Henna Virkkunen: Finnish-American Quality

International cooperation needs flagships. The post-war period was a time of renewal and internationalization for Finnish science; this happened with the help of ASLA and Fulbright scholarships, which made it possible for Finns to travel to the leading US universities to study. In the natural sciences, medicine and engineering in particular, the leading science was found in the US. The benefit gained from these visits was not restricted to the universities, for the knowledge reflected into Finnish society at large.

In Finland, recent decades have seen the expansion of the higher education system to cover the whole country. Our membership in the European Union and the subsequent linkage with the European higher education area launched Finland on a new wave of internationalization. Alongside the European context, Finland has maintained strong links with the USA particularly in scientific cooperation. I am convinced that this transatlantic connection will further deepen and diversify in the future. The reasons for this can be crystallized into three words: modernization, comparisons and quality. The overarching factor in these is the accelerating internationalization in higher education.

Responding to the challenge of internationalization, countries and institutions invest in quality, attractive research systems, increased mobility and international research and researcher training. Many European countries are amending their legislation to make their universities more autonomous. They are interested in the value and appreciation of their universities on the international market and in international recognition of their top research. Steps are taken to enhance collaboration between universities and business and to encourage graduates to embark on a research career. The modernization of European universities is gaining momentum from comparison with the dynamic research and innovation system in the US, the overriding aim - to create research and study environments that are able to compete with the best in the US.

Finland is at the forefront of modernization. The Government has launched significant research, innovation and higher education reforms. The aim is a stronger and better higher education system, world-class research structures and environments, and first-class researcher training and researchers. The prerequisites for this are excellent. We have been able to seize opportunities offered by technological development and ever quickening globalization. Finland is at the forefront of productivity and technological development in many fields and is doing well in international comparisons of competitiveness, education, research and technology. These achievements are based on an excellent education system, long-term investment by the private and public sectors in research and development, and effective, networked institutions.

It is important that our national strengths are developed further and of our international cooperation is enhanced. When the aim is the highest possible quality, USA as the leading science country in the world is an obvious partner. Finland can be a valuable partner only if we, too, have high standard knowledge and research to offer. There are gratifying signs that interest in cooperation is growing on both sides of the Atlantic. A few years ago, we set up a funding scheme called "Finland Distinguished Professor Programme" (FiDiPro) with the aim of hiring first-rate researchers from abroad to work in Finland. 22 Of the current 51 FiDiPro professors come from the us academic community. In my book, this tells us something both about our very good cooperation relations and about the standard and attractiveness of Finnish research and universities.

It is a good indication of the strong commitment of the Finnish and US governments to cooperation between our countries that both have decided to increase the public funding of the Fulbright Program by 50 per cent. In a time of economic constraints, this is a significant policy decision and endorsement of the exemplary work done through the Fulbright network of partnerships. The long-standing commitment of the public authorities seems to work as an incentive in the way desired. In Finland technology companies and universities have established their own dedicated Fulbright scholarships. There is new drive and dynamism in our transatlantic cooperation.

 

Henna Virkkunen
Minister of Education and Science

Published in the Fulbright Center News 1/2010