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Education Minister defends open letter: “Higher education institutions must specialise”

Finland’s Minister of Education Sanni Grahn-Laasonen has spoken out in defence of an open letter she sent out two days ago to the country’s higher education institutions challenging them to reach the top of a chosen field by 2025. According to the minister, Finland’s academic institutions must pinpoint and concentrate on specific research areas in the future if they hope to succeed.

Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeri Sanni Grahn-Laasonen
Minister of Education and Culture Sanni Grahn-Laasonen is a member of the centre-right National Coalition Party. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Education Minister Sanni Grahn-Laasonen has urged Finland’s universities to think seriously about which field of study they will specialise in by the year 2025. In an open letter urging universities to become the ‘best in the world’ in a certain area, Grahn-Laasonen raps the learning institutions for their inefficient use of resources, asking for example why only 60 percent of university staff is employed in tuition or research.

Combined with imminent education cuts proposed by the current government, the Minister’s open letter attracted widespread resentment upon its release. Appearing in an Yle radio show Thursday, Grahn-Laasonen defended her note:

"The letter is a continuation of a long-running debate. Every four years we prepare for a round of results evaluations, and the next is in the spring. I wanted to launch a discussion about what kinds of objectives the results evaluations should be serving," she says.

"We Finns shouldn’t be afraid to discuss how science, research and higher education resources could be used wisely, if resources dwindle."

"Small research communities not the best option"

The minister referred to more than one comparison that says Finland is lagging behind several other EU countries in the field of academic research. 

"If we hope to succeed, we must be able to reform the system," she says.

Grahn-Laasonen, of the conservative National Coalition Party, advises that Finland’s higher education institutions must do two things if they hope to succeed internationally. First, each institution must generate a stronger individual profile, and second, they must maintain a clearer division of labour between them.

In addition, the minister recommends that more attention be paid to research work, the effectiveness of teaching and internationalisation in the future.

"In terms of quality, research overlap and small research communities are not the best options. We need to raise our ambitions in order to maintain the peak level on the world stage."

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