Prime Minister Juha Sipilä
Address on behalf of the Government at the Aalto University opening of the academic year 1 September 2015

Government Communications Department 1.9.2015 14.34
Speech

(subject to changes)

Rector,
Members of the Aalto Academic Community,
Distinguished Guests,

The Government has not been able to start its work in peace. Our country’s GDP is still more than 5 per cent lower than it was at its peak, before the onset of the crisis in 2008. Long-term plans had been made on the basis that, in the current year, GDP would exceed its 2008 level by 20 per cent. 

The capacity of public finances to fund the activities of the universities in their current form has, perhaps, been permanently diminished. Those who adapt to the situation and find creative ways to maintain or improve their operational capacity, even in conditions of tight resources, will be the winners of the future.

Finland has not yet recovered from the economic crisis that began in autumn 2008; rather, we are still experiencing the weakest period in Finland’s economic history.

Due to the Nokia-led ICT cluster, the economy grew rapidly for a decade, and society was developed on the assumption that growth would continue indefinitely. In those times, I worked in different positions in smallish ICT companies, and I vividly remember the growth and can-do spirit of the period.

In its best years, the electronics industry could afford substantial salary increases. In many other sectors, growth of unit labour costs caused problems, and these problems escalated after 2007. The collapse in the size of the ICT cluster meant a considerable reduction in high technology’s share of export products. At the same time, the cost competitiveness of other industrial sectors was decisively impaired.

Now, as we set out to build a future for Finland, there are tight constraints on what we can do. Improving cost competitiveness is essential, but giving up achieved benefits is difficult. One positive thing is that the keys to a solution are in our own hands.

Members of the Aalto Academic Community,

It is not, however, possible to build the future of our country on the basis of cutting costs alone. We need to focus on efforts that improve productivity and create new innovations. We must boldly renew ourselves, dare to give up old operating practices, and change our way of thinking. Renewal must be a continuous process and state of mind.

In the longer term, our standard of living will depend on the value of the work done in this country and how efficiently we work. In these efforts, the universities – and Aalto University in particular – will have an important role to play. The development work carried out by universities, research institutes and businesses will play a key role in Finland’s future success.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In building prosperity and sustainable development, the contribution of the universities is absolutely essential.

We cannot maintain our current standard of living if we are unable to produce high value-added goods that attract a good price on the world market. To safeguard the standard of living and jobs, the export sector will have to be strengthened, and strengthened specifically in the area of high value-added goods.

New, internationally available information flows into Finland through businesses, but the universities also have a role in transmitting foreign information for the use of Finnish society. Developing new ideas is certainly important, but we must remember that throughout the world a huge number of new innovations are being developed all of the time, innovations that could be significant in the work that we do in Finland. Borrowing good ideas, developing them and applying them in a new way often constitute a cost-effective solution in the processes that improve products and productivity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Finland needs an innovation bank. An innovation bank would be a meeting place for businesses and private inventors as well as investors. Its goal would be to accelerate the exploitation of innovations and patents. It would act as an electronic platform and as part of the Government’s key project aimed at increasing cooperation between universities and businesses in the commercialisation of innovations.

Start-up companies must be viewed as an important opportunity to improve productivity and create a new economic base. In this area, activity seems to be increasing year on year in Finland. The most visible are the Slush events, but the Aalto Entrepreneurship Society and Start-up Sauna, for example, are also important. Students, encouragingly, also seem to be increasingly active in creating new things. It’s clear, of course that not all ideas will take off, but nevertheless the opportunities are limitless. In global networks, the opportunities for growth are exponential.

There is a huge amount of money in the world looking for suitable investment objectives, also in start-up companies. At latest Slush event, for example, foreign investors were very well represented. On the other hand, in Finland expert money is scarce.

The Government Programme emphasises experimentation in the reform of society. It makes sense to experiment and to modify policy on the basis of experience. The emphasis of the experimentation philosophy is not directed solely at social reforms. An innovative economy is based to a large extent on the experimentation of businesses and entrepreneurs. A technical invention, product or process idea is not a genuine innovation until it has been subjected to – and passed – market testing. Even the best risk financing experts are not able to predict which ideas will work and which will not. It is therefore vitally important that we create an environment in which the proper conditions exist for experimenting with diverse ideas. The Government Programme seeks to promote this through, among other things, increasing risk financing, reducing the bureaucracy of business and supporting innovative public procurement.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Next year’s state budget has been prepared within tight spending limits. We will also have to cut teaching and research expenditure. I understand very well the concerns felt by university management at this time.  In addition, the reduction in Tekes’ resources will also be reflected in Aalto University’s activities.

The results of innovation activity, however, do not automatically improve by increasing funding. We have plenty of examples of how, even in conditions of scarcity, exploitable ideas arise and of how lack of money does not remove entrepreneurial hunger.

When Aalto University was founded, it was given a special national mission: to support through top-quality research and teaching Finland’s success, to contribute to Finnish society, its internationalisation and competitiveness, and to promote the welfare of its people. It was thought, for example, that the arts could closely support the technical and business sciences in strengthening the effectiveness of the university. I've come to understand that the School of Arts, Design and Architecture has contributed to Aalto University’s emergence as a world-class institution in these fields.

The Government Programme emphasises digitalisation, and digitalisation and its different applications form a body of large research in Aalto University. I consider it of prime importance that the knowledge of this field that exists in Aalto University be made available without limitation to social decision-makers when the digitalisation measures planned by the Government are taken forward. It is possible for Finland to take a leap in productivity in public services and the private sector by grasping the opportunities of digitalisation and removing unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy.

2,556 new Aalto University students are now beginning their studies. I would like to wish both the new and existing students energy and good luck in their studies. Have courage, allow yourselves some failures, try new things and also remember to enjoy the freedom of your years of study. And to students of technology I can give the reassurance that at least we have always been able to do so!

With these words, on behalf of the Government, I would like to wish you all a very successful academic year.