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Home BUSINESSDownsizing of research may undermine Finnish competitive edge
Sun, 25 Jan, 2015 12:00:28 AM
FTimes- Xinhua Report by Juhani Niinisto, Jan. 25
A row of buildings once to house the Nokia Research Center at the western waterfront of Helsinki, capital city of Finland, are awaiting tenants. The former mobile giant still has the team, but as a small unit only.
Analysts believed the Nordic country's prosperity brought by Nokia in the 1990s was partially a result of major public spending on technological development and innovations.
However, a way out of the current economic downturn is not paved with public input in research. On the contrary, recent cutbacks impacted both the scope of research and the related labor market.  
Highlighting the change, the Technical Research Center of Finland (VTT), a key hub for industrial innovations, became a limited liability company starting from Jan. 1, 2015 and is no longer a government agency. In preparation for the change, VTT reduced over 500 jobs in the last two years.
Erkki Leppavuori, Director General of VTT, told Xinhua that nationally some 800 million euros (897 million U.S. dollars) has disappeared from spending on technological development. Reduced funding in Finland also affects the availability of "matching funds" from the EU.
Much of the change was caused by a research sector reform launched by the government two years ago. The need for such a reform was not widely contested, but the toll has been heavy.
Universities now have to compete with each other for parts of their public funding. Some research institutes have to downsize and even close down.
Unemployment among people holding doctorate level degrees has doubled in two years. Last October a total of 1,400 researchers were unemployed in all Finnish academic fields, local media reported.
Commenting to Xinhua, the chairman of the Union of Researchers Petri Koikkalainen said there was simply less space available for doing research in universities autonomously without outside frameworks.
In recent years funding of research in universities has been partially transferred to the governmental Academy of Finland, and funds are only available to universities on the basis of applications.
"Those sectors that cannot produce any immediate value may be disadvantaged in the allocations," Koikkalainen said.
Besides concerns over the neglect, there seems to be a mistrust between the academic research community and the political level.
Koikkalainen expressed his fear of increasing political processes in allocating funds for research. "There seem to be problems in communications between the government level and the research community," Koikkalainen said.
The worst scenario is that the focus may shift when a new cabinet is formed, and the originally chosen priority on research may suddenly have no value. Koikkalainen made the remarks referring to the upcoming elections in April.
VTT's Leppavuori said it is important that political decision making is "based on researched facts." "But how to attain that is a bigger question," he said.
Leppavuori accepted the view that competition improves quality. "Perhaps half and half," he said when asked what is the proper level of competition.
"In the Technical Research Center the share of private financing has been at around 70 percent, and may still increase. But when we reach 80 percent against 20 percent, it may not be that sensible, in the long term," he explained.
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