Finland is a welcoming place for immigrants, but the tone of the discussion is worrisome, says Himadri Majumdar, VTT’s Lead of Quantum Programmes. Having arrived 16 years ago, he nowadays considers himself a Finn.

On Twitter you stated your wish for a more positive tone in discussions of immigrants. What do you mean by this?

“I hope our society starts positively reflecting on the contributions that immigrants make. ‘Immigrant’ is a stereotype that has developed a negative connotation over the years. It is predominantly used and meant for foreigners who are in Finland because they have nowhere else to be — because they are desperate. This overshadows those immigrants who are here by choice and are taking the lead or contributing to activities that make Finland stronger. It is sometimes conflicting when we feel very welcome in our professional domain but the atmosphere created in public discourse is contrary to that and makes us feel unwelcome.”

How do you see the academic community’s role in such a discussion?

“Inside academia, the situation is generally quite good. Academia is one of the rare domains where merit defines an individual, not the person’s color, creed or any other non-academic criteria.

“It is, however, important for the academic community to raise their voices when they see discrimination. What the academic community can teach the greater society is how to become a truly merit-based, equal-opportunity society and help society see the benefits of it.”

You came to Finland as a post-doc at Åbo Akademi in 2004. Was moving from India to a small Swedish-speaking university a natural choice?

“It was, actually. When doing my PhD, I looked for research groups to join to continue my research, and Åbo offered me a position after I visited them in 2003. It also helped that my wife, who is also a physicist, got a position in the University of Turku.”

Looking back, do you think you made the right call?

“Yes, absolutely. We both have liked working here a lot. I have also had the opportunity to work in the US, but the Finnish professional atmosphere has suited me better. We have also raised our sons here, and I’d say they consider themselves Finns.”

Recently it has been said that foreign researchers just come here to do a PhD and then move on. Do you think this a problem?

“I can understand that viewpoint, yes. But Finland is a small a country, and if you want to stay in academia, in many fields there are not so many positions you can apply to. In comparison, the US has hundreds of universities.”

How about outside of academia?

“Outside, there is currently a mismatch of supply and demand in Finland. The education and skills that the universities offer in Finland are sometimes not exactly the skills that are sought by Finnish companies. Then, inevitably, those highly skilled individuals find employment elsewhere, where the industry and demand exist.

“To solve this there should be a constant, strong dialogue between industry and academia. The Podoco program ( is a great example, and there should be more such programs to retain talent.

“The other alternative to retaining these Finlandeducated foreign students is providing them the platform to create their own business, which might birth a new industry in Finland someday. I believe quite a few foreigners currently run start-ups in Finland. That should happen more often. That is one good way to retain and prosper from the skills that are developed in Finland.”

Himadri Majumdar, who hails from India, moved to Finland with his family in 2004. Majumdar has lived in the country for sixteen years, and is raising his children here.

teksti Juha Merimaa
kuva VTT

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