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Päivi Tikka and Kimmo Nuotio: What’s the latest on the cuts to strategic research funding?

18 Jun 2021

The Finnish research community and the people using and disseminating research knowledge are rightly concerned about the effects of the planned cuts to research funding. Based on what we know now, we’re currently examining how the cuts proposed in the General Government Fiscal Plan for 2023 can be implemented in such a way that the principles of the funding objectives under the budget authority of the Strategic Research Council (SRC) are maintained and the situation is as clear as possible to applicants.

The Government Fiscal Plan announced in mid-May plan brought with it substantial cuts to research funding. The cuts to the budget authority of the Strategic Research Council will mean a permanent reduction of 25 million euros as of 2023. Budget authority refers to the amount of money that the SRC can use annually to finance research projects.

What will be the impact of the cuts?

For funded researchers and interaction partners: The decision to cut funding was made on political grounds – it was not a motion of no confidence against researchers or funded research projects. According to the current information, the payment of funding decisions already made can proceed as planned. The aim is also to organise any further calls within ongoing SRC programmes within the previously planned timeframe, but the level of extended funding for ongoing projects may need to be adjusted because of the surprising situation in which we find ourselves.

For applicants of strategic research funding: The special features of strategic research – combining multidisciplinary research with active interaction with knowledge users – will be preserved, and we will not compromise on the expectations we have for the research. However, because of the cuts, we will have to reduce the number or size of research programmes in the future. The cuts won’t affect the 2021 budget authority. Funding for the programmes that are currently reviewing full applications (Demographic Changes – Causes, Consequences and Solutions, DEMOGRAPHY; Environmental and Social Links to Biodiversity Loss, BIOD; and Pandemics as a Challenge for Society, PANDEMICS) will remain at the level previously planned. According to the information currently available, the theme preparation and programming for 2022 will also continue as planned, with two programmes launching a call for applications in autumn 2021. From 2023 onwards, the SRC will try to open a programme call every year.

For policymakers and other knowledge users: The SRC funding instrument is intended for long-term, multidisciplinary and scientifically high-quality research that addresses topical societal issues. The SRC was established in 2014 specifically to finance research projects that support societal decision-making. In addition, the funding instrument has sought to strengthen the dialogue between research and policy – we’ve received a lot of positive feedback on this. Cutting research funding is contrary to the objectives of the current Government Programme that are aimed at supporting knowledge and know-how as well as research and innovation and at promoting evidence-based policy.

Decision to cut funding was made before completing the evaluation of SRC programmes and funding instrument

Since 2015, the SRC has carried out 16 multi-year research programmes. Four programmes have ended, and their evaluation was completed just after the cuts were announced. Based on the self-evaluations (in Finnish) of the programmes, the report on societal impact (in Finnish) prepared by an external evaluator and the scientific quality evaluation compiled by panels, it is clear that the SRC funding instrument has succeeded in supporting high-quality and multidisciplinary research, creating methods that promote scientific renewal and developing new forms of cooperation with knowledge users.

The Government has also granted funding for an overall evaluation of the SRC funding instrument (website in Finnish). The evaluation is part of the Government’s own analysis and research activities (VN TEAS), and the results of the evaluation are due in autumn 2022.

Planning of future activities continues

“The societal challenges that require strategic research are not going away, on the contrary,” said Kimmo Nuotio and the previous SRC Chair Per Mickwitz in an opinion piece (in Finnish) following the announcement of the cuts. At the Division of Strategic Research, plans have been made to ensure that the adjustment to the lower level of funding can be implemented so as to minimise the impact of the funding cuts. It would be important to continue to be able to prepare a new theme proposal and open at least one programme call annually. Planning will continue after the summer.

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