Ilkka Niemelä to the Finnish Government: Innovations and sustainable growth will be lost if immigration policies are implemented

Internationality has accelerated innovation and helped many Finnish companies from Aalto along their growth trajectories. Nearly half of Aalto University’s academic staff come from outside Finland, and Aalto students are from more than 100 countries.
Ilkka Niemelä in his official black ceremony clothes giving speech
'To shape a sustainable future, we need the best talents, regardless of nationality,' states Niemelä. Photo: Mikko Raskinen / Aalto University

In just over a decade, Aalto University has become the most international university in Finland and the 47th most international university in the world. Aalto’s degree students call more than 117 countries home, while 48 per cent of Aalto’s research and teaching staff hail from abroad.

Aalto’s message to the new Finnish government is clear: the planned restrictions on immigration must not become a reality. 

‘The plans have raised grave concerns across our community, business partners, and the entire Finnish university field. The proposed restrictions are alarming in humane terms, and would undermine the high-quality research and education upon which Finland’s innovation, sustainable growth and competitive ability are built,’ says Aalto University President Ilkka Niemelä.

On a global scale, the bar for universities is constantly being raised. Attracting the best researchers and students helps Finland to compete internationally. Without cutting-edge research, investment from international businesses will not be received – a critical factor in Finland meeting its research, development and innovation funding targets (4 per cent of GDP).

Together we are stronger.

Ilkka Niemelä

Nearly half of the projects at Aalto working to commercialise research have international teams. Interacting with people from around the globe has provided a solid foundation for many of Aalto-born Finnish startups, like ICEYE, which builds the world’s smallest radar satellites; Ioncell, which has developed high-quality, sustainable textile fibres; and the quantum-computer driven IQM. 

‘In the field of quantum research and technology, the competition for highly trained experts is fierce. To safeguard growth in the Finnish quantum sector, it’s crucial that Finland remain an attractive location for professionals. Our success is made possible by the support we give for world-class research and expertise. The current government must ensure that Finland’s development, growth and prosperity will continue in the future,’ says IQM’s co-founder and Global Affairs Officer Juha Vartiainen.

‘Tightening policies on immigration, and work and residence permits would lead Finnish society in the wrong direction. Diversity is a huge opportunity and resource, and Aalto at its foundation was directed to pursue internationalisation as a national objective. To shape a sustainable future, we need the best talents, regardless of nationality. Together we are stronger,’ states Niemelä.

Internationalisation and diversity were also the key themes of Niemelä's speech for the opening ceremony of the academic year on 5 September. Aalto University is also taking an active stand on social media for an international Finland.

Niemelä’s and Aalto Student Union Chair Ida Parkkinen’s speeches can be found below.

Requests for interviews: 

Ilkka Niemelä, President, Aalto University
+358 50 452 4690 (assistant Hely Kilpeläinen)
[email protected]


  • Aalto University has degree students from 117 countries and staff from 93 countries. 
  • Among Aalto’s teaching and research faculty, 48 per cent come from outside of Finland. Among doctoral researchers, 61 per cent are from abroad. 
  • Aalto scored the highest among Finnish universities in the international QS World University Rankings, which rate universities on sustainable development, graduate employment and the percentage of academic staff, students and networks that are international. Aalto placed 109th among the universities of the world in the QS rankings. 
  • Teams with members from outside of Finland account for 49 per cent of Aalto’s commercialisation projects, which are research projects in the preparation phase for entering the commercial market. One way commercialisation occurs is by establishing a startup company based on the research project, with Aalto members often having an ownership stake in the new venture. Business Finland’s R2B funding provides financial support.
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