Jukka Gustafsson: Finnish-American Linkages

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, collaborating with other Ministries and stakeholders, has drawn up an Action Plan for cooperation with the United States of America. The plan specifies innovation and research as areas of great potential, especially in the fields of information, environment, energy, health, food and nutrition and in creative fields. 

The USA is the leading country in science, research and innovation. Finland generally fares well in different reviews of the performance and safety of society, education, welfare and the innovation system and seeks to consolidate its position as one of the spearhead countries in knowledge, skills and competence. The Finnish Government has launched significant research, innovation and higher education reforms in order to develop a stronger and better higher education system, world-class research structures and environments, and first-class researcher training.

Finnish universities have been actively instituting structured education at the doctoral level. The Finnish graduate school system, founded in 1995, has renewed researcher training in many disciplines and helped strengthen research and artistic activities in the 3rd cycle degree programs in performing arts. The structured approach will be extended to all doctoral students and all disciplines. It is of the utmost importance to base the change in doctoral training on the needs of research. As to human resources, one of the national goals is to increase the proportion of trained researchers among R&D personnel – not only in academia, but also elsewhere in the public sector and in the private sector.

The expectations of the surrounding society and the global higher education markets are the driving force for modernizing the contents of undergraduate and graduate programs to better match the competencies needed in working life and society. The importance of transferable skills has been to the fore in European discussion on the knowledge based economy and competitiveness. Higher education institutions are also increasingly international. Internationalization is an integral part of researcher training and all undergraduate programs should provide opportunities for internationalization.

The Finnish Higher Education Evaluation Council recently conducted a follow-up evaluation of doctoral education in Finland (FINHEEC 15:2011). One of the main observations was that without changing the procedures in doctoral education, it will be impossible to complete doctoral studies in four years, the time generally agreed upon by universities. If the completion of doctoral studies could be accelerated, it would ensure the international comparability and complementarity of the Finnish higher education system. It would also shift emphasis from doctoral education to the post-doctoral stage in the research career. It is clearly important that the funding mechanisms enable early-stage researchers to concentrate on training.

Finland and the USA have strong links in scientific co-operation. Students and researchers on both sides of the Atlantic have found study and work overseas attractive. The ASLA-Fulbright program, the Fulbright Center, foundations, alumni and friends of the program make a substantial contribution to the internationalization of higher education and research. Networking benefits all involved. I find the wide-spread cooperation extremely valuable, especially in these times of budgetary constraints. It is a good complement to the long-standing commitment of the public authorities and the input of a growing number of companies and universities in establishing their own dedicated Fulbright Scholarships.  All this positive development would not be possible without the exemplary work done by the Finnish Fulbright Center.

Jukka Gustafsson
Minister of Education and Science

Photo: Janne Suhonen, valtioneuvoston kanslia

Published in the Fulbright Center News 2/2011