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  • Petri Koikkalainen
    The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers


    International Science or Science of International Competitiveness?

    Science policy swears by internationality. The need to enhance Finland's competitiveness in a toughening international environment is often given as a reason for this. The link between the internationality of science and the competitiveness of the country is seen as so strong that it is even taken for granted. But are the internationality of science and the competitiveness of the state really compatible or even easily reconcilable objectives?

    Science - especially basic research - is international and disciplinary organization is the basis of international research. Over time, these disciplines may have changed, been merged together, become fragmented or disappeared, but the logic of change is driven by the nature of scientific problems and the answers found to them.

    It is a different thing to utilize science to strengthen the competitiveness of the country. The most important guiding light in this is not making quality scientific discoveries or interpretations; instead it comes down to using scientific knowledge to gain economic and technological advantage over other countries. Scientific problems are not the primary logic guiding this operation; rather it is driven by central national projects that are usually defined by politicians.

    Talk of the crisis of an all-round education university probably often means, translated into this context, that ever bigger chunks of truly "international" science - or generally science that operates on its own terms - are made to serve national interests, the pursuit of competitiveness. At the same time scientists fear that this approach is short-sighted not just scientifically but also in a broader view.

    Historical examples demonstrate that connecting science and scientists too closely to national strategies tends not to raise the international level of the science of the country. Rather the opposite, it may have led to "nationally specific" interpretations of sciences and their central problems and thus even isolated researchers from the international world of science.

    It is significant that certain basic sciences that are relatively major in other countries have been "small disciplines" here. Resources have been politically or strategically channelled to which ever thematic areas have seemed promising from the point of view of national success. The direction of universities and competitive public funding emphasize the profiling and strategic fields of research demanded by the upper level. Funding is used to get an ever tighter grip on universities, but is more of the same always the best option?

    International science is not free of authority either, but there positions are not connected to national key projects, but for example to managing central publishing channels and research networks. These are used to change the direction of scientific discussion. This authority is significant, but it is based on appreciation that has been gained in the researcher community, and it is best gained through basic research, not through the administration of science or its commercial applications. This is the kind of authority Finns should have more than they do now.

    But is the quality of science in different countries still not connected to their success? Yes. When applied research or product development beats its head against the wall, answers need to be sought from scientific basic research. It can describe the environment where the wall exists and advise on an alternative way around it. This is why basic research and international competitiveness are ultimately not mutually exclusive goals. The route to innovations is just not a short cut. Rather, it requires trust in science and understanding the time science takes. This is the choice that scientifically successful countries have had the courage to make.

    Petri Koikkalainen
    The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers

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