torstai 22. maaliskuuta 2012

Foreign researchers for the benefit of the universities

This text is also in Finnish here

Recruitment of foreign researchers is a challenging task. The appointment may appear as an investment for tens of years and it should be a good one with high efficiency. It is naturally not necessarily needed that some the researchers are from outside of Finland, but there is certainly pressure to increase the fraction of foreign staff among our universities.
The recruitment of international staff is not straightforward for several reasons. Some of the small disciplines just simply cannot afford, that a part of the staff cannot participate teaching or administrative duties. It is very difficult to organize fundamental teaching in Finnish if the only professor in the discipline does not speak it.
However, international recruitment is aimed to happen more frequently. The positions are announced often internationally. How could we succeed to get international experts to first of all apply and then also to come to our universities?
Foreign researcher needs always – in one form or another – a starting package. As a minimum, the university needs to support the researcher in organizing the move to Finland, looking for an apartment and many other practical issues. This can be dealt to a great centrally and organized within the whole university.
Completely different scale of support is needed to be considered as we deal with recruitment of top professor. Finland cannot aim for giving similar personnel and investment resources, as for example Switzerland is able to give. However, the starting period of a top professor needs substantial financial support, without relevant support the recruitment is not going to be very successful. People from different cultures, speaking different languages need time before they can get the first projects funded and projects running.
Sufficient starting package is much easier to organize when new appointments take place to existing strong research groups. In such case, the group takes responsibility to direct resources to support the newly appointed researcher. Good examples of sufficient starting packages are demonstrated also with help of Tekes and the Academy of Finland when appointing Finland Distinguished Professors (FiDiPro).
Systematic development of starting packages is even more important when appointing new assistant and associate professors in tenure track positions. The universities’ expectations are high and time is short. Young professionals must get sufficient support in order to respond their high expectations.
Foreign researcher will find herself or himself in Finland in a new environment. The language is strange and the whole culture is different. If the foreign researcher comes to stay permanently or for a long period of time, we must require studies and learning of Finnish language. This would be everyone’s benefit, not least for the researcher’s who will find it much easier to get integrated to the society outside of the university.
Sometimes it is not realistic to expect foreign staff to study and learn Finnish during their stay. In addition, everyone has to manage at least the very beginning of the stay using only English. How does to research community support the integration of English speaking staff? In many cases, the international staff will find each other and give peer support. However, the international group as a whole may still remain outside of the unit. It may be polite to use English during the coffee break if there are people who do not understand Finnish. On the other hand, sometimes it is also polite to struggle and use Finnish with someone who is in the middle of the learning process and would need more practical training. This may appear as the final step for a foreigner that needs to be taken to get fully integrated to the whole society. We certainly need agreed practices, but we also need sensitivity to feel the right way to act.
The language is clearly one of the main challenges, but also other cultural differences influence the integration of the researcher. It is, however, our joint interest to use the whole capacity of the researcher. The international staff has a lot to give, not only to the research, but also to the education and administration – for example to the strategy process. It would be unwise not to use this resource. It is likewise not wise to overload the Finnish speaking staff with all routine and bureaucratic duties. Part of the education as well as administration need to be handled also in English.
There will be plenty of challenges to get internationalization to function at all levels of universities. This concerns both the native Finns but also the coming foreign staff. In the new strategy of the University of Helsinki, the goal is to increase the percentage of international teaching and research staff to 15 percent by 2017. The Ministry of Education and Culture is developing the new model for distributing the budget funding among universities. One of the new criteria is to direct 2 % of the budget based on the amount of international teaching and research staff.

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