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Finnish brain drain picks up speed, entire research groups now moving abroad

As the current centre-right government cuts back on university funding, many academic research groups have been forced to look beyond Finland's borders for project funding. For example, experts in the fields of bioscience, psychology and statistics have recently uprooted to different locations abroad after securing research assistance from international sources.

Lapin yliopiston politiikan tutkija Petri Koikkalainen
Petri Koikkalainen Image: Uula Kuvaja / Yle

Cuts to universities and state-funded research centres are contributing to growing brain drain from Finland and increasing unemployment among the highly educated, says Petri Koikkalainen, the head of the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers. 

The incidence of highly-educated people moving abroad has increased by one-third in the last few years, while the increase in the number of researchers leaving Finland behind is only slightly behind this percentage. According to Statistics Finland, 2,223 individuals with top academic degrees moved abroad in 2015.

This brain drain has grown steadily since 2011, the researcher and teacher’s union president Koikkalainen said in a Radio Suomi interview on January 5.

“The problem is not that people are moving abroad from Finland; the problem is that they never come back. We can’t attract highly-educated international experts to Finland, either,” Koikkalainen said.

“There’s no use debating whether the shrinking university resources are contributing to the growing brain drain. At this point, we should just concede the obvious.”

Specialised teams leaving as a group

Although Finland is swiftly losing its most talented researchers in all areas, Koikkalainen said experts in the natural sciences, biosciences and humanities have been most affected by the government cuts.

“There are many people that specialise in bioscience, anthropology, psychology and statistics among those that are departing.”

Researchers in the areas of technology and business can often turn to the job market for opportunities in Finland when universities and research centres reduce their personnel. But a research group that specialises in the biosciences or medicine can rarely find continued funding or related work.

Koikkalainen said the search for reliable funding has more times than not resulted in Finland losing entire groups of researchers at a time.

Most leave for Finland’s Nordic neighbours of Sweden or Norway, as both countries have heavily invested in research and education of late. Some groups break up; an unfortunate result of austerity which Koikkalainen said is a tragic loss of Finnish know-how.

“The onus is now on the government to grant universities more money so they can safeguard their basic operations. Researchers should be secure in their jobs, or at least have some kind of long-term assurance, so they don’t have to live in a constant cycle of temporary project funding.”

Jan 12: Corrected to 2,223 individuals with top academic degrees in 2015, not 2016.

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