Rector Jouko Niinimäki at the opening ceremony: Increasing the standard of education requires financial investment

In recent years, the scientific position of the University of Oulu has grown in a variety of ways, and the outlook for the new academic year is good," said Rector Jouko Niinimäki in his speech at the opening ceremony. “University education will be developed in many ways,” he continued. Education, scholarship and learning were also addressed by Atte Jääskeläinen, President of Sitra, and Suvi-Anna Salminen, the Chair of the Board of the Student Union of the University of Oulu, in their speeches at the opening ceremony of the university's academic year.
Rehtori Jouko Niinimäki  puhumassa avajaisjuhlassa

“The strengthening of the scientific position of the University of Oulu is evidenced by a record-breaking increase in publishing, an increase in the number of high-quality publications and success in the competition for supplementary research funding," said Rector Niinimäki.

According to him, the policies of the new government show that science is seen as an important foundation for competence and education and as a source of innovation. The aim seems to be to increase RD funding to 4% of GDP by 2030.

"However, the Ministry of Finance's budget proposal is more worrying where RDI funding is concerned. It seems that long-term scientific research and the related doctoral education would only be getting the leftovers of additional investments, with a majority of the funding going elsewhere," Niinimäki said.

The Finnish Government also seems to have identified educational development needs to correct declining learning outcomes and standard of education. It is felt that these are manifested in the labour market as a shortage of experts, something that will only get worse.

According to Niinimäki, the national goal is to turn the population’s education level back on a growth path and increase the share of higher education graduates. However, without adequate funding to boost higher education, this objective will not be achieved,” said Niinimäki. “The autonomous status of the universities is well recognized in our country, yet consistent funding is needed to safeguard it.

"The aim is to increase the number of starting places for higher education institutions, especially in growth centres and sectors where significant labour shortages are anticipated. However, it should be noted that the long-term declining trend in basic university funding in relation to the number of students makes it more difficult for universities to increase their education."

The University of Oulu will update its own strategies and those of its faculties in order to prepare for the changing operating environment. An extensive education development programme has been launched.

"We are now paying special attention to the development of education so that the University of Oulu will continue to be known as a strong northern education institution that offers high-quality education."

With scholarship comes the capacity to cope

Atte Jääskeläinen, President of Sitra, examined the significance of Bildung in his speech. According to him, the most important factor which helped Finland become one of the most prosperous countries in the world in a hundred years was investing in education and competence. In the early 1990s, Finland was the world's most educated nation. Now the situation is different.

"Other countries invested in education, but Finland achieved good results in the PISA surveys. We started basking in the international spotlight as a model country for education. Caught up in its own success, Finland fell between Turkey and Chile in its level of higher education. Finland is falling into debt while the other Nordic countries grow and prosper."

The Government is now investing heavily in research and development funding. According to Jääskeläinen, the investment is bold, but it alone will not solve the problems.

"Research and development need a favourable, systemic real-world environment alongside them, where the value of this investment in society can be generated. In the worst case scenario, we may face a situation where we develop innovations in Finland that we can’t put to use because we don’t have a competent workforce for them. And growth in research isn’t possible, either, unless we have the people to make it happen. Employment offices aren’t overflowing with highly skilled, world-class researchers."

According to Jääskeläinen, in addition to sustainable development that is in balance with nature, how Finland will renew its human capital in the future has already risen to become a central focus.

"Human capital grows, when we are educated and learn, we grow. When we have people with expertise that is built upon a broad-based foundation of Bildung, we will also be able to deal with the difficult times ahead. Bildung lays the foundation for human growth and well-being, but also for the ability to adapt to a world that is changing faster and becoming increasingly unpredictable. Higher education institutions play a key role in creating and maintaining our human capital."

We are currently living a strange and even a bit scary time, where decision-making processes might be based on handpicked opinions and conspiracy theories, where the limits of freedom of speech are stretched out based on freedom of opinion, while the responsibility that comes with it is forgotten. We live in a time, where it seems that nobody fights against hate speech," said Suvi-Anna Salminen, Chair of the Board of the University of Oulu Student Union, in the greeting of students.

"During these dark times the importance of universities as the cradle of education and science is even more important than before. Scientific world view and education together are the best medicine against the recession," she said.

According to Salminen, the learning process here doesn’t happen only in the lecture halls, but also in daily meetings with people from different backgrounds.

"That is why it is extremely important to respect each other, because this respect follows us beyond the university doors and academic bubble. Minorities often face discrimination and prejudice, and that is something we have to address as a community. It is important that we all have the opportunity to influence matters that concern us."

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Last updated: 8.9.2023