From the Dean: Shaping up the university

All universities and polytechnics in Finland are dependent on public funding and government support.

As the concern for the long-term sustainability of public finances grows,  also the higher-education system comes under scrutiny. Is the dual structure with separate universities and polytechnics still viable?  How could we improve the overall performance of the university system? Are we using our resources optimally?

The government has now initiated a process whereby universities are pushed towards improving their research performance through focusing on their respective strength areas.  This Profiling Initiative aims at streamlining the activities and at reaching critical mass and higher impact in the selected areas.  Thirteen universities (out of fourteen in the country) have now submitted proposals for profiling efforts. The proposals will be evaluated by an international panel nominated by the Academy of Finland, who will make the relevant funding decisions. The next call for profiling actions will open later this year, and there are plans to continue the program for several years.  The objective is that the Profiling Initiative will eventually begin shaping up the Finnish universities.

Aalto University has based its profiling proposal on the strategy work carried out during its short history. The strength areas are defined, albeit broadly, and the proposed measures are connected to the many actions already undertaken.  Aalto School of Science is active in several of the focus areas: ICT, materials, business dynamics, energy, health and wellbeing. This gives us special responsibilities in spearheading many of the relevant research efforts.  We put quality first, set our ambitions high, and are open to collaboration.  During the spring we will continue our strategy discussions in the form of Dean’s visits to the Departments. Let’s use these to prepare ourselves for  the next rounds of the Profiling Initiative.

The underlying question for the profiling effort is how to define the role of  universities in society. The Universities Act gives an eloquent answer in its first two paragraphs. Another answer can be formulated from the educational point of view: A university has to teach incoming undergraduates to give right answers to existing questions.  It also has to enable graduating masters and doctors to pose the right questions.

Risto Nieminen
Dean, School of Science

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