Tag Archives: co-operation

Dark clouds over Turkish and UK Academia

Visitors to Istanbul often first go to see the eighth wonder of the world, Hagia Sophia. This is also what my research group did – actually several times – in connection with joint research meetings with our Turkish partners. Hagia Sophia has a history of being a Byzantine church for over 900 years, then it was used as an Ottoman mosque for over 480 years, and in 1935 it was converted to a secular museum. For over 10 years, we have worked together with our Turkish partners to find secular solutions for the production of renewable energy carriers. During these years, we have learned to appreciate the excellent research quality and true commitment of our Turkish friends. The research exchanges can be counted in years.

The news from Turkey this summer after the failed coup trial have been very confusing and discouraging: the attacks on academic freedom and putting the education sector under a tight control. This has been demonstrated by sacking large numbers of Turkish university staff, academics from abroad have been told to return home, and bans on international travel have been set. It is very important that the European University Association, followed promptly by Universities Finland UNIFI among other organisations, have called on European universities and scholars to speak against these crude developments.

The withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union has been another headline in this summer’s world news. Brexit is going to have widespread consequences – and not least for European science. Seven UK academies in their open letter to the new UK administration expressed their concern that Brexit is putting UK science at a serious risk. This warning is warranted already from the funding perspective alone. A Royal Society publication from 2015 reports that the UK contributed to the EU 7th Framework Programme by 5.4 billion euros, whilst it received 8.8 billion euros. As first aid to UK scientists, the UK government announced this weekend that Horizon research funding granted before leaving the EU will be guaranteed.

UK universities are dominating the top of the best universities in Europe as measured by various ranking systems. Times Higher Education, for example, lists the best 200 European universities, and UK universities take four out of five top positions and they also represent one quarter of the overall list. These figures alone show that the contribution of UK universities to European science and innovation must be very significant. Therefore, the risk caused by Brexit is not limited to UK science but that of the European Union – and we Finns are not outside the risk zone. Over the years, Finnish university scientists have established mutually fruitful co-operation with UK universities – typically with the help of EU funded projects.

In addition to scientific contributions, the UK’s involvement in the development of the EU’s science policy has been instrumental. At present, EU funding decisions are based on scientific criteria. This policy has been strongly influenced by the UK together with several other countries including Finland. How will this be after Brexit? Possible science policy changes after the UK’s withdrawal could also be detrimental to our opportunities and successes in sustaining future funding.

Going back to Istanbul. We have team photos from Hagia Sophia by the wishing column with a bronze-covered hole in the wall. The advice given by our friends was to put a thumb in the hole, rotate the thumb a complete 360-degree tour inside the hole and at the same time, make a wish. According to the legend, there is a tendency for the wish to come true. Applying this method is not going to be enough for clearing the present challenges around academic life in Turkey. More secular actions are needed. In addition to political statements and sympathies, practical solutions by universities and especially at research team level are needed. First, securing our Turkish visitors the continuums of conducting research in our laboratories and groups.  It is important to find ways of pursuing active research relations over the difficult times.

As for cooperation with UK partners, our researchers should take every effort to maintain and further strengthen research ties. And for politicians, actions towards sustaining the UK’s contributions to the EU’s competitiveness through science and innovation just makes sense.

Jaakko_Puhakka_TTY_100x130_3Jaakko Puhakka
Academic rector

 

 

 

 

Societal Impact from cradle to grave

The weekly programme for many of us UEF people involves hitting the winding road between the Joensuu and Kuopio campuses. This two hour drive allows time for chatting. One of my recent discussions touched upon the societal impact of the university. Soili Makkonen, our development director, talked about two practical examples. The graduates from our theological programmes are involved in people’s lives from cradle to grave, while our teacher graduates take care of our children from their first steps of learning all the way to university graduation. There’s no doubt about this impact.

The basic mission for universities is scientific research and research-based education. During the last decade, Finnish universities were given a third mission: societal impact, i.e. supporting the development of wider society. How does our university contribute to society, and how does it rank in terms of this among Finnish universities? Comparisons with universities based on scientific and educational outcomes are much easier to make. As a result, this is used for the funding of universities. One way of estimating societal impact is to think about how Joensuu, Kuopio and the whole of Eastern Finland would look today without the UEF and her predecessors the University of Joensuu and the University of Kuopio.

The long-term medical research by our university on the health and diseases of the population of Eastern Finland is a global success story and continues to be so. The practical outcome is longer life expectancy and healthier lives for the people of Eastern Finland. Our research saves lives! Many modern companies in Eastern Finland in areas such as medical technology, photonics and ICT are doing very well. Their home base for ideas and personnel is usually the university. Another example is the National Service Centres, which find their way to Eastern Finland. One of the key grounds for the siting of these offices is the availability of highly skilled professionals in the area – here, again because of the university. We will continue to contribute to the society in the future. One of the cornerstones of Eastern Finland has always been its forest resources and their refinement of a variety of products. This research area is one of UEF’s strengths and will definitely be one of the boosters of the North Karelian and Savonian bioeconomy in the future. This is just one example.

Today, UEF is seeking donations and has launched a fundraising campaign. The donations will be complemented by the government in the form of grants of up to three euros for each euro donated to the university. This matched funding scheme will multiply the effect of the fundraising. This support is important for UEF to achieve the strategic goals set for research and education. There’s no doubt that this campaign will also end up improving the lives and successes of us Eastern Finns. It’s time to be smart.

Jaakko_Puhakka_TTY_100x130_3Jaakko Puhakka