The coronavirus era has enhanced the use of research knowledge in decision-making, says Mika Lähteenmäki, Chairperson of the Jyväskylä chapter of the Finnish Union of University Professors. This local chapter is one of the oldest in Finland and its active members are looking to increase the use of long-term research in the economy.
The Jyväskylä chapter of the Finnish Union of University professors was established in the Lyhty building on the Seminaarinmäki campus almost exactly 50 years ago. It was one of the first local chapters in Finland. As the minutes of the meeting indicate, night had already fallen.
“They did not have time to meet during office hours in those days, either,” says the present chairperson of this active chapter, Mika Lähteenmäki, Professor of Russian Language and Culture.
According to Lähteenmäki, the chapter continues to aim at securing and developing working conditions for the academic and university community. It is about more than promoting the interests of one particular profession.
In the coronavirus era, up-to-date research knowledge has become more important. Its meaning for the functioning of society is now seen in a new light, and the impact of scientific knowledge is highly valued. Recent discussions are totally different from the previous comments about “docents being in charge,” Lähteenmäki says.
Yet the familiar friction remains among research, communication and decision-making. People often demand explicit or certain knowledge to be given quickly, but professors are quick to point out the limitations of knowledge.
“People should understand the nature of scientific knowledge. A basic premise for researchers is that within certain limits we know something about an issue,” says Jussi Välimaa, Professor of Educational Research.
New knowledge is not always easy to digest
According to the Science Barometer, confidence in science is on a good level in Finland. However, research knowledge is not always readily applicable.
Decision-makers have many sources to be heard and new knowledge is not always easy to digest, either, explains Taina Rantanen, Professor of Public Health and Gerontology.
For instance, the findings of her recent research show that the functional capability of today’s 75- and 80-year-olds is significantly better compared to this age group in the 1990s. The current pension system is built on a totally different basis, and for a decision-maker, it could be a risky endeavour to start advocating changes to the system in light of new knowledge, Rantanen considers.
“A person may well stay in good shape until they are 80. The average life expectancy for an 80-year-old is now ten more years,” Rantanen tells.
Benefits of long-term research should be better communicated to the business world
The professors regard impact through education as their main goal. It involves research as well. Tommi Kärkkäinen, Professor of Information Technology, says that the long-term basic research of universities should play a greater role in corporate activities. Collaboration between universities and companies provides the experts the economy needs, and companies obtain research knowledge that can guide them to profitable future action.
Yet to develop joint activities, universities need more resources, Kärkkäinen says.
“In applying research knowledge, more optimal time scales are needed. The effectiveness of research decreases if our only criteria stem from the next business quarter or immediate applicability,” Kärkkäinen argues.
In research, results are measured over several years.
“One way to increase research collaboration would be, for example, to add cooperation in connection with dissertation research,” says Professor of Environmental Microbiology Marja Tiirola regarding the potential of four-year doctoral studies.
Let the best argument win!
The Jyväskylä chapter of the Finnish Union of University Professors now has over 230 members, of whom nearly 60 percent are male. In total, the Union has about 2,500 members. The active members in Jyväskylä find that the activities of the union and the local chapter offer important – even rare – opportunities to share ideas between representatives of different fields of science.
Välimaa explains that the benefits from association activities include argumentation and the quest for consensus:
“Let the best argument win! This is the principle we have followed. Decisions are always shared.”
The local chapter has its 50th anniversary on 8 October 2020. To celebrate, the chapter has started to compile a chronicle. Because of the coronavirus situation, however, no festivities are planned for the time being, but the members hope they will have an opportunity to gather next spring.
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