For once!

An educational pilot focused on doctoral training, slated to begin next year, aims to develop education on a wide scope. In September, the Finnish government promised significant extra funding for doctoral training..

Text hannu kaskinen images Outi Kainiemi english translation marko saajanaho

This September 2023, the Finnish Union of University Professors, the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers, and five other central educational or science organisations demanded 250 million euros of extra funding for researcher training. The joint resolution was based on calculations from the Ministry of Education and Culture and Unifi, the Rector’s Council of Finnish Universities.

Two days after the resolution, the government promised an additional 262 million euros for doctoral, i.e., researcher training in their budget proposal, spanning 2024 to 2027.

Doctoral training lifted to the top development spot

FUURT Senior Adviser Miia Ijäs-Idrobo is pleased by the government’s decision to choose the development of doctoral training as their priority project. Finnish Education Employers (FEE) Policy Director Heikki Kuutti Uusitalo states this investment proves the government’s appreciation of education and research. 

“For once. This time it’s not just pretty words, and research and innovation are getting a significant amount of money.”

The overall research, development, and innovation (RDI) pot also grew via Business Finland receiving annual extra funding of 92 million euros. The Academy of Finland’s extra funding is 55 million euros for next year, 45 million for the following years. Many doctoral theses are completed during Academy projects in particular. 

According to newly appointed Unifi Executive Director Heikki Holopainen, the funding curve is likely to continue its rise, as the RDI funding act is tied to GDP. In 2030, RDI funding should comprise four percent of GDP. A third of the funding would come from the government. 

An RDI working group representing all parliamentary parties estimated this spring that Finland will require approximately two thousand new doctors per year between 2024 and 2027. In recent times, the annual rate of doctoral graduates has been slightly over 1,600 per year.  

The percentage of doctors in R&D work has doubled in a little over a decade. Meanwhile, RDI investment has increased. Based on Uusitalo’s estimates, these reasons alone will lead to a major increase in the number of doctors.

Finland will require approximately two thousand new doctors per year between 2024 and 2027.

Holopainen is pleased to see the parliamentary RDI working group get their claws out. 

“We saw cuts in many areas, research received a big sum of public funding.”

Doctoral training pilot to revamp training 

In August 2024, a doctoral training pilot will begin and continue until the end of 2027. The pilot is meant as a way to examine how doctoral training should be changed now that more than half of doctors settle outside universities.

According to the September 2023 resolution by education and science organisations and unions, the pilot is not simply about increasing the number of doctors but a full revamp of doctoral training in a sustainable, quality manner. The requirements of the job market and society form the basis for this plan, also intended to increase the number of expert-level jobs in Finland and increasing Finland’s competitiveness.

FUURT’s goal has been to improve the appeal of a researcher’s career by creating models in which all doctoral thesis work is done in an employment relationship.

Next year 2024, the universities’ doctoral training pilot begins to recruit new doctoral researchers.

FUURT’s goal has been to improve the appeal of a researcher’s career by creating models in which all doctoral thesis work is done in an employment relationship. Core university funding is increased for this purpose, and researcher graduates moving to other sectors is also supported.

According to Ijäs-Idrobo, doctoral researchers need both instructors and forms of guidance that improve their networking and connections in working life.

What makes doctoral training in Finland so special is the fact some work on their thesis in an employment relationship, some receive grants, and others alternate it with their other work.

What makes doctoral training in Finland so special is the fact some work on their thesis in an employment relationship, some receive grants, and others alternate it with their other work. Ijäs-Idrobo states that in Italy, for example, no doctoral researcher is in an employment relationship comparable to other university staff, whereas in Sweden everyone is. 

“The advantage of our mixed approach is the fact you can work on your thesis in different life situations. The disadvantage of diversity is inequality”, she elucidates.

Finnish Union of University board member, Aalto University Professor of Corporate Communication Johanna Moisander says her union requires fair compensation for doctoral researchers and their instructors alike.

“If the current resources are not enough, we must hire more people”, she states.

”If the current resources are not enough, we must hire more people”

Johanna Moisander, Professor of Corporate Communication, Aalto University

Moisander is in charge of Economics and Business Administration doctoral training at the Aalto University. According to her, the Aalto University School of Business tries to admit only so many postgraduate students that they can be offered full funding for full-time work, preferably for four years.

“We are grateful for the money. It can easily be used to produce more doctors”, she posits.

What industries require doctoral training?

Heikki Holopainen from Unifi stated in October that universities are considering both independently and jointly which industries need more doctoral training. The choice is influenced by which fields quickly have guidance capacity and whether there are interested, high-quality doctoral researchers in the field.

University of Oulu Educational Sciences lecturer and Union for University Teachers and Researchers in Finland training and communications manager Outi Ylitapio-Mäntylä highlights the need for multidisciplinary doctoral training guidance must be developed, with sufficient funding for that guidance.

The Finnish Union of University Professors has stressed that if the additional funding cannot be used to finish in-progress dissertations, new postgraduate study rights should not be granted until the autumn of 2024. Until that point, universities and professor bodies are focused on finishing the currently ongoing advisory work.

”The pilot is expected to increase both the quantity and quality of training.”

Heikki Kuutti Uusitalo, Finnish Education Employers (FEE) Policy Director

The Finnish Union of University Professors offers a reminder that the number of undergraduate students has increased by a quarter. Few additional recruitments have been made, and staff has been stretched thin.

The Union requires the funding obtained through the doctoral training pilot to be allocated to advisory work – as a percentage bonus based on monthly salary, for example.

Once the extra funding has been allocated, the pilot needs effective implementation. 

“The pilot is expected to increase both the quantity and quality of training. The professional orientation of doctoral training must be developed through cooperation between universities and employers”, states FEE’s Uusitalo.

”Doctoral training is a scholarlyl matter. It should not be considered solely from a business perspective”

Outi Ylitapio-Mäntylä, Educational Sciences lecturer, University of Oulu

FUURT expects the uniquely large investment in researcher training to improve the professional qualifications of younger researchers if the funding is obtained for the full duration of the thesis work. However, Ijäs-Idrobo points out the tangible results of these promises are as of yet unknown.

FUURT would develop doctoral training as a whole.

“The doctoral training pilot may have a narrow focus on technical, business, and administrative sciences, maybe medical as well. It remains to be seen what other fields are considered in the pilot”, Ijäs-Idrobo pondered in October.

Outi Ylitapio-Mäntylä from YLL reminds us that humanities must not be forgotten in the development plans. Research quality must also be kept high.

The TKI working group stressed the importance of core research prerequisites.

“Doctoral training is a scholarlyl matter. It should not be considered solely from a business perspective”, she says.

Universities and consortiums formed by them could apply for research training pilot funding from 15–29 November. Funding decisions will be made in early 2024.

Ijäs-Idrobo hopes any funding policy will remember to consider the government-published parliamentary RDI working group’s comprehensiveness policy. According to the RDI working group’s final report, R&D funding must widely facilitate innovation across different fields, from technical and natural sciences to creative fields, humanities and social sciences.

Ijäs-Idrobo also expects the verification of the importance of core research with no immediate application goals. In their final report, the TKI working group stressed the importance of core research prerequisites.

Doctors finding employment in different sectors

FEE’s Uusitalo reckons the low unemployment rate among doctors indicates doctoral training meets the requirements of working life. Meanwhile, Unifi’s Holopainen thinks a large number of doctors in IT and technical fields in particular already find employment at companies or as entrepreneurs. As RDI investments from the private sector increase, the IT industry seems to remain the driving force.   

“Typically, start-ups originating from university respect researcher training. On the other hand, traditionally owned businesses find it difficult to hire their first employee, especially a doctor. If an SME dares to hire a doctor and they prove their ability, hiring successors becomes considerably easier”, Holopainen tells us.

On the other hand, Holopainen reminds us the private sector in particular does not hire degrees, but people with skills useful to the employer.

As the number of doctors continues to increase, widespread employment and working life connections are emphasised in doctoral training.

As the number of doctors continues to increase, widespread employment and working life connections are emphasised in doctoral training. Ijäs-Idrobo from FUURT reminds us less than 40 percent of new doctors find university employment. She compliments the Aalto University and the University of Vaasa’s close cooperation with local businesses and the University of Eastern Finland’s working life doctoral programme, for example.

“Still, there is plenty of work to do. The private sector has major employment potential, but we must also consider the whole public sector”, Ijäs-Idrobo says.

Networks are useful, what about the climate? 

As per the RDI working group’s guidelines, national funding must strongly support Finland’s internationalisation in its various forms. This means attracting e.g., international investments, experts, and funding to Finland. 

Doctoral training has become more international in the 21st century. Out of all doctoral graduates in Finland last year, nearly 30 percent were non-native Finns. Their percentage has doubled in twelve years. International doctors with Finnish doctorates have been successful on the job market. Conversely, nearly half of them have left Finland within a year after graduation.

Ijäs-Idrobo reckons international doctoral researchers need support especially for networking and working life connections outside their universities. According to Holopainen and Uusitalo, international researchers being unable to network In Finland is a key issue. In such cases, staying in Finland is not an attractive option.

Finns graduate with master’s degrees and doctorates relatively late in life. “Compared to the UK, for example, we spend quite a while on our dissertations. On the other hand, Finnish doctoral theses are high-quality scientific works that genuinely stand on their own”,
Ijäs-Idrobo reminds us.

Miia Ijäs-Idrobo, Senior Adviser, FUURT

Business unanimously pursues increased immigration, because more Finns are retiring than moving into working life. Unifi Executive Director Heikki Holopainen urges the government to heed this message.

Uusitalo, too, is bothered by the government’s signals regarding the climate in Finland.

“In order to keep foreign researchers in Finland, workplaces must promote a climate of tolerance and use foreign languages”, Uusitalo contemplates.  

FUURT expects the government to handle the renewal of foreign researchers’ residence permits in such a way that the permit is granted for the entire duration of their postgraduate studies. The ambitious RDI goals cannot be achieved without international experts.

“The scientific and higher education field strongly desire international experts remaining in Finland. Special attention should be paid on the employment and integration of those finishing their degrees here”, Ijäs-Idrobo informs us.

”In order to keep foreign researchers in Finland, workplaces must promote a climate of tolerance and use foreign languages.”

Heikki Kuutti Uusitalo, Policy Director, Finnish Education Employers (FEE)

She calls for cooperation between multiple sectors in order to increase Finland’s appeal and retention power in the eyes of international experts in the coming years.

“The overall climate has a slow and limited effect. People’s decisions are based more on available jobs and other everyday matters”, Ijäs-Idrobo ponders.

Doctors at work 

  • In 2021, there were 51,857 people with researcher training. 
  • One year after graduation, 86 percent of doctors were employed, 4 percent unemployed, 1 percent full-time students, and 9 percent had moved out of the country or done something else.
  • Compared to the start of the millennium, the number of doctors has more than doubled.
  • In 2020, 33 percent of doctors were at universities, 27 percent in companies, 21 percent in munipalities, 7 percent working as entrepreneurs, 7 percent in research facilities, and 5 percent working for the government.
  • Doctors comprise 20 percent of research and development workers, with their share almost doubling between 2011 and 2021. 

    Source: Tohtorit työelämässä (in Finnish). FEE / Heikki Holopainen, September 2023

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