Strategy has a strong impact on UEF activities
The UEF strategy 2030 with profile areas and strategic programmes had a real impact on UEF activities and priorities regarding the thematic research communities addressing global challenges. UEF has created thematic research communities in a successful way and there is a strong focus on multidisciplinary research. The UEF is a partner in four national flagships, and researchers are involved in 23 projects of the Finnish Strategic Research Council programmes. UEF’s strategic funding with support PROFI funding provided by the Academy of Finland are supporting the implementation of the strategy. The audit team considers the well-known strategy by the university community and multidisciplinary research communities as a strength. The strategy is implemented with aligned support. All these activities contribute to the reforming of society. Funding services within UEF seem adequate and appreciated, both as described in the SAR and based on the interviews.
UEF has established partner ecosystems aligned with the following strategic profiles: KuopioHealth, Global Education Park, GreenHub Innovation System, Prein, Neurocenter Finland, and House of Effectiveness. It is a great strength to have several partner ecosystems in different domains focusing on strategic profiles as a multidisciplinary university. In the SAR and the information provided on the UEF webpage, the ecosystems have the focus of disseminating the latest research of the university. At the same time, further development of the innovation ecosystem is listed as an enhancement area in the SAR. While doing that, the audit team encourages the university to adopt a more explicit approach to invite questions and needs from external organisations. This way the university will have a dual approach integrated in their ecosystem, not only results disseminating from the university but also questions coming into the university. This can trigger more relevant research and further enhance UEF’s contribution to reforming society.
UEF should set targets for the impact of research
Research impact has a pronounced place in UEF’s strategy and in its rhetoric and it is regarded as a strength by the audit team. UEF receives information about the impact of its research through research assessment exercises. Thematic interdisciplinary research communities (RC) as concept with action plans, appointed leaders and coordinators, have been implemented and later evaluated in UEFRAE2019. The following six criteria were assessed: (1) Research excellence and scientific quality; (2) Research collaboration; (3) Novelty, societal relevance, and impact of research activities; (4) Operational conditions; (5) Strategic visions; (6) Implementation plan. All criteria are suitable. The audit team commends especially criteria 3, novelty, societal relevance and impact of research activities. Social relevance and impact of research ought to be in focus more often. Impact cases, as used in the latest research evaluation, is one method to use more frequently. The audit team agrees that “developing the evaluation and monitoring of research communities and the impact of evaluation results” is an enhancement area as stated in the SAR and encourages the university to do so.
The research evaluations, UEFRA2013 and UEFRA2019, are considered good practices by the audit team. The audit team recommends the university to update the RAE webpage to include information concerning the results of the research assessment exercises and the actions taken after UEFRA2013 and UEFRA2019.
During the audit visit, different views on measures and targets of the impact of research emerged. The university leadership highlighted the number of start-up companies and patents, but it was at the same time questioned whether patents are a good indicator for impact. Another view was that the greatest impact on society happens when researchers produce excellent science and obtain new research results. Participation in the Times Higher Impact Ranking was mentioned as a way of getting information about the impact of their research. The following research impact indicators are mentioned in the SAR: the number of open access publications, open data sets, the JUFO classification of the publications and the number of innovation ecosystems.
It was stated in the interviews that no clear goals for research impact have been formulated at UEF. In the audit visit, several interviewees argued that impact has to be a broad concept for a university as diverse as UEF. The audit team supports this approach by UEF. The audit team concludes that UEF has not set targets for the impact of research. Identifying targets for monitoring societal impact is also an enhancement area mentioned in the SAR. The audit team recommends the university to be explicit with a broad definition on impact and to define targets with the assumed definition as the base.
The university gives support to staff in dissemination activities and science communication via UEF communications and media relations. It provides information regarding experts, project and cooperation partners openly and accessibly via UEF connect which is the university’s search service. Science events, such as Café Smarts and Science Forum, are organised several times a year to share evidence-based information with the public.
UEF has systematic procedures for ensuring the responsible conduct of research and open science
As the SAR claims, UEF follows good scientific practice in all its actions. Also, UEF is committed to the Guidelines of the Finnish National Board on Research Integrity (TENK) ‘Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) and Procedures for Handling Allegations of Misconduct in Finland’. The principles of research ethics are well presented on the webpage, as are the role and tasks of the UEF Committee of Research Ethics. To include a more proactive role for the Committee, like promoting training, maintaining discussion and acting as an expert organ in problematic situations, is seen as a good practice by the audit team. The doctoral school provides courses on research ethics for doctoral researchers, and they are appreciated by them. The doctoral researchers also described an active dialogue with supervisors and awareness regarding the responsible conduct of research, which the audit team praises and sees as a good practice. From interviews with students, a need of research ethics training earlier than master’s level was raised. The audit team finds that it is important to include ethics and responsible conduct of research early in the education process and to continue to have an active ongoing dialogue at the departments. Even though UEF has systematic procedures for ensuring the responsible conduct of research, the audit team recommends it to ensure that more research ethics will be also included in the bachelor’s and master’s programs.
In the UEF Strategy 2030 openness is highlighted by the bold statement: “Science for all – a pioneer of open science and science communication”. In the SAR, open science and open innovations are identified as fundamental concepts in the development of the quality and impact of research and education provision. UEF has pledged to observe national and international principles and UEF has also adopted the key principles of Plan S. The publishing and data policy (2015) of UEF defines the principles of the impact of scientific research and the principles of open science. Information regarding open science is collected and presented in an informative way on the UEF webpage. The audit team noted that staff and doctoral researchers are well acquainted with open science and the publishing and data policy of the university. Training and support are in place and offered to staff and students.