USA and Canada
Ilkka Turunen, senior specialist, has been a specialist in higher education and research at Finland’s Embassy in Washington since October 2018. He has extensive experience in education, research and innovation policy at all levels of decision-making. Prior to his current position, Turunen held the position of Secretary-General in the Research and Innovation Council, and was part of the advisory staff to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education and Culture and in the service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, posted in Brussels and Paris.
United States – challenges of a leading nation of science
With its public and private investment in R&D activities totalling USD 500 billion a year, the United States is the leading nation in higher education and science. Most of the Nobel Prizes for Science are still awarded to researchers working in the United States. Close to 50% of articles that are scientifically most effective are produced in the United States. The wealthy and autonomous universities at the top of the ranking lists and the centres of expertise around them have attracted over one million students in higher education from all over the world to the United States. There are many foreign students particularly in the fields of natural sciences and technology. In 2018, there were 800,000 foreign doctoral students or post-doctoral students enrolled in universities across the United States.
However, with the focus of the world's human and material resources having shifted rapidly to Asia, the United States will be undergoing a major change over the course of next generation. The global superpower contest between the United States and China has repercussions on higher education and research. This is because the rivalry is in essence about scientific and technological leadership as well as expertise and knowledge management. The standard of research and universities is on the rise in China and other countries intent on investing in knowledge and expertise, and the United States is now losing its pole position in some disciplines. In the coming years, international cooperation in higher education and research could easily be hampered by strategic superpower competition, trade wars, stricter migration and visa policies, nationalism and an emphasis on security issues.
However, there is reason to see developments in a positive light for both Finland and the rest of the world. This is because research is full of deep global interdependencies. Openness, mobility, international cooperation and new investments in knowledge and expertise are essential elements of the dynamics of the US economy. For the US to succeed in the superpower contest, it needs to build ever-closer connections with the centres that produce new information.
Finland and the United States – at the pinnacle of research and education together
With the United States increasing public research funding, the conditions for international cooperation will augment. Finland is in an excellent position to increase cooperation with institutions of higher education, educational institutions, research companies and regional actors in the United States. Foreign actors are eligible for many of the world's largest public funding instruments (DARPA, NIH, NASA, NSF, NASA, NIST). This is possible provided that the quality of research and teaching is high, that partners are acquired from the United States, that evidence of effective cooperation exists and that the applicant country is generally prepared to make own investments too.
At grassroots level, in terms of mutual scientific references, US researchers are already one of the most important research partners for Finnish researchers. Over the decades, the Fulbright programme has created an alumni network of several thousand researchers, teachers and other experts. This offers an excellent platform for expanding and deepening cooperation in higher education and research.
Finland has a good reputation in education, science and technology and is known to be a reliable partner. Topical issues in education and research both in Finland and the United States have much in common. The United States is interested in our expertise in areas such as artificial intelligence, 5G and 6G, quantum computing, cyber security, arctic research, personalised medicine, teaching in mathematics and the sciences, school curricula, digital learning environments, versatile development of literacy in the general population, and teacher training.
In terms of human resources, the United States relies to some degree on foreign human capital. Its level of knowledge and expertise as well as standard of education now also lag behind those of the best countries in the world. Hence, the development of education opens up opportunities for sharing Finnish knowledge, expertise and educational innovations.