The amount of research funding provided by foundations external to the university has increased every year. The amount of funding given out every year by foundations is currently over 200 million euros. Nevertheless, universities continue to treat grant-funded researchers inconsistently: the results of their work are accepted but any investment in them is shunned.
Jytte demands that an inquiry is made into the economic and scientific results produced by grant-funded researchers so that their role can be clarified. A report would form the basis for a realistic discussion on improving the status of grant-funded researchers in our university.
Grant-funded researchers produce results and generate profit
The amount of research funding provided by foundations external to the university increases year by year. The biggest funders, such as the Kone Foundation and the Finnish Cultural Foundation, allocate millions of euros to universities every year. The funds from numerous small foundations also provide significant financial support for Finnish universities and researchers, and the universities themselves award a notable amount of grants for research. The grants from foundations appear to benefit humanities and social sciences slightly more than they benefit other fields, although no exact data is available.
Grants from foundations create a cash flow to the university. In all likelihood, grants are most important for doctoral students who may fund months or even years of their research with them. Many conduct their entire doctoral research on external grants as foundations sometimes provide funding for up to three years. For the researchers as well as their supervisors each grant is like winning the lottery. The competition is as fierce as it is for the most coveted funds from the Academy of Finland.
In practice, then, grants enable the successful production of doctorates. Without grants, the number of doctoral degrees awarded would be significantly smaller. At the same time each awarded doctorate brings a large amount of money to the faculty. Having doctoral researchers fund their work with grants is beneficial for the university in two ways: on the one hand, each received grant releases the university from the pressure to pay their doctoral candidates while on the other hand, each awarded doctorate brings in money from the Ministry of Education.
Grants also bring in other types of remuneration. Doctoral research, like other types of grant-funded research, creates scientific articles, which under the current financial model are a significant source of funding for universities. As more and more doctoral dissertations are portfolio dissertations, they bring in additional funding, albeit indirectly. Furthermore, the biggest foundations fund important research projects that are worth hundreds of thousands of euros and employ people from post-doctoral researchers to professors. People working in projects also publish articles and books that directly improve the profitability of their host departments and thereby the universities. University teachers, lecturers, and professors are sometimes awarded lengthy research grants, which opens up temporary positions for researchers who also produce publications and bring in external funding.
The position of grant-funded researchers has serious issues
The increasingly important role of grant-funded researchers for the universities and for academic research cannot be denied. Yet year after year, grant-funded researchers are treated like second-class academic citizens. Commonplace problems include, for example, restrictions on and problems with the use of the library and the university email. Often the university is reluctant to provide grant-funded researchers with workstations or only offer them against extortionate fees. Responses to questions about grant-funded researchers’ occupational health care tend to consist of embarrassed mumbling and references to the legislation. The only thing that has been fixed, in spite of the increasing importance of grant-funded researchers, is pension. Grant-funded researchers can now make so-called MYEL contributions, making the grant-funded periods less detrimental to the individual pension plans.
Jytte’s position on the issue is simple. Each grant-funded researcher is a full member of the university and research community – not an “outsider”. Grant-funded researchers must receive the same services as the university staff. As grant-funded researchers earn a significant amount of money for the university, a significant amount of money should also be invested in them. Access passes, library services, and the email system must function flawlessly and for example an email address is never to be shut down before the situation of the researcher has been clarified. The repeated suggestions of saving money on facilities by kicking the grant-funded researchers out into the snow should never again be repeated. Each grant-funded researcher needs normal university services and a functional workstation. Additionally, Jytte promotes the extension of the occupational health care provided by the university to also cover grant-funded researchers. Occupational health care is an important part of wellbeing and grant-funded researchers should also have the right to it.
The status of grant-based researchers requires clarification
The ongoing strategy work carried out at the University of Jyväskylä should also produce an overall picture of the status of grant-funded researchers in the university. An important first step would be to analyse the cash flows generated by grant-funded researchers. At the moment, neither the University of Jyväskylä nor any other Finnish university have released any factual information on how much grant money they have succeeded to secure and what kind of income grant-funded research generates as a whole. Converis provides one possible tool for collating the data, but basic analysis and calculation is also needed. This type of report would make it easier to discuss the investments the university could do to improve the wellbeing of grant-funded researchers. In the long run, these could provide the university with a competitive edge as grant-funded researchers have every right to vote with their feet if they are not satisfied with the conditions.
The role of foundations and their collaboration with universities has been a topic of discussion for years and the conversations are most likely to continue in the future. In economic terms, it is a fact that the grants provided by foundations form a significant part of the profit universities make. The question of responsibility for grant-funded researchers’ workspaces, their status in the university, and their healthcare is a matter for negotiation in which the foundations should also participate. Nevertheless, universities cannot deny the results of the work of grant-funded researchers and they must be proactive in improving the status of the grant-funded researcher so that it will match the status of university staff members. Jytte wants to encourage its members to keep bringing up the status of grant-funded researchers and to push the University of Jyväskylä to launch an investigation on the role of grant-funded research in the university.
Chair of Jytte