Speech at the University’s anniversary celebration, Rector Jukka Kola, 26 March 2018

Speech at the University’s anniversary celebration, Rector Jukka Kola, 26 March 2018.

Today, the University of Helsinki will be 378 years old.

This winter, we have been able to enjoy truly snowy conditions. Both children and adults have been able to go skiing, skating and sledding.

When today’s children who are now under school age reach their golden years, they might remember this winter with longing, as they may live in a whole different reality at that time. As the climate gets warmer, the snowy season will grow shorter. Winter temperatures will rise, and it will rain more frequently. Storm winds may become common in coastal areas and even inland. Winters will be more cloudy with infrequent sunshine. The ice cover of the Baltic Sea will shrink and become thinner. What we will end up with is a November that will last several months!

Besides being faced with climate change, the world suffers from a shortage of food and clean water, polluted air, biodiversity loss, the impact of chemical loads on the environment as well as more frequent global epidemics.  

All over the world, great efforts are being made to find solutions to these vicious problems. These efforts take place on all levels, from cities and rural areas, companies and national authorities to international negotiators and organisations.

The mitigation of climate change may begin in Juupajoki, the Hyytiälä Forestry Field Station, which accommodates the world’s foremost research unit for measuring ecosystem-atmosphere relations. At the research station, Academician of Science Markku Kulmala and other world-class atmosphere researchers produce continuously evolving information from a dataset of over 1,000 variables concerning particles in the atmosphere, carbon cycles and forests.

As current climate change–related models lack adequate observation material, the next goal is to establish as many as 1,000 similar research stations globally and start producing versatile measurement data over an adequate time span from all over the world. This could help us understand how we can impact global warming. At the moment, Finland hosts four such research stations, Estonia one, and China one in Nanjing. An agreement has been concluded with the Beijing University of Chemical Technology to erect a station there, and negotiations are going forward about establishing dozens of stations in China, Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

The atmospheric research conducted at the University of Helsinki is of a high international standard, and our researchers are trailblazers in the field. This research – this scientific work – may offer solutions to rein in global warming. This is our mission: to generate new, reliable and research-based knowledge and solutions that may contribute to the future of the entire planet. This mission calls for multidisciplinary research and international research groups that bring together the top scientists from each field the world over.

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We have many reasons to be proud of our University and the research conducted here. We belong to the one percent of the world’s leading multidisciplinary universities.

Thanks to research at the University of Helsinki, the mechanisms that cause the onset of cancer are now better understood than ever. Our international top-level research, together with the opportunities offered by the Helsinki Biobank, provide a unique research environment that enables the discovery of unprecedented solutions for the treatment of cancer.

The University of Helsinki has fared well in the highly competitive funding rounds of the European Research Council. Of the Nordic universities, only the University of Copenhagen has received more ERC funding than the University of Helsinki. This funding has been distributed in a number of fields, which evidences the cutting-edge research conducted on a wide front at the University. The fields on the City Centre Campus started receiving EU and international funding of the highest quality after being encouraged to apply for such funding and receiving support and assistance from the University’s Research Services unit. While two projects on the City Centre Campus received ERC funding in 2014, now there are 12 such projects on the Campus. Even theologians have received funding from Business Finland! (ref. CoPassion by Anne-Birgitta Pessi & co).

In philosophy, to mention another field, we are among the top 50 institutions, according to an international ranking.

The University of Helsinki educates the world’s best teachers. We were the first Finnish university to establish a faculty focusing on education alone, and our research-based teacher education has been ranked among the best one hundred in the world. We are able to combine teaching and research in a unique manner. By producing top experts in learning and teaching, we are, at the same time, advancing social progress as a whole. The current Growing Mind project focuses on future learning and digitalisation in schools. The University cooperates with schools in the City of Helsinki and distributes the results nationally.  Through developing technologically and pedagogically advanced smart schools, we will continue the international success story of Finnish education.

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We want to invest heavily in the development of learning and demonstrate our appreciation of our teachers. Teaching is considered to be a central element of academic competence on a par with research. This year the University of Helsinki Teachers’ Academy, a unique network of distinguished teachers in the Finnish context, will celebrate its fifth anniversary.

As you know, the University upholds the principle whereby all teachers conduct research and all researchers teach.

Consequently, teaching at the University is based on increasingly multidisciplinary research, which is carried out in an international environment.

The University of Helsinki Student Union, established in 1868, is another important part of our academic community. In 2018 the Student Union will celebrate its 150th anniversary while continuing to fulfil its mission of safeguarding the status of students. Congratulations to the Student Union!

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Finland is able to offer solutions to global problems; after all, we are the best country in the world in many respects. According to a recent UN report, Finns are the happiest nation in the world. We are the least fragile state and the safest country in the world. We have the best governance in the world. We are the third most prosperous country in the world. Our citizens enjoy the most personal freedom and choice in the world. Of all European nations, Finns come in second in life satisfaction.

Since 1640, the University of Helsinki has had a strong influence on the welfare and national identity of Finns. At the time of its establishment, the University was a small and modest academic community of 11 professors and 250 students.

In the 19th century, the University emerged as the centre of the national awakening. The University of Helsinki is the home of the Finnish identity, history, language and culture, including our national anthem and flag. Today, pioneering multidisciplinary research is being conducted in the University’s 11 faculties. We have 600 professors and over 7,000 employees in all. The student body totals over 30,000.

Every year, some 6,000 students, among them 500 with teaching qualifications, graduate from the University of Helsinki. This means that more than ten master’s degree holders leave the University every weekday for the labour market.

Throughout its history, the University of Helsinki has been an influential force in advancing edification and welfare in Finland. Finland’s success story and the development and prominence of the University of Helsinki are intertwined. The origins of the best education and health care systems in the world are here, in our University.

The University is becoming increasingly international with respect to both research and teaching. We are building international research centres and creating partnerships in fields that are crucial to solving global challenges. Mark Daly, who was recruited from Harvard to direct the University of Helsinki’s Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland, remarked in an interview with the daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat that he did not come here for the small opportunities, but for the great ones. It is good to bear in mind Daly’s words when thinking about our global role in solving future challenges.

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The University’s objectives, which heavily emphasise international engagement, call for national support based on a thorough understanding of the value of scholarship and research. The export industry understands that the building of strong export products requires a solid home market first. This same principle applies to science and research as well as more widely to education.

Currently, we are in a worrying vicious cycle with a continuously decreasing amount of euros being allocated to scholarship and research.  According to the calculations done by Hannu Vartiainen and Allan Seuri for Finland’s Economic Policy Council, funding for universities has significantly dropped since the introduction of the new Universities Act. Core funding for universities in particular has decreased in the national budget: actual core funding has dropped to a lower level than it was in 2002. This being said, top-level research and the resulting commercial applications can only be generated in an atmosphere where we can rely on independent scientific research and researchers take centre stage in the planning and execution of research projects.

Another cause for concern is the apparent trend in our competence and education level. Finland is the only country in Europe where the ratio of graduates with a higher education degree to the entire population has not grown in the last few decades. We have lost our position as the most highly educated country in Europe and among the OECD countries. Our competence base is in jeopardy.  It would be arrogant to think that past achievements will carry us through the times ahead.

The Vision for higher education and research in 2030 by the Ministry of Education and Culture sets the important goal of raising the share of higher education degree holders from the current figure of about 40 per cent to 50 per cent. This goal cannot be reached without significant additional funding for new student places. Besides being concerned about the level of education, we should pay attention to the quality of education, meaning the quality of teaching and learning.

It is possible to address the declining competence level, staff and student wellbeing, and the deficiencies in the core funding of universities if these matters are regarded as important at the national level. The concerns of universities are to a great extent the concerns of Finland.

We wish to engage in discussion with the decision-makers now, in good time before the next parliamentary elections, to explore ways to solve the situation. The message we want to send is that an investment in education and research must be seen as an investment in the future. These issues require a national consensus that extends over the terms held by governments. The situation can be addressed immediately, we need not wait until the next elections, as the current government can well make the decision to reinstate the university index for 2019.

We must also exert our influence with regard to the elections to the European Parliament and the Finnish presidency of the EU, as the European research funding system (FP9) is also currently on the drawing board.

We need concrete action to repair the gap in competence levels, which is a direct consequence of the above-described dwindling resources. The success of the University of Helsinki is crucial to the success of Finland. As a nation, we can look back on hundreds of years of great efforts to advance education. Our future success in the increasingly international world depends on the value we assign to scholarship, research, competence and education. Quality is what counts.

With these words I wish the University of Helsinki and all of you, friends of the University, a happy anniversary.