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University of Oulu: Pioneering collaborations for Northern Finland’s prosperity

Lauren Kroemer-Pope
An image of the University of Oulu campus covered in snow

Established as a driving force for Northern Finland’s vitality, new Initiator member the University of Oulu, with its 8 faculties and almost 14 000 students, has contributed immeasurably to local industries, public sector development and economic growth, with its graduates often choosing to remain in the north of the country. In this conversation with Kaisa Still, Business Collaboration Manager, we explore the University of Oulu’s commitment to fostering collaboration between academia and industry.

What are your institutional goals?

We hope to double the financial support from industry to our university – a goal that we have established in anticipation of diminishing public funding for universities. To address this impending funding reduction, we are actively seeking alternative sources of revenue, including contributions from industry, as well as support from the European Union and various funding foundations. However, beyond financial considerations, we also aspire to foster a cultural transformation within the university, one that embraces collaboration with stakeholders like businesses and public organisations as an integral part of our research activities. This cultural shift aims to instil the belief that through collective efforts, we can enhance the quality of our research and its results.

What were your main reasons for joining UIIN as a member?

Four years ago, I attended the UIIN Conference in Helsinki. I was delighted to meet people who shared a similar vision and passion for the role of universities in collaboration with industry. It was reassuring to discover a dedicated forum for fostering this collaboration and connecting with likeminded individuals.

I firmly believe that as universities we cannot carry out this journey alone; we require the involvement of businesses and other external partners, as well as other universities.

Additionally, our top management recognises the invaluable resource that UIIN provides in terms of best practices and innovative collaboration models. We are committed to breaking away from traditional collaboration approaches and view UIIN as a platform that keeps us informed about the latest developments in the field.

There are also several other Finnish universities who are part of the UIIN community, so we see this as a place to connect with other Finnish universities and find out about what they are up to.

Do you have any success stories focussing on university industry engagement at the university?

We established a partnership with one of the major companies in Finland; it was decided at the highest level, between the company’s CEO and our rector, that we would begin a strategic partnership with this organisation.

Over the past two and a half years, this partnership has thrived, marked by annual meetings with the management team where we report on various collaborative activities. These discussions encompass statistics on student internships within the industry, ongoing joint research projects, prospective research endeavours and areas of potential collaboration. These meetings have provided valuable direct feedback from the company’s management.

While the partnership initially centred on research collaboration, it has expanded to encompass broader university issues such as diversity, code of conduct and related issues. One key success story of our partnership has been addressing the challenge faced by international students in securing internships in Finland due to language barriers. This supported a significant change in the company’s hiring policy, promoting inclusivity

A crucial factor in the success of this partnership has been strong support from management and having a well-structured framework that clarifies each partners roles and responsibilities while remaining flexible enough to allow for the partnership to grow and change over time.

What kind of challenges have you faced over the last years in driving university industry engagement? And what have you done to overcome them?

Working on project or other contracts between industry and university has undeniably posed challenges and, in some cases, even halted potential collaborations. However, we’ve made significant strides in managing these contracts more efficiently on the university side. Having a lawyer who comprehends the university’s objectives and who helps us to communicate the special role of university has proven to be instrumental in overcoming these obstacles. Overall, we continue to develop an approach that highlights the benefits of collaboration to both the university and the company.  

Navigating these complexities is further compounded by the fact that individuals within the university are incredibly busy. When we encourage academics to collaborate with industry and consider how their research could integrate with company interests, we are essentially asking them a favour. We concentrate our efforts on those who are already willing to engage in these activities in the hopes that their positive experiences will inspire others to get involved.

To facilitate interactions between our academics and external partners, we’ve implemented a new approach for when academics have collaboration ideas. We schedule a meeting with them to find out more about the value their idea might have and for whom, so that they can prepare their pitches for targeted companies—and for the funding agencies, namely Business Finland, who funds industry-academia collaboration projects here in Finland. Given the shift towards remote working post-COVID, we’re also exploring ways to encourage people to join physical events, offering incentives like free coffee or lunch to make participation more appealing.

What topics do you wish to develop further or learn more about through your membership with UIIN?

I find the concept of case studies particularly appealing because they provide valuable insights and inspire new initiatives. Staying current with the latest research in this field can be challenging, but UIIN helps bridge that gap by delivering news and updates. It would also be nice to be kept up to date with trends in the field e.g. what companies are currently expecting from university partners and which collaboration methods are proving successful.

Kaisa Still

Kaisa Still

If you would like to learn more about the University of Oulu, contact Kaisa Still via email.

Ready for more?

If you enjoyed this article, check out Socially relevant education: Employing the Quadruple Helix Model, where we explore how Quadruple Helix collaboration can help universities with aligning the skills and competencies needed to become employable with those taught and nurtured on campus.

In our podcast episode Igniting Economic Growth: The Power of University-Industry Partnerships, we delve into the role of strategic partnerships in economic growth, and the vital influence of policies that can act as catalysts for fostering thriving university-industry partnerships.

Lauren Kroemer-Pope (interviewer) is the Outreach and Partnerships Specialist at UIIN.

Tasha Day (author) is a Project officer at UIIN, where she undertakes research activities and creates content on a wide variety of topics including entrepreneurship education, sustainability and research valorisation.

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