President Ilkka Niemelä: 'Investments in universities is the best solution to address the shortage of experts'

Chair of the Board of Aalto University Student Union Otto Usvajärvi also spoke at the opening of the academic year. The ceremony was held online.
Rehtori Ilkka Niemelän puhe

In his opening speech at the opening of the academic year, Aalto University President Ilkka Niemelä considered it important that the Finnish government continued to emphasise research and development activities and education in its budget proposal for 2023 put forward last week.

‘The aim is to raise research, development and innovation (RDI) expenditures to reflect four per cent of the GNP by 2030. While this is a step in the right direction, it does call for extra investments from the next government in order to realise the goal. We are facing dramatic changes as we seek solutions to the major sustainability challenges, particularly climate change and the loss of biodiversity. It is essential to allocate public RDI investments for sustainable development, provided that they leverage private investments, because most RDI investments afterall come from companies.’  

According to Niemelä: ‘The journey to four per cent would raise RDI euro investment by several hundreds of millions, of which more than half would go to expert work. This means that we need a substantial number of new specialists for the future. The bottleneck for addressing sustainability challenges, sustainable growth and its concomitant RDI investment is actually a shortage of experts and expertise. And this challenge is best solved by investing in universities! Investments in universities have the double effect of creating new expertise, research results and the discoveries necessary for sustainable innovation, as well as new experts who are so greatly needed.’ 

The Chair of the Board of Aalto University Student Union (AYY) Otto Usvajärvi noted in his speech: ‘The university community has been through a lot in the past few years. In the face of unforeseen circumstances, the whole community pulled together and performed exceptionally well. Nonetheless, the drastic change in the social atmosphere brought on by the pandemic was a tough blow, especially for those students who had to begin their university studies without the usual safety net formed by other students.’ 

‘Although trying times and uncertainty persist, history has shown us that the university community has the knowledge and tenacity to get through hardship and social turmoil. Here at Aalto, we help our friends and those in need. All members of the university community are welcome as they are, and everyone’s input is equally important,’ Usvajärvi continued.  

Jukka Seppälä appointed Aalto Distinguished Professor  

Jukka Seppä, Professor of Polymer Technology at the School of Chemical Engineering at Aalto University, was appointed as Aalto Distinguished Professor at the opening ceremonies. This title is awarded to professors of exceptional academic merit.   

Seppälä specialises in polymer science and engineering, especially biopolymer research. Biopolymers are based on renewable raw materials, and they can also be biodegradable. The research has resulted to many inventions and innovations for the chemical industry and the fields of medical biomaterials.  

Seppälä was involved at an early stage in developing biodegradable substitutes for conventional plastics by using bio-based lactic acid. He has also developed medical polymers. These are, for example, bioactive composites that resorb in the body, and polymer materials that release active agents in a controlled manner.  

At Aalto University, Seppälä has served as Head of Department and as Vice Dean. Seppälä has led a Centre of Excellence at the Academy of Finland, worked as head of the National Bioeconomy Infrastructure and as Academy Professor of the Academy of Finland. His 420 peer-reviewed publications have been cited around 12,000 times and he is one of the inventors in more than 50 invention and patent families. Seppälä has supervised more than 200 master’s theses and about 40 doctoral dissertations.  

Professor Jukka Seppälä gave the Aalto Talk at the opening ceremony. 

Mika A. Sillanpää and Laure Mercier de Lépinay awarded the Aalto Act of the Year 

Professor Mika A. Sillanpää and Assistant Professor Laure Mercier de Lépinay, together with their research team, overturned the basic principle of quantum mechanics with quantum drums. The researchers succeeded in measuring the location and speed of the quantum drumheads simultaneously, which was previously considered impossible. The development and testing of new approaches require a lot of patience. Physics World, representing the international physicist community, rewarded the achievement with the 2021 Breakthrough of the Year award. 

The opening ceremony also gave recognition to other accomplished members of the university community for their achievements.  


Read more:

Jukka Seppälä appointed Aalto Distinguished ProfessorMembers of Aalto community awarded for their great work

Photos: Aalto University / Mikko Raskinen



  • Speech by President Ilkka Niemelä
  • Speech by Chair of AYY Otto Usvajärvi
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