation of funding based on international peer reviews.

When on 5 June 2020 we learned about the Government’s proposal of one-off additional funding worth 81 million euros to the Academy, we immediately set about planning our priorities.

In this process our focus was on the maximally appropriate use of research funds; on seeking the applicants’ viewpoints and giving them prominence in the planning process; on giving applicants as much time as possible to prepare their applications; on creating the best possible conditions for a successful peer review process; and on ensuring the necessary human resources for decision-making and for organising the call in view of the exceptional timetable.

The requirement attached to the Government’s proposal and Parliament’s decision on the appropriations included in the supplementary budget set a clear deadline for our funding decisions in autumn 2020.

The calls now announced are the outcome of a highly intensive preparation process. In preparing the funding opportunities open for application by research organisations, we have consulted universities, polytechnics and research institutes, while in the case of funding open to research teams we consulted individual researchers and other actors.

In addition, preparations are currently underway to open a call for funding for research into crisis preparedness and security of supply. Applications will be invited from research teams and research team consortia.

We should like to thank everyone who contributed to the preparation process with suggestions and ideas that have very much helped to shape the new calls.

September 2020 call and next CoE call already announced

The Academy’s traditional funding opportunities will also be opened for application in the autumn, and the announcements for the September 2020 call have already been published. As usual, applications are invited for funding for the positions of Postdoctoral Researcher, Academy Research Fellow and Clinical Researcher and for Academy projects and sport science research projects. In addition, a pilot call has been opened under a joint funding scheme with the Research Council of Norway in the field of engineering research. The next call for the Centre of Excellence programme 2022-2029 will also be opened in September.

Riitta Maijala, Vice President for Research 

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