Technology and business studies
In the thirty years since it opened its doors, the Lappeenranta University of Technology has established a solid reputation in Finnish higher education for its concentration on technological and economic studies and on combinations of both. Its location in such a heavily-forested region means that in several respects its special focus is on the forest products industry. Not that other sectors have been forgotten, because all departments relate their teaching and research to economic life as a matter of course.
Lappeenranta has never wanted to expand into a fully-fledged university, preferring to narrow its focus and concentrate specifically on technology and trade. "There's no point wasting resources on expansion. The other sectors would remain so small as to be of little significance," says Rector Markku Lukka. From the very beginning, more economics-related subjects have been taught in Lappeenranta than at other Finnish universities of technology. The engineers who graduate from the production economy training programme have been given a strong grasp of economics. The university nowadays also has a training centre for economists. This training concentrates on internationalisation, managing technology and leading people by relying on appropriate areas of expertise. A considerable share of both economics and engineering students spend part of their degree courses at foreign institutes with which exchange agreements exist.
The university's location almost on the Russian border is an interesting feature. The future development of world politics will determine whether Lappeenranta becomes a conduit for growing traffic and cooperation or just one forward outpost on western Europe's 1,300-km border with the Soviet Union. "One of our strengths and great opportunities for the future is our knowledge of industry and economic life in the East. That is expertise that we can pass on to both Finns and foreigners. Since we lie so close to the border, we are better placed than other technology universities for constant interaction with the Russians. One learns a lot through contacts like that," says Lukka. The university has been accumulating experience of dealing with the eastern neighbours since the Soviet era. Concrete cooperation began in the environmental field, when experts from Lappeenranta participated in studying emissions from paper mills on the other side of the border. That cooperation led to the personnel at the mills being given training in environmental matters. This soon expanded into their being given general management training. Nowadays there are lively exchanges of students, teachers and researchers across the border.
The aim in Lappeenranta is to train people that can respond rapidly to changing challenges. "Because information technology, to take an example, is developing as fast as it is, universities should concentrate more and more on imparting a high standard of basic expertise and preparing students well to carry out research. When the basic knowledge is there, it's easy to learn new things. Instrumental knowledge is not of such great importance. Right at the end of their studies, students can then learn what is leading edge in each particular field, and thus easily find their feet in working life," says Markku Lukka.
Links to companies via technology village
Some 80% of the products of the future will be information technology. This field is developing apace and creating new jobs. A characteristic feature is that basic research is rapidly transformed into allied research. The time it takes to commercialise technical innovations is lessening all the time, as Kareltek is demonstarting. Kareltek is one of ten technology centres in Finland. The vast majority of the companies located in the centre, which is right beside the institute are working in information technology, especially software. An important cooperation partner is the university's information technology department, whose research laboratory is actually situated on the Kareltek site. "The Finnish academic world has adapted to this kind of operation very quickly and learned how to engage in discussion with the corporate world. It is an advantage for us that in a small country people know each other. Interaction works," says Kareltek's Managing Director Marjut Hannelin.
Many kinds of companies are based in the Kareltek centre. The most typical include product-development units belonging to large companies. Links with researchers are easy to establish and the institute right next door is an ideal place to recruit staff. A typical Kareltek company operates in a narrow sector and its markets are international. There are also numerous so-called hatchery companies under Kareltek's roof. "The real support given by society is important, but a new entrepreneur also needs moral backing. Kareltek provides that," says Marjut Hannelin. Researchers and entrepreneurs learn to know each other at Kareltek and this creates useful networks for exchanging information. "After all, it's people who do this work, not companies," Hannelin points out.