Markku Mattila: Reaching Across the Atlantic

Internationalization has long been a cornerstone of Finnish science policy. International collaborations help boost the quality of research and raise the visibility of Finnish science on international arenas.

Finland has established extensive cooperation with both the US and Canada. Researcher mobility between Finland and the US has continued its steady increase and the same trend can be seen between Finland and Canada. However, in relative terms, researcher mobility to Finland is still at a lower level than outward mobility to North America.  This means that Finland still has work to do in attracting first-rate researchers to the country. At present, the vast potential of international research collaboration is often left untapped.

The US is in the process of taking action and expanding the international scope of its research system. As part of this undertaking, the US National Science Foundation set up a pilot collaboration within its Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Launched in autumn 2008, this international research opportunity was targeted at supporting research visits of 3–12 months by US Graduate Research Fellows to leading Nordic institutions. The goal was to enable early-career collaboration with international research partners.

The Academy of Finland, too, is keen to expand and strengthen collaboration with research funding agencies in the US and Canada. This cooperation would aim at long-term contacts, predictability and the exchange of good practices. We want to improve the opportunities available for researchers on both sides of the Atlantic in terms of high-quality research collaboration.

For example, through our funding, we support the international engagement of Finnish Centres of Excellence in Research and other high-level research groups in Finland. We also provide funding for their efforts in making their research environments more competitive and international. Researcher mobility is, of course, also a high priority for us and, as such, is embedded in most Academy funding schemes.

In my opinion, one of the real success stories of the internationalization of the Finnish research system is the Finland Distinguished Professor Programme (FiDiPro), a joint initiative of the Academy of Finland and Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation. Through the FiDiPro programme, Finnish universities and research institutes can hire foreign top researchers or Finnish top researchers who have long worked abroad to team up with researchers in Finland for a fixed period. The researchers will be based in scientifically significant and strategically key fields as defined by the Finnish universities and research institutes.

FiDiPro was launched in 2006 and has since provided funding to more than 70 researchers, some 30 from the US academic community. Four researchers from Canada have also received FiDiPro funding.

The Fulbright Center has invaluable experience and insight when it comes to transatlantic cooperation, especially in student and researcher mobility. The Academy of Finland feels it is important to further strengthen this transatlantic collaboration by stepping up joint efforts between research funding agencies in mutually interesting fields.

Markku Mattila
Academy of Finland

Published in the Fulbright Center News 1/2011