The Freedom to Do Research

Finland is celebrating its independence this year. Independence is intertwined with many concepts, a central one of which is freedom. Autonomy and freedom in research and teaching are among the foundation pillars of the university too.

In their spending limits discussion at the end of April, the government will seek to find supplementary appropriations for education, research and the innovation system. The capital investments made on universities are a way to secure basic research and the research basis of teaching, because capitalization leaves the universities with the right to decide how to use the revenue from the capital investments.

The government is also looking for ways to strengthen the effectiveness and the commercialization of research results. This can be pursued by taking these aims into account in the direction of research funding.

The visibility of researchers and science politics in societal discussion, for its part, increases the usability of science and research knowledge. Utilizing research knowledge in decision-making is a step in the same direction.

Investments in research and development work done by companies are connected to the number of innovations. Overemphasizing the commercialization of university research, however, includes the risk of making principally equal disciplines unequal. And universities of applied sciences, which have joint research, development and innovation activities with companies and other working life, have their own important role in the field of applied research.

It is understandable that funders, meaning the state and the citizens, expect that issues that are important from their own point of view will be studied. It is, however, not entirely self-evident that strategic direction of research by decision-makers will lead to drastic growth of national economy and to competitive edge. Direction is based on the same information that is also globally available to all other players.

Education and cultivation as well as basic research have been the niche of universities. Through these and through societal interaction universities can work for civic society. Even from a utilitarian viewpoint, precisely basic research can lead to breakthroughs. Researchers are best able to find their way to new areas in their own fields when they are not governed too much.

The connection that research has to the research basis of teaching is an essential thing. Teachers’ research is often basic research in a field and research to develop teaching and studying.

Research conducted by teachers is significant from the point of view of the quality of teaching, even though teachers might not be doing international cuttingedge research. It is not easy to succeed in applying for competitive funding while in a teaching-intensive position. An investment in basic research is also an investment in high-quality education.

High numbers of teaching hours and continuous structural development make the small amounts of time available for research in teaching positions fragmented. The need to secure teachers’ research has led to decreasing the amount of contact teaching, enlarging the size of teaching groups and increasing the amount of time students spend studying by themselves. Student feedback speaks about the appreciation of teaching: there is a desire to secure teaching resources too; not everything can be learned from books and through studying a phenomenon together with a fellow student. This is a challenge that education organisers must seek to respond to together with teachers and students.

The central mission of universities is to promote free research and academic and artistic education and to provide higher education based on research. The text of the law is a strong guideline as we work on the important job of increasing the resources of education and research.

Seppo Sainio
Chair, The Union for University Teachers and Researchers in Finland, YLL

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