Heikki Mannila (vasemmalla) ja Johanna Myllyharju (oikealla)

Heikki Mannila and Johanna Myllyharju: Government Fiscal Plan cripples funding for high-quality research and undermines education and training

19 May 2021

Published in early April this year, the Education Policy Report of the Finnish Government sets out the objective that Finnish society and working life will be reformed through education and research, development and innovation and through the skills they produce. Another objective declared in the report is to make Finland a pioneer in the production, introduction and application of new knowledge and know-how. The report goes on to say that Finnish research should maintain a high international level and be seamlessly linked to education and utilised in a wide variety of ways.

Unfortunately, the Government Fiscal Plan published in mid-May does not support these objectives. The plan will cut research funding from universities and research institutes by reducing the possibilities of the Academy of Finland to fund high-quality research. Cutting from research always means cutting from education, too.

As part of decisions made in the mid-term policy review, the budget authority for strategic research funding in the Government Fiscal Plan will be permanently reduced by 25 million euros, and the Academy of Finland’s budget authority for research project funding will be cut by 10 million euros from 2023. ‘Budget authority’ refers to the amount of money that is available annually to fund new research projects.

The Government Fiscal Plan further states that the Academy’s budget authority will also decrease due to the reduction in estimated proceeds from gambling and the end of the fixed-term compensation for reduced proceeds in 2024. These decisions may have an impact on the Academy’s research funding already in 2022 and beyond. The impact may even be several orders of magnitude higher than the cuts announced. The Government Fiscal Plan does not provide additional information or details on this. The questions concerning the compensation for the reduced gambling proceeds should therefore be resolved urgently.

Weaker research conditions at universities

Approximately 90 per cent of the Academy of Finland’s funding is allocated to research conducted at universities. In strategic research funding, the corresponding percentage is around 70 per cent. The rest of the funding is allocated mainly to research in government research institutes. From 2023 onwards, the cuts of 35 million euros proposed in the Government Fiscal Plan will mean a permanent reduction of around 26–27 million euros in the funds available for research in universities. Government research institutes will suffer an estimated permanent reduction of 8–9 million euros.

Cuts to research also means cuts to education and training. Research is the foundation of university teaching, and researchers working with funding from the Academy of Finland and the Strategic Research Council play an important role in teaching, both directly and indirectly.

One-off funding will not solve the problems caused by cuts

Parliament is currently also examining a supplementary budget that proposes a one-off increase of 45 million euros in the Academy of Finland’s 2021 budget authority. This budget authority, which is linked to the so-called recovery instrument, is necessary and welcome. However, it will in no way reduce the damages of the permanent cuts. For example, the objective stated in the Education Policy Report, that education and research attract talents from all over the world to Finland, requires that foreign talents can rely on the absence of surprising cuts in the level of research funding.

Evaluation of strategic research nearly complete

Established as an independent body within the Academy of Finland, the Strategic Research Council (SRC) funds research of a high scientific quality that seeks solutions to topical societal challenges in collaboration with knowledge producers and knowledge users. The annual SRC funding budget has been steady at around 55 million euros since 2015.

So far, 16 multi-year SRC programmes have been implemented, four of which have ended. The evaluation of the four completed programmes will be ready in June 2021. The results are very promising: the publishing activity and impact of the projects are at a high level. A more comprehensive assessment of the SRC funding instrument is only just beginning.

Funding for strategic research is an important part of the funding of high-quality, high-impact research. The proposed cuts will force SRC programmes to make significant changes and may even interrupt ongoing research projects.

Overall, the research funding cuts in the Government Fiscal Plan and the uncertainty about the situation of research funding tied to gambling proceeds will have a significant impact on the opportunities to carry out research in Finland. At the same time, the plans undermine Finland’s knowledge base, which is the foundation of the future.

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