Science in a changing world

Science and academic research currently find themselves in a conflicting situation. Universities often emphasise scientific and academic freedom and autonomy, while at the same time society's demands for being able to utilise research findings in different ways have grown stronger. Free basic research and applied research tend to get put at opposite ends, and the logic of science and the logic of the markets are seen to be pushing activities in different directions.

However, it doesn't have to be this way. The 20th century was strongly characterised by natural sciences, with science seeking to explain and understand nature and its way of operating. The application of strong basic research in natural sciences have led to unprecedented technical developments and significant improvements in the well-being of mankind.

Now, for the first time in history, we find ourselves in a situation where our activities impact the way nature works more than nature impacts us. We have entered a world of human dominance and stepped into an era in which the increasing complexity of phenomena requires not only approaches familiar from natural sciences, but also many different and completely new approaches.
Large-scale, complex changes affecting the whole of humanity in different ways are nowadays known as wicked problems. These include climate change, depletion of natural resources, energy production, globalisation, ageing, inequality and health.

So, we have changed the world and now we have to change our ideas about it. Natural phenomena can no longer be separated from our own behaviour or from cultural and social phenomena: they have become deeply intertwined. In addition to understanding nature, we need to have a profound understanding of human behaviour, culture and society. This idea renders many of the traditional boundaries and contradictions in science outdated.

We here at the University of Eastern Finland have accepted the challenge, and our strategy defines the global challenges we are seeking solutions to through our multidisciplinary education and renewal-oriented education.

Our strategy for the period 2015–2020 means not only an increasingly clear focus in research and education, but also increasing multidisciplinarity. It also calls for increasing internationalisation, braver and more goal-oriented recruitment of students and staff and, overall, a new and increasingly dynamic operating culture. 

Jukka Mönkkönen