A seminar for free science and scholars was organised at the University of Turku in late November. The event was the first national Scholars at Risk Finland seminar, bringing together university representatives from Finland and other Nordic countries. The seminar also included speeches by representatives of the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. The most anticipated speeches in the seminar were, however, those given by researchers who are persecuted in their home countries and gave speeches emphasising the importance of free science to a free society.
In the opening speech of the event, Rector of the University of Turku Jukka Kola reminded the audience that freedom of science has a very special significance for the University of Turku.
– As the slogan written on our main building wall states, our University was once founded as a gift from a free people to free science. Academic freedom is a global responsibility which should be defended by every member of the University community, stated Rector Kola.
He also explained that the International Forum appointed by the Ministry of Education and Culture prepares new policies to be published next spring in collaboration with universities and scientific institutions to promote internationalisation in higher education and research.
The Chair of Scholars at Risk Finland, Director of Turku Institute for Advanced Studies (TIAS) research collegium Martin Cloonan emphasised in his speech that without freedom, university is an institution without any actual meaning. Professor Martin Cloonan also thanked the University community in Turku for the collaboration and encouraged all institutions to give their support publicly to the activities of Scholars at Risk.
Science Secretary of the Council of Finnish Academies Veera Launis agreed with Cloonan’s wish. Launis also explained that the Council of Finnish Academies has a human rights committee which supports freedom of science and research and freedom of individuals.
Free Science Challenges Despots
Atte Jääskeläinen from the Ministry of Education and Culture discussed the matters at European level. The Ministry’s Director General of Higher Education and Research Policy told that in its activities, the European Commission aims at strengthening the principle of free science globally. Jääskeläinen also highlighted the Bonn Declaration given in 2020 on freedom of scientific research and signed by all 27 member countries of the EU.
– However, the freedom of science and scholars is threatened by challenges arising near and far. The situation in China is known widely, but we have problems of our own within the EU. In Hungary, for example, free science has been threatened in recent years, Jääskeläinen stated.
Jordanian scholar Dr. Majid Mgamis is a strong advocate for democracy and free science. He reminded the audience that only free science can bring democracy to countries under dictatorial rule. According to Mgamis, dictators fear science because its goal is to question the prevailing conditions.
– Researchers ask difficult questions and seek solutions that improve our lives. Dictators dislike this because they hope to present people with an image of the world as an unchanged entity, where the oppressed simply need to resign themselves to their part, said Dr. Mgamis.
Finally, he encouraged the audience to continue the tireless work in science and questioning the prevailing conditions.
– If we become stuck where we are, both we and science are doomed, he summarised.
Ground-Breaking Work for Free Science
The University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University have together acted as the chairs of Scholars at Risk Finland ever since it was founded in 2017. At the end of 2021, the current Chair Martin Cloonan and Coordinator of SAR Finland Irinja Paakkanen handed over the responsibility to the University of Helsinki. However, the University of Turku will continue the active SAR work.
Next year, Turku Institute for Advanced Studies (TIAS) will introduce the Kone Foundation Scholars at Risk Fellowship Programme funded by Kone Foundation and continuing until 2025.
Coordinator of SAR Finland
Chair of Scholars at Risk Finland, Director of TIAS research collegium