Tag Archives: research

Illusion of openly accessible research data

For UEF’s researchers, teachers and students, access to massive electronic publication archives is something that can be taken for granted, and the growing popularity of open access publishing adds to the amount of research data available. However, information is not free just because it is available electronically.  A lion’s share of the UEF Library’s budget for acquiring new information resources is spent on electronic publications.

As members of the academic community, it’s easy for us to get fooled by an illusion of freely available research data, as it is always just a few clicks away through our library.  Unfortunately, however, this kind of access to information is limited to the university network and the walls of our library. Of course, it is possible for people outside the university to gain similar access to research data by purchasing individual articles or e-books directly from publishers and to view these on their own computers. However, not many who need information can afford this, and the materials available freely online aren’t often enough for those looking for in-depth research data.

Despite the increasing popularity of open access publishing, the exponential growth of electronic resources has increased the proportional inequality between people needing information. At the global scale, this inequality is even more tangible. In developing countries, researchers seldom have access to publication archives like the ones we’re used to in Western countries. I have noticed that visiting researchers from Africa in particular have been excited about the opportunity to use our electronic collections.  Membership in an academic community has become a major divisive factor between people needing access to information.

When looked at by title, the number of electronic publications and e-books acquired by UEF is large. However, due to the way these publication packages are composed, they also contain plenty of material that is irrelevant to our research focus.  Moreover, they also lack some sets of publications that are crucial for us. There is a clear need to step up investments in the acquisition of electronic publications in the field of human sciences, and we can’t ignore the need for traditional printed journals, either. For human sciences, publication archives constitute an infrastructure similar to those of hard sciences. The range of publication forums in human sciences is considerably broader than in hard sciences, and this makes it difficult to include all relevant channels in the publication packages purchased.

Open science and open access publishing will not reduce the need to purchase access to electronic publication archives in the near future. This is a vicious cycle: we need to pay to maintain access to scientific publications – the alternative would be to be stuck behind a pay wall. There’s no such thing as a free lunch – and that’s a fact we need to keep in mind.

Harri Siiskonen
Dean

More borders, less mobility

Brexit has awakened us to the threat of new ‘hard’ borders being established within the European Union, which has for decades striven to do away with such barriers to free movement of labour and goods. The UK Parliament’s recent decision on backing Theresa May’s exit plan effectively means that Britain is very likely to leave the Union in 2019 or soon thereafter, and that in turn – despite what May might hope for – means a return to the old customs border services and various kinds of restrictions on people’s movements across the borders into the UK.

In the academic world, this prospect has already given rise to a great deal of concern in both the UK and elsewhere in the European Union. It has also begun to be reflected in researchers’ wariness of engaging in long-term research collaboration with colleagues in the UK. In turn, academics there are increasingly worried about the future of their collaborative research projects and especially about their future opportunities to benefit from research funding from EU sources. As the largest beneficiary of, e.g., Horizon 2020 funding, the academia in the UK will certainly feel the difference if, and when, all that funding drains out.

This reality has begun to dawn on even many of the ‘leave’ voters. On the continental European side, there does not seem to be any willingness to give Britain special favours in the eventual exit deal. Somewhat paradoxically, this means, for instance, that border posts will have to re-erected between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, despite the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK. This would be in conflict with the 1998 Belfast Peace Agreement and thus open up an international dimension to the question. In an interview with the Observer (11 Feb 2017), the former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the Republic Bertie Ahearn expressed his concern about the loss of what he calls the “calming effects” [of an open border] and about the “bad feeling” that would follow from any attempt to re-establish a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. Ahearn also points out some figures which testify to the absurdity of having a hard border between the two countries: 200 crossing points between the Republic and Northern Ireland, 177,000 crossings by lorries a month, 208,000 by vans, and 1.85 million by cars. Add to these the corresponding figures for the cross-Channel traffic and you soon realise that May and the British Government haven’t quite thought the matter through.

Closer to home, Brexit is also making its mark, e.g. in the numbers of students wanting to study in British universities. Traditionally, Britain has been the destination of most of the Finns admitted to British higher education institutions, with currently some 2,000 enrollments of Finnish students. While the number of applicants from Finland has for long been going up year by year, this year marked a clear drop, from 910 to 760, according to the statistics published by UCAS, the UK’s central Universities and Colleges Admission Service. Interestingly, this decline does not concern Finland only; applications from the EU as a whole fell by 7 per cent. Of course, there may be other factors at play, too, but many observers put the decline down to the imminent threat of Brexit and its consequences. In any case, we seem to be heading towards a Europe with more borders and less mobility. A lot will also depend on the outcome of the upcoming general elections in France and Italy, which may turn the tide in one direction or the other.

Markku Filppula
Dean

Brain drain

Researchers are facing tough times, as the competition for research funding is getting harder and harder.  In Finland, many funding instruments have been developed in the direction steered from above. An example of this is funding available through the Strategic Research Council of the Academy of Finland, highlighting impact. At the same time, funding for basic research in particular is hard to come by.  Research is dictated by money: the funder sets the pace and the researcher is expected to keep up. This warrants the question of whether this kind of an environment fosters long-term research at the top level.

Statistics show that over the past few years, people with academic degrees are migrating abroad in increasing numbers in the hope of better conditions for working and doing research. Many, including the Chair of the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers Petri Koikkalainen in an interview by the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE, have expressed their concern over the brain drain, as many Finnish scientists and entire research groups are relocating to research institutes abroad.

We find ourselves in this situation following a long recession. The Finnish Government’s cuts on higher education institutions’ funding also play a role in worsening the situation. The effects are becoming increasingly visible towards the end of the decade.

Published recently, the State of Scientific Research in Finland report shows that science in Finland is in a moderate shape, yet falling behind in the competition. There is a risk that we continue to decline in international rankings.

Science is global in nature. Networking is essential, and researcher mobility is desirable. But how do we make sure that our well-trained researchers return home and commit to Finland? We need attractive research environments and infrastructures, continuity and visions of the future. Currently, our research is too scattered. We need larger entities and removal of overlaps.

Many countries at the top of science attract researchers with money. In Finland, we train our own researchers and our research training is of an outstanding quality. However, we need to critically review the situation regarding research funding and make wise investments – otherwise we’ll end up just prepping researchers for a career abroad.

Hilkka Soininen
Dean

Open your science or perish?

Daniel Sarewitz analysed excellently in May issue of Nature how the pressure to constantly increase the number of scientific publications pushes down quality. The number of publications continues to grow exponentially, and because we tend to think that more is good, this is considered to be favourable for science.

However, more could also be bad. It is widely accepted that an increased share of published research is unreliable. The production of poor-quality science, the responsibility to cite previous work and the compulsion to publish create “a vicious cycle” and decrease the overall reliability of research.

The quality problem has been recognised in biomedical sciences, but similar negative feedback also occurs in other areas of research. According to Sarewitz, the problem is likely to be worse in policy-relevant fields such as nutrition, education, epidemiology and economics, in which the science is often uncertain and the societal stakes can be high.

Sarewitz suggests that avoidance of this destiny would, in part, require less frequent and more selective publication. However, are the current publication practices overall appropriate and the most feasible way to make scientific research available? Should we adopt the context of Open Science in a wider perspective than just publishing in open access journals?

This would mean a shift from the standard practice of publishing results as an individual paper toward sharing and using all available knowledge at an earlier stage in the research process. That is for science what the internet has been for social and economic transactions: allowing colleagues to interpret the research and end users to be involved in the production of ideas, relations and services, and in doing so, enabling a new operational model for science.

Open Science in a wider sense is yet a very complicated and dimly seen entity, requiring numerous ethical, legal and technical issues to be clarified and solved. However, it requires a shift from the “publish or perish” to the “open your science or perish” culture, involving the indicators for scientists to merit in doing that.

Jukka_Monkkonen_100X130Jukka Mönkkönen

Rector

Students make the university

A research institute is an organisation with active scientists working on chosen scientific fields and topics. Based on that, any university is also a research institute. In UEF, the Faculty of Science and Forestry can call itself an intensive research institute.   An institute with teaching activity is traditionally called a school. A university also has a commitment to teaching its students. Actually, through teaching universities educate new researchers and professionals. As research and teaching are thus linked, to be a true university, both activities must be in order. In the strategy of UEF, both missions are appreciated and ideas for development are provided. My faculty makes 2/3 of its income from output that is related to research. It does not mean that our departments with a high level of research can ignore teaching; instead we must make a significant effort in the development of teaching to be convincing as a university faculty.  The development of learning environments is not the only instrument that is needed for future success in teaching.

In UEF, university students will judge if our teaching activities are of high quality. Students can also tell us potential flaws in our teaching arrangements and practices. Therefore, students’ feedback, and our analysis of that feedback should provide the basis for the development of our teaching activities. The feedback should not only guide us for the optimal development of our teaching system as a whole, but also help individual teachers to develop their own ways of teaching. As many of us recognise, the university’s feedback systems may not be optimal and development is obviously needed. However, I am sure that useful feedback can be received any moment provided that we appreciate its importance, have regular contacts and informal relationships with our students.  The quality system of UEF, when functioning as expected, will certainly pinpoint potential problems in teaching.

In natural sciences, the recruitment of new, talented students is a true challenge. We have to work in many ways to be successful in the future. To help ourselves, we need the support of our present students. Their positive experience and satisfaction with the university education they have received serves as the most important basis for success in the competition for future students.

Jukka Jurvelin

Jukka Jurvelin
Dean of the Faculty of Science and Forestry

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

 

 

 

 

At the interface between universities and companies

Nordic universities were very successful in the recently published Times Higher Education European University Top 200 Rankings, as six Finnish universities made the cut, UEF among them. This is a clear indication of the high quality of Finnish education and research, as well as of the functionality of the system. By developing research, this performance can be further enhanced. When it comes to doing research, Finnish universities are getting more and more dependent on external funding every year. Another new trend is the fact that research funders increasingly push universities to collaborate with companies and different organisations in order to put research into practice without delay.

In natural sciences, health sciences and engineering sciences, university-business collaboration has long traditions, but in human sciences, this kind of cooperation has been more random. Collaboration with organisations making use of research findings is a requirement in calls of the Strategic Research Council of the Academy of Finland and in Horizon2020 projects, not to mention in funding offered by the EU’s Structural Funds or Tekes. A key challenge for the Finnish universities – and for human sciences in particular – is to establish links to organisations and especially to companies that utilise research findings. So, how to bring together those who need research data, and those who generate it?

Before answering the question, I’ll explain how things are done at KU Leuven in Belgium, a university that has succeeded very well in research funding calls of the European Commission. Saija Miina, the Research Coordinator of our faculty, was recently introduced to the funding models of five universities in the Flanders area. There, universities are given basic public funding and a significant share of national funding for research on the basis of indicators measuring the performance of their research and innovation activities, and there is no separate competition for funding like we have through the Academy of Finland. The internal distribution of research funding at the universities is based on competition between different research groups. At KU Leuven, internal research funding decisions involve the recipient’s commitment to apply for funding from the instruments of the European Commission, or at least to collaborate with companies and other organisations. For creating networks and making research available to the “markets”, KU Leuven has hired persons with such titles as Industrial Manager and Knowledge Breaker to lower the threshold of researchers to engage in dialogue with companies. The funding model of KU Leuven puts a pressure on researchers to seek cooperation with key stakeholders. Two thirds of Leuven professors collaborate with companies or other organisations, irrespective of their discipline.

As we are competing for the same funds of the European Commission, we need to observe our competitors, adopt best practices and brainstorm for new ways of doing things. At UEF, university-business cooperation has been systematically strengthened since late 2014, following the appointment of Anssi Lehikoinen to a Professor of Practice position. We’ve already seen visible results, and creating increasingly extensive cooperation is the aim of the Commercialisation Solutions project launched late last year, which seeks to create a new model and an incentive system for the commercialisation of research. With an open and broad mind, the interface between universities and companies is fertile ground for creating new ideas on how to develop research and how to apply research findings.

harri_siiskonen
Harri Siiskonen
Dean

Multidisciplinarity – interdisciplinarity in tackling global challenges

A special issue of Nature, September 17, 2015 published articles on interdisciplinarity in science. The article by Robert Van Noorden shows some interesting figures and numbers on this topic. The popularity of interdisciplinary has been varying over time, but currently it seems to be on the rise and is the most popular ever now in the twenty-first century.

Is interdisciplinarity needed? Scientists, policymakers and also funders consider it important in solving complicated questions. Horizon2020 programmes, for example, strongly emphasise interdisciplinary approaches and also require an evaluation of impact of the proposed research from different points of view.

Does interdisciplinarity have impact? It depends on how you measure it and what is the timeframe. In terms of citations, papers with less interdisciplinarity gained more citations compared to those with more interdisciplinarity over a 3-year period. However, in a longer period up to 13 years citations of the more interdisciplinary papers overcame those with a less diverse scope. Of course, impact is not only counting citations but considering other impact such as societal, health, technological and economic impact as well.

Is interdisciplinary research easy to do? Nowadays, research often needs expertise of different fields of science. “Low hanging fruit” in science are not easy to catch any more. It may take time to find the common language between experts from different disciplines. It takes time to deliver, but it can be rewarding.

Is it related to the field of science? It is notable that e.g. clinical medicine papers rarely cite papers from other disciplines of science. On the other hand “health science” in a broader sense and social studies of medicine in particular seem be very interdisciplinary.

Does it work in Finland? There are still too many barriers between universities, faculties, departments, professions, and research groups. The strategic research funding (STN) funding instrument is one way to facilitate interdisciplinarity – however, top down. I think that it is better to promote science across borders and spontaneous interaction between research groups with different expertise – bottom up.

It is not easy but it may be rewarding and productive. I recommend it!

Hilkka Soininen (2)Hilkka Soininen
Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences

Get exited – about something!

“I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it, I’m about to lose control and I think I like it…” For some reason, that song by Pointer Sisters was ringing in my ears last summer when I was riding my motorbike along Road 92 in Finnish Lapland. It made me think about the things that I’m excited about. Getting immersed in my thoughts while riding through beautiful summer scenery is definitely on the top of the list: that’s truly exciting and empowering.

Excitement should also be something one associates with working, at least from time to time. Although I’ve heard that in research, excitement is not enough, one needs to have passion. Passion makes people do incredible things, sometimes downright crazy ones. When passion is in play, one doesn’t count the hours. That’s what has happened to many researchers and they’ve been able to keep that passion alive year in, year out. That’s all great, but I think a word of warning is in place. Every now and then, it’s good to stop and think about time management, as when we get older, our bodies can remind us that too much is too much. It’s wise to pay close attention to these signals.

My faculty, the Faculty of Science and Forestry, succeeded very well in acquiring Academy of Finland funding this spring. This compensates for our weaker performance in earlier years, and hopefully will help us get through some difficult times. Success is a source of excitement and it builds faith in the things we are doing. As the Dean of the faculty, I’m proud of and grateful to our staff.

So, get excited about something. Finding that one source of inspiration is a resource each and every one of us should have. It serves as a motor for everything we do and also helps us cope at work. For many people here at the university, work can be major resource, but most of us also need something else. Holidays are often revitalising, especially if one has something exciting to do. I’m already waiting for mine.

Jukka JurvelinJukka Jurvelin
Dean, Faculty of Science and Forestry

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