The coronavirus pandemic has shown that long-term investment in research reveals its value in times of need.
Worn out during the year, policymakers have had to keep an eye on the coronavirus crisis and stimulus measures. Now, however, it is worth looking to the future – the moment when the next crisis will surprise us.
Are we prepared enough then? What can we do today to enable us to survive?
Answer is simple: we need to take care of the foundation of science. It is the best insurance for the future, whether disasters are familiar in advance, such as climate change, or difficult to predict and surprise.
The pandemic has shown that long-term investment in research reveals its value in times of need. Without a determined investment in vaccine research, viable coronavirus vaccines would not have been able to be developed so rapidly. More lives would have been lost and it would have taken longer to return to a normal life. Of course, major scientific efforts could have been made after the crisis broke out, but they would not have replaced the missing basis for vaccine research.
In Finland The guarantees of a supportive science base are the basic funding granted to universities and research institutes and the competitive research funding of the Academy of Finland. They have helped to build high-quality and multidisciplinary expertise that has enabled the academic community to support society in a pandemic.
It is worrying that this foundation of science is now in danger of weakening. The development of basic public funding of Finnish universities in relation to GDP has waned and lagged behind the comparison country. The goal of raising investment in research, development and innovation (R&D) to 4% of GDP is a long way off.
Innovative, researcher-driven research is receiving less and less funding due to different eartags. If the trend continues, it will inevitably follow that the level of Finnish science will decline and the opportunities to utilize the basis of science in crises will diminish.
Situation must be repaired without delay. As we recently said with other organizations, R&D funding, and in particular researcher-driven, innovative research funding, needs to be taken on a rising path. It means increasing the basic funding of universities and the research funding of the Academy of Finland, as well as committing to investments over government terms.
Only in this way will we genuinely strengthen crisis resilience. There are no quick wins to prepare for unexpected disasters.
It is also essential to allocate long-term funding to additional university start-ups. Otherwise, the resources available for research will dwindle and the quality of education and the well-being of students will be jeopardized.
Finland cannot afford to allow research-based education to lose its credibility or the resources of future generations to weaken.
We trust, that in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic, the Finnish government has the wisdom to look further into the future and identify the investment needs that are essential for crisis resilience.
Science produces rapid results, but only when the foundations for them are built on a long-term basis. Let us ensure that research is also our support in the face of the next crisis.
Rector of the University of Jyväskylä
Chairman, Council of Rectors of Finnish Universities Unifi
Executive Director, Rector’s Council of Finnish Universities Unifi
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