Vaalipaneeli 2019

Restoring the honour of science and education

The importance of scientific knowledge, open science and continuous learning were addressed at the "Openness - The Lodestar of Europe" election panel. The panelists, Kimmo Tiilikainen (Centre Party), Pilvi Torsti (SDP), Mervi Katainen (National Coalition Party), Jyrki Kasvi (Greens) and Veronika Honkasalo (Left Alliance) all agree that the honour of science and education must be restored and an additional billion euros in funding is needed during the next electoral term.

– The participants have been selected for the panel as parliamentary candidates with a positive attitude toward science and education, explains panel host Jan Erola.

Is scientific knowledge used enough to support decision making?

The panelists felt that scientific knowledge does make its way into decision making, but they also saw several problem areas. Kimmo Tiilikainen feels that scientific knowledge is used a great deal in support of political decision making and he emphasises the importance of proper civil servant preparation.

– All the ministries and civil servants who have familiarised themselves with given subjects definitely have their fingers on the pulse of what's happening at the leading edge of research, says Tiilikainen.

Mervi Katainen sees the volume of knowledge as being problematic and throws down a challenge to researchers and interest groups: knowledge should be condensed in manageable packages and given at the right time. She would like to see more dialogue between politicians and researchers.

– We should get into the habit of bringing knowledge to politicians. They're not going down to the university library to get it," suggests Katainen.

Veronika Honkasalo thinks there is far too little time devoted to research-based decision making and scientific knowledge should be used a lot more.

– Political decision making is plagued by uniformity. As a politician with a research background, I wish proposals made by civil servants would offer alternatives and include research-based assessments on possible impacts. 

Honkasalo sees conflicts in the role of researcher as a provider of knowledge aimed at decision-makers.

– Many researchers don't consider this to be their job. Funding for basic research isn't on a good footing, researchers are competing for funding and, in addition to actually doing the research, they have to break it down into easily digested bits and pieces for the decision-makers, explains Honkasalo.

Pilvi Torsti thinks that scientific knowledge is not used enough in decision making. This is not a question of will - it is a question of resources.

– You often hear people talking about researchers and decision-makers, but the real issue here is the willingness of the government and ministries to use research. Research departments have been shut down in recent years and research data has not been sufficiently siloed to support decision making. At the political system level, we would need to find a way to include research across the board in government," says Torsti.

Jyrki Kasvi says that not all politicians are very "literate" when it comes to science.

– This results in cherry picking: you just choose an article that suits your own agenda and reinforces the old, tried-and-true ideas. Ideas are powerful.

Kasvi feels that the problem with the third task of universities is that they fail to encourage researchers to participate in public discourse, because this is not included in the funding for institutions.

How can open science and open data be promoted?

The discussion on openness focused primarily on open publishing. Kasvi considers Finland to be a somewhat small player looking outwards toward the European Union.

– We would get international science publishers under control when everyone pulls together and we increase EU-level regulation.

– A fundamental value of society is openness. All information should be open so that it can be critically assessed. This does not only apply to data, but also algorithms," adds Kasvi.

Katainen believes that there will be a backlash in science publishing. Publishers will or already have priced themselves out of reach and various organisations are establishing their own open publications.  He feels that researchers opening their own data is a positive development and the right way to go.

Honkasalo thinks that the current system is an extremely crooked one, where authors, editors and per reviewers work for free while international science publishers rake in huge profits.

 – This is in no way sustainable. It's good that there are new publications coming in, but the problem with these is that they're not very high in the rankings. When applying for funding, you have to have articles in top publications. Big funders, like the Academy of Finland, play a key role: How is the funding is allocated? Do open publications score any points? asks Honkasalo.

On science funding

Torsti explains that, prior to the parliamentary elections, she had participated on several education and science panels, where it was generally agreed that investing in research, education, culture and development is vital to the future of Finland.

– All of the parties were surprised at how the Government Programme went through. In our work on the Osaamispolku 2030 initiative, we show that all segments of society sincerely want to see the funding and prestige of science, education and research restored to the way they were for decades in Finland's sheer devotion to education, says Torsti.

Honkasalo mentions academic freedom and science as an intrinsic value.

 – Trust should be placed in researchers, because they know how to assess the utility of research. Cuts to education should absolutely be rescinded and we really need to see what impacts these cuts have had on many sectors.

The panel discussed how EU funding for Finland could be increased. Kasvi suggests becoming an evaluator, because this would be the best way to prepare EU applications properly.

Tiilikainen proposes increasing international cooperation, because the EU assigns value to applications that include several countries.

Katainen suggests establishing contacts at the basic research stage as well as a good basic infrastructure and project expertise.

Lifelong learning

Tiilikainen believes that continuous learning is vital and the barriers between ministries should be pulled down.

– Seamless cooperation between the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and the Ministry of Education and Culture plays a key role. Continuous learning doesn't mean you have to constantly take courses and earn new qualifications - it's just a refreshing of your basic expertise and skills, which helps in an ever-changing working life, explains Tiilikainen.

Torsti says she is pleased to see the discussion on continuous learning get so much traction in educational policy. This does not mean that the bigger picture regarding educational and research policy should be ignored. According to several indicators, Finland is in a dire situation.

– We need to bring back Finland's radical approach to education. This is a far-ranging social endeavor. The Ministry of Education and Culture is not the only solution - we also need economic policies, research policies, environmental policies and educational policies. There won't be any lifelong learning if we don't get our foundation back into proper shape, says Torsti.

Kasvi sees continuous learning as being more of a broader structural change than just a "fine-tuning" of the education system.

– We need new rules for the labor market. Is it possible to work part-time for a year while studying? Should study leave be the same kind of universal right as parental leave? I would have to say yes to both, because you have to make time somewhere, Kasvi suggests.

Honkasalo brings up the subject of educational inflation.

– Getting an education is no longer any guarantee of employment like it used to be. You have to analyze changes in working life more closely.

Katainen considers refresher training to be a positive trend and something for the individual.

– Continuous learning has more to do with the fact that people want to learn new things and change occupations. We don't need qualifications - we need modules to gain the required skills and expertise.

The "Openness - The Lodestar of Europe" election panel panel was organized by CSC – IT Center for Science, Universities Finland (UNIFI), Rectors' Conference of Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences Arene and European Finland Association. The panel was hosted at the Eurooppa-sali auditorium in Helsinki on 28 March 2019.


  • Minister of the Environment, Energy and Housing Kimmo Tiilikainen (Center Party)
  • Member of Parliament Pilvi Torsti (SDP)
  • Doctoral researcher, MSocSc and subject teacher Mervi Katainen (National Coalition Party)
  • Member of Parliament Jyrki Kasvi (Greens)
  • Member of Helsinki City Council, Vice Chair of Left Alliance and youth researcher Veronika Honkasalo

The panel discussion was hosted by media polymath Jan Erola.

Published originally 08.04.2019.

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Tommi Kutilainen