Susan Linko

Facilitating international cooperation key to promoting research quality and renewal

10 Jan 2023

The Academy of Finland’s Research Council for Natural Sciences and Engineering contributes to international funding calls that it considers to be of strategic importance. It is also keen to collect feedback from researchers on the benefits of international cooperation, with a view to constantly improving and developing its operation.

The COVID-19 pandemic and global geopolitical instability have profoundly impacted mobility and cooperation in the international research field. An international evaluation of the Academy of Finland in spring 2022 issued a number of recommendations regarding the Academy’s international operations. It is also expected that the new Act on government R&D funding will impact upon international research cooperation by allowing for greater predictability and a more long-term approach. On the other hand, all appropriations made available to the Academy's Administration Office must be critically reviewed and prioritised.

Researcher feedback on international cooperation and mobility

Professor Leena Ukkonen, Chair of the Research Council for Natural Sciences and Engineering, says: “We recognise the importance of supporting international cooperation, particularly as a way of promoting the quality, renewal and impact of research.” At a researcher meeting hosted by the Research Council on 15 November 2022, Ukkonen explained the principles guiding the Council’s decision-making on whether to participate in international funding calls.

The key factor is that the funding call is considered beneficial both at the international and national level and at the Academy and the Research Council level.

The experiences raised at the meeting made it clear just how important and sometimes even decisive researcher mobility has been to the development of individual careers. Mobility was thought to contribute to career progression through improved professional competence, the renewal of research and expanded networks of collaboration, for instance. Lessons learned from new and different research environments were also considered useful; these included new ways of doing research and leading research teams. Another perceived benefit of mobility was gaining access to peer support.

At the same time though, it was pointed out that in the context of mobility and international exchange it is important to bear in mind that “researchers always benefit the science of that country where they are working, even if they later move to some other country.”

Based on the feedback from researchers, it was felt that targeted thematic calls still had their own important part to play. They were thought to bring clear value added by promoting both research careers and science in general. Furthermore, targeted thematic calls were considered to require less administrative input than EU projects and to allow for wider and deeper international cooperation than ordinary Academy Projects. It was also pointed out that collaborations started under targeted calls had often expanded into EU projects.

The implementation of mobility was sometimes considered challenging in the context of international consortia if different countries had different terms and conditions for the use of funding. Different start dates for individual subprojects also presented practical difficulties. Calls for proposals that were opened during the summer were potentially problematic if there was limited time to build consortia and to write up applications.

A further point raised in the feedback discussions stressed the importance of securing equality in researcher mobility: “Not all talented researchers will necessarily have the opportunity to spend longer mobility periods abroad. It’s crucial that other means are available to support their career progression and development.”

Pekka Peljo (left), Mark van Gils (centre left), Marko Huttula (centre right) and Jaana Vapaavuori (right) deliver their opening remarks. Photo: Henriikka Katila.

Members of the Research Council for Natural Sciences and Engineering exchanging thoughts with researchers. Photo: Henriikka Katila.

The Research Council for Natural Sciences and Engineering hosted a meeting with researchers in Helsinki on 15 November 2022. These were the principal investigators of projects funded by the Research Council through international calls in 2017−2022. The meeting was intended to discuss the meaning of international cooperation and mobility to career development and the value added gained from international funding calls. It was attended by 55 participants, including personnel from the Division of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research and other Academy officials responsible for international funding calls.  

Talks and presentations at the researcher meeting:

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