Outgoing Rector Jukka Kola: Internationality is a prerequisite for success


Jukka Kola's five-year term as the Rector of the University of Turku ends at the end of July. As the Rector of the University of Turku, Kola has placed particular emphasis on internationality and the importance of collaboration.

During Kola's term, the University was affected by a series of disruptions, from the coronavirus pandemic to other international crises.

“We are in a different operational environment in universities than we were five years ago," says Kola.

The coronavirus pandemic defined Kola's years as the Rector of the University of Turku in many ways. He started at the University of Turku with strategy work in spring 2019 and as the Rector on 1 August 2019. At the time, the University was preparing for its centenary year the following year, with a wide range of activities planned in Turku and beyond. The anniversary year was launched on the eve of the University's centenary with the UTU100 Carnival open to all in the main square. This was a success – thousands of people came to celebrate the centenary of the University of Turku. At the same time, a working group on the coronavirus crisis was launched in the background.

“It was a great thing for our community that we were able to have the public UTU100 Carnival and the Anniversary Celebration, with President Sauli Niinistö as our Alum of the Year, before the coronavirus restrictions were introduced," says Kola.

Kola says the coronavirus pandemic has had a particular impact on students and the organisation of education.

“The coronavirus forced us to accelerate the change that was already coming. An increase in remote teaching had already been in the works. With coronavirus, teaching had to be moved entirely online in many places, which required a great deal of effort. In Finland and at the University of Turku, we succeeded quite well in this, and the tools and methods have been continuously improved since then."

Kola continues that although the speed of change took its toll for a while, the University as a community was able to withstand the change.

“Unfortunately, for some students, the change made them increasingly unwell. We have seen a decline in the well-being of young people in the past, but the pandemic has certainly left its mark," Kola says.

Broader thinking for the benefit of the University

Returning to the topic of change, Kola says that while necessity is often the greatest force for major change, in many cases it is not worth waiting for it in the interest of the University’s success.

“International networks are a good example – it is worth getting involved in influencing, for example, the plans for the new EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (FP10) and the European Degree, which are currently being prepared. It is also best to be active in international research projects and in applying for EU funding. At the University of Turku, we have significantly increased our funding from the Horizon Europe funding programme in recent years," says Rector Kola, who has just come from the General Assembly of the Coimbra Group university network.

“I tend to say that internationalisation is not an objective in itself, it is – in a very positive sense – a tool for increasing the quality and impact of research and education as well as their diversity and variety. The University of Turku needs to think more broadly, because not all knowledge comes from Finland. It is good to understand that both Finland and the University of Turku are dependent on wider global developments, and that it is often the case that Europe's interests are also Finland's interests in the longer term."

University has strong stakeholder support

Kola says that as soon as he arrived in Turku, he realised that the relative importance of the University of Turku to its region was greater than, for example, the universities in the Helsinki metropolitan area.

“There are many large and medium-sized companies in the region, as well as a large public sector, starting with the City of Turku, with which the University works closely and on whose operations the University has a strong influence. Much has been done with the City and companies, and the Faculty of Technology has added to this – working together to create a faculty in a positive way has brought stakeholders and the University even closer together.”

Kola points out that the importance of the Faculty of Technology to the University goes beyond the fields of technology.

“For example, there are opportunities for cooperation with companies in many different fields of the University of Turku.”

“The University of Turku is an asset to the region, but that does not mean that the University should be developed from a regional perspective. A university that is strong in its own region, but above all of very high quality and impact, is also appealing nationally and internationally. It is worth our while to be active in all the directions that matter to us."

We are stronger together

Kola would like to see even closer collaboration between Finnish universities.

“During the coronavirus pandemic, we discovered the importance of communication and common policies and decisions in Finnish universities. This could apply more widely, without the need for a crisis to trigger concrete collaboration."

Kola would also like to see more collaboration between universities in applying for international funding.

“In consortia that combine different strengths, universities could seek added value that benefits all. Opportunities for even better operation and greater collaboration should be sought."

According to Kola, the joint Digivisio 2030 programme between universities is a good example of collaboration that can improve the quality of universities.

“When quality remote teaching can be used to manage joint courses, more time is available for contact teaching and supervision at the University, which can be crucial for the improvement of quality.”

“Together we are more,” concludes Kola.

Jukka Kola as the Rector of the University of Turku 2019–2024

During his term of office, Rector Kola placed particular emphasis on the importance of collaboration, the sense of community and the well-being of the University community, international cooperation – especially within the EU – as well as on ensuring the operational preconditions of Finnish universities well into the future. In everything he did, Kola emphasised the high quality of the University's basic tasks of research and education, and the real impact that results from them. He saw internationalisation as particularly important in increasing both quality and impact. During Kola's term, the University established an International Advisory Board for the first time. During his time as the Rector, Kola was a member of the Rectors' Advisory Group of the Coimbra Group universities, the EUA Council, and the steering group of the EUA’s Universities and the Future of Europe project.

During Kola's term, the University was affected by a series of disruptions, from the coronavirus pandemic to other international crises. Major steps were taken during Kola's term to increase our involvement in EU networks and to acquire EU funding, as well as to digitalise the University's work and study environments.

Two research flagships funded by the Research Council of Finland began their operation at the University.

After a long period of effort and work, a Faculty of Technology was established at the University. During Kola’s term, a number of new degree programmes were launched at the University, particularly in the field of technology, and international master's degree programmes in collaboration with the EC2U Alliance.

Rector Kola chaired the Board of Directors of the Council of Rectors of Finnish Universities (Unifi) from 2022 to 2023. Both as the Chair of Unifi and as the Rector of the University of Turku, Kola emphasised the crucial importance of research for real innovation in RDI investment.

Text: Taru Suhonen
Translation: Saara Yli-Kauhaluoma
Photo: Suvi Harvisalo

Created 14.06.2024 | Updated 14.06.2024