Excellence – something to strive for

In Finland, we tend to see excellence in our activities. A good example is our education system, the best in the world in our minds. In many cases, although certainly not in all, this is also true in the light of international comparisons. In industry, we respect innovation and manufacturing of high-quality products, instead of bulk products that make financial profit only when sold in high quantities. Finnish design is a trademark of high quality, too.

In universities, we must also strive for excellence, both in education and research. Carrying out our academic activities at a level comparable to the highest international standards is also a way to financial success.  In the UEF strategy, the development of learning environments and international-level research areas is also pointing in the right direction. The funding system of universities in Finland relies on indicators that measure, directly or indirectly, the quality of our actions.  Success in these indicators determines our future success, not only financially but also in terms of our international reputation. Indeed, Academy of Finland professors, FiDiPro professors, ERC grants and centres of excellence (CoEs) in UEF are indicators of excellence in research. They are the flagships that can make the university famous for research.

A centre of excellence (CoE) is a team, a shared facility or an entity that provides leadership, best practices, research, support and/or training for a focus area (Wikipedia).  The Academy of Finland’s CoEs represent the very cutting edge of science in their fields, developing creative research environments and training new talented researchers for the Finnish research system and Finnish business and industry (http://www.aka.fi/en/research-and-science-policy/centres-of-excellence/). The call for letters of intent for the new CoE programme will open in April 2016. According to the Academy of Finland, the new CoE programme enables the renewal of science, with improved support to utilise research findings in society. The CoE programme 2018-2025 is expected to include new research groups, new research themes and new openings embracing a high gain-high risk approach. What does this mean? Does this offer new possibilities for UEF researchers? We will learn more during this spring. Let’s actively collect all the information available to find out what we can expect from this round and prepare ourselves for tough competition.

Indeed, it is time to establish consortiums that will be competitive in the coming application round.  Most importantly, competitive consortiums must include not only a high quality director, research groups and members, but also fresh research ideas with potential for new scientific openings and breakthroughs. Obviously, UEF researchers have to collaborate with top scientists in other national and international research organisations. Even the weakest partner in a consortium must be strong enough. Typically, only the maximum grades in the review process are good enough for success. Also typically, the director of a CoE is a prominent, experienced researcher of the highest international level. It is interesting to see if younger candidates will be considered more seriously as directors for the next long programme term (2018-2025). A young director cannot have hundreds of scientific papers, as is characteristic of directors of the present CoE programmes.  Let’s hope that also young talents have chances for success.

Jukka JurvelinJukka Jurvelin
dean, Faculty of Science and Forestry