The harvest of this autumn’s budget session is now complete. The good news is that university funding will increase. The index increment, which is important, will return, and 40 million euros will be added to the basic funding. On the other hand, the issue of funding for lifelong learning remains unresolved. Moreover, funding has not been presented for increasing admission quotas, which is important for increasing educational levels. In any case, it does seem that in 2020, it is possible to eat more than just bark bread at universities. Big investments are not possible, but let’s develop Finland with a positive vibe.
The funding increase did not happen all by itself. The unions of science and education worked for a long time to achieve an increase in funding. The Finnish Union of University Professors, The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers and The Union for University Teachers and Researchers in Finland (YLL) started discussions with politicians already over a year ago. Universities Finland UNIFI, The Rectors’ Conference of Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences Arene and the Finnish Education Employers (FEE) have also been active in the discussions.
An important perspective to the discussions was provided by the National Union of University Students in Finland SYL and the University of Applied Sciences Students in Finland SAMOK. We must also not forget the active participation and connections in the discussions by the universities and research institutes and particularly their personnel. Thanks to everyone for the cooperation, which is sure to continue and become more intensive in many respects.
Politicians from all parties, for their part, must be thanked for their true preparedness for discussion. During the autumn of 2018 and the spring of 2019, the activities of the science community began to channel into a common message. Our reasoning was visible in the parties’ election platforms and some of it also ended up in the government platform. The first budget session turned into a real suspense story. The thriller was constructed from the different proposals of the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of Finance. In the first one, the increase of universities’ basic funding was 40 million and in the second one only 10 million euros. Fortunately, the first one came true and for this the government and the Minister of Science and Culture deserve thanks.
As important as the government budget is for us at universities and research institutes, the research and development activities and higher teaching in Finland also need to be evaluated as a whole. A solution for the funding of lifelong learning still does not exist. The idea that universities would just teach more is impossible. This would mean that university employees would fund the increase of the amount of education. On the other hand, the idea that teaching materials would just be distributed to larger audiences for free is equally impossible. Creators have their rights and materials are generally the property of their creators.
Additionally, the funding of research and development is lacking in Finland in comparison to our important partners. According to Statistics Finland’s advance information for 2018, the public and private R&D investments in Finland have dropped to 2.70 percent of the gross domestic product. It seems, then, that the aim of raising R&D investments to four percent of the gross domestic product, which is widely accepted on a parliamentary level, is escaping from the get-go. Of course this is partly explained by the increase of the gross domestic product.
The state alone cannot increase research funding so much that we would catch up with, for example, Sweden, where investments to R&D activities are about 1600 euros per inhabitant according to Eurostat. In Finland we spend 500 euros less per each inhabitant. The difference is so big that I would like to see someone who is acquainted with the topic investigating the causes of the difference. Clearly, in Finland there are not enough investments in research and development. The causes need to be recognised and eliminated quickly.
The past year has been a time of intensive, joint influencing for the university and research institute communities. This is also the 50th anniversary of The Finnish Union of University Professors. The Finnish Union of University Professors does not only lobby for the interests of its members, but it also develops the freedom and prerequisites of the research and the higher teaching that is based on it that is done in universities and research institutes. During this anniversary year, it has been especially rewarding to do this community labour together with good partners.
Chair, The Finnish Union of University Professors
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