Prof. Ossi V. Lindqvist
The university that believes in synergy
By European standards, Kuopio University is very young. It has been a seat of learning for only a quarter of a century, a short time compared with Finland's oldest university, Helsinki, which has already celebrated its 350th anniversary. But youth is something that Kuopio is well able to exploit to its advantage. An accretion of advanced know-how, in which there is a determined concentration on special strengths, has rapidly developed around the dynamic university. Indeed, Kuopio leads the international field in some segments of know-how.
The university has four faculties. Its "Science Valley" has made a national and international reputation for itself in, especially, the development of pharmaceuticals and veterinary biotechnology, but technology for application in health care and environmental protection is also undergoing strong development.
"The profile that we have adopted gives us a lot of synergetic advantages," says Prof. Ossi V. Lindqvist. "Professors from the faculty of medicine also teach natural scientists, and their counterparts from the natural sciences faculty teach medical students."
Himself a graduate of a "traditional" university, Lindqvist was determined to avoid the often-burdensome situation in which faculties jealously guard their "sovereign" rights. "Rather than being practitioners of a particular branch of science, we should be problem solvers," he says. "Interdisciplinary research projects are effective, but they are impossible if every researcher's chamber is his castle."
The only development projects approved by Kuopio University in recent years have been interdisciplinary ones. Representatives of different fields have to communicate with each other. Says Lindqvist: "This puts researchers to a tough test, but it is also very useful for both them and the totality."
Characteristic of the university is its open and cooperative attitude to the surrounding society and business life. In the past, "commissioned research" struck a sour note in the academic world, but things are different now: Kuopio has been in the front-rank of universities with a positive attitude to enterprise. "To those who say that corporate finance endangers a university's independence and the freedom with which it conducts its research I reply that Finland's A.I. Virtanen received all of his funding from a private company and won a Nobel Prize for chemistry," says Lindqvist. "The era of ivory towers is over."
Kuopio University is small by international standards. Like its youth, it has turned also this feature to advantage in developing itself and the surrounding know-how centre. Lindqvist uses a very clear example to illustrate the matter: "Kuopio has gained a strong reputation for its follow-up studies in the field of health care. Here, we are able to reach target groups of patients time and time again. "The situation is different in, for example, the United States, where Lindqvist has also gained solid experience of the university world. "The university also has excellent cooperation with various levels in society and business life," he says.
Lindqvist is a strong believer in the benefits that universities can gain through change. "It's more a matter of a quantum leap than of reshaping the old," he points out. Kuopio made that leap by concentrating on biotechnology, which has become the factor that binds the university's parts together to make an efficient, research-oriented science community.