A report just out by VTT Finland and Tampere University highlights a worrying trend in the Finnish RDI field.
Commissioned by the Finnish Research Impact Foundation FRIF, the report raises concerns about a slowdown in cooperation between academia and industry.
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“Finland has been quite at the cutting edge compared to its European peers, but recent indicators suggest that cooperation has been on the decline and that we’ve become increasingly detached and isolated from each other,” says Arho Suominen, one of the report’s authors who works at VTT and Tampere University.
Suominen says that there are several bodies in Finland that provide funding for joint projects between the university and business sector. In recent years these joint efforts have been significantly curtailed, however.
“In the current financing environment the two sides quite simply don’t see each other as attractive partners in cooperation. Because of the scarcity of meaningful research problems and limited opportunities to achieve academic merit, research funding doesn’t give enough incentive for researchers to join forces and work together,” Suominen explains.
Based on an extensive review of the research literature and indicators of research cooperation, the report puts forward a range of new initiatives for deepening cooperation between universities and businesses.
Close collaboration between academia and business has generated significant growth and contributed to regenerate and revitalise the Finnish economy. It has long been recognized as one of the major strengths of the Finnish system compared to other European countries. Yet the momentum of this cooperation is now waning.
Over the past decade the amount and relative weight of business-funded research have continued to decline at universities across the country. This is in stark contrast to trends in other EU and OECD countries, as indicated by figures for business-funded academic research in Finland in 2000–2018 compared to the EU average (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Universities’ funding from business and industry in Finland, EU28 and OECD countries. Source: OECD, Main Science and Technology Indicators
Chairman of the FRIF Board, Mr Lauri Oksanen says that Finnish business and industry is certainly keen to undertake research cooperation and to take advantage of the unique skills and competencies and the new business generated.
“There is no doubt that both parties benefit from the coming together of research and innovation. It’s crucial that we get this cooperation back on track,” Mr Oksanen says.
Improving and intensifying cooperation between academia and industry is important so that Finland can continue to build on its key success factor – a culture of cooperation and interaction – and so that it does not fall behind international developments.
“Our research system in Finland is world-class, and we also have a very strong export industry. The obstacles to cooperation are largely structural and cultural in nature and cannot be overcome by money alone. We need to have open dialogue about the bottlenecks of cooperation and to show a true commitment to finding solutions,” Arho Suominen says.
The report makes a range of observations and suggestions about developing funding opportunities that will serve to promote cooperation. One of these observations is that rather than making funding available for individual projects, funding schemes should be specifically geared to advancing cooperation, promoting interaction and securing the continuity of cooperation.