The value of humanities research

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Tuomas Heikkilä and Ilkka Niiniluoto: The value of humanities research in Finland

coverIn recent years, the requirements of high-level research activities have been at a turning point and in the headlines in Finland, as well as elsewhere in the world. On one hand,  attention in Finland has focused on university budget cuts and on the other hand, it has focused on the government’s enthusiasm to increase Finland’s visibility, particularly with the help of financially utilisable innovations and commercial values. In public debate, humanities researchers in particular have felt to be at a disadvantage. The following report has been prepared at the initiative of Finland’s oldest foreign humanities research institute, the Finnish Institute in Rome. Our aim is to find out what the true value is for humanities research in the ever-increasing values of modern Finland. The report is a positive statement in an important, but unnecessarily polarised, debate.
The text is divided into six myths, concerning research in the humanistic disciplines and humanities scholars,which are each busted one at a time. In addition, there are also four keys, which each open new opportunities for humanities research.

  • Myth to be busted 1: Finns do not value humanities research. False! In the light of comprehensive citizen surveys and decisionmaker interviews that we carried out, there is extremely strong social demand for humanities research. Almost 84 percent of the citizen survey respondents and 98 percent of Finnish decision-makers considered humanities research to be important in terms of the Finnish society. Finns considered the most important objectives of humanities research to be the deeper understanding of humans and the society, the expansion of general knowledge and the understanding of the past.
  • Myth to be busted 2: A humanist is easy to identify. Definitely not! Researchers in the field of humanities and those that have studied in the various humanistic disciplines form a very large group in Finland. Research is also carried out outside the chambers of individual scholars, and its impact is not just limited to the group of other researchers. People in the field of study do not, however, have an organisation of interest, common voice or agenda. Therefore, humanistic research fields in Finland form a quiet and invisible group in terms of their social and academic importance.
  • Myth to be busted 3: A humanist will not be employed. What next! Most humanistic disciplines do not educate or train for a specific profession, and their students are mainly guided by interest for their own field of study rather than interest in a certain professional specialization. It is extremely difficult to be accepted in the degree programs of many humanistic disciplines. That said, humanities students are both extremely intelligent and very motivated. For an individual, education is an excellent investment at both a skill and financial level, and despite academic unemployment, those holding a doctorate in any field of study are better employed than those who have acquired a different qualification. It has been observed around the world that humanities education, and researcher training in particular, provide a comprehensive palette of skills that can be applied in a diverse manner. Due to this flexibility, humanists have a strong hold in the future labour market as well.
  • Myth to be busted 4: Humanities research is worthless. What a ridiculous statement! Humanities research has been proven to have versatile, even financially significant, value. The global Humanities World Report 2015 lists a long set of various important aspects from scientific absolute value and social and cultural values to the support of other disciplines, from personal development to experiences and innovations, from content production to tourism, as well as from social decision-making tools to moral guides.  Studies in humanities are also now of great value in terms of their potential to create innovative energy.  This is because innovations are not mechanically created merely by increasing funding, but are instead constructed with intellectual curiosity in the background, that ultimately encourages new perspectives to be taken . On the other hand, the ideal breeding ground is provided by a stable and democratic society, and humanities research and education has been shown to fuel tolerance as well as to teach democratic skills.
  • Myth to be busted 5: Humanities research is a waste of money. Nonsense! Humanities research has an excellent price/quality ratio. The discipline’s researcher training, and research itself, is affordable, while producing essential new information for the society. Finns have gained global recognition inexchange for a compensation of a relatively small financial effort. According to the most recent University rankings, out of all fields of study in Finland, humanities research is closest to the best in the world. The 200 decision-makers we interviewed agreed: humanities research is of such importance that its funding is the responsibility of the society – and it must be secured in all situations.
  • Myth to be busted 6: A humanist cannot save the world. On the contrary! Humanities researchers are the subject-matter experts of humanity and cultural encounters, for which there is greater need than ever in our modern complex world. The greatest challenges of our planet, humanity and our society will not be solved without them. The Finnish decision-makers we interviewed also believe that with the help of humanities research, Finland and the world can become a better place. Humanists themselves have, however, been lazy to take on the role set upon them for solving significant challenges.

The starting points for a new and more important role in Finland and around the world are excellent. The waypoints for the new position of humanities research are in place, and the favourable public awaits. It is time for humanities researchers to take their last step into the spotlight and take on the responsibility by stepping in to the service of the society. We offer four keys for the even more beautiful heyday of humanities research in Finland.

  • Key 1: More versatile, courageous funding for research! Although humanities researchers are often more international than their colleagues, their funding is almost exclusively of domestic origin. Therefore, those working in the humanities should be significantly more active in applying for international funding.
  • Key 2: Humanists emerge from the shadows to the spotlight! Researchers have a bad habit of curling up to debate on details within their own small inner circle, when the main channel of research results should really be funnelled out to the wider public. The results of humanities researchers’ work may affect the experiences and democratic skills of individual citizens.
  • Key 3: Digitality opens up new worlds! Digital humanities emphasise two sides, which are increasingly important in humanities research: multidisciplinary and internationalism. There is room for researchers to improve in both aspects.
  • Key 4: A humanist signs up for community service! Finland and the world need their best assets in order to solve both local as well as global challenges. It is time for humanists to sign up for service and take a constructive role rather than to whine. Following cuts and complaints, it is time for them to hold their heads up high and look ahead.

The overall situation of humanities research in Finland is good. Both people as well as decision-makers appreciate it and give it fundamental tasks in terms of both individuals as well as in terms of the society. The most gifted young people of the rising generation flow through the doors of universities, and wish to commit to the field of study of the humanities. Research obtains funding from both the society and private individuals. In international values, humanities have an excellent stand. These cornerstones of research do not appear to be shaken any time soon. Even better and more important research is good to be built on them for the benefit of science and the society, in the interest of humanity.
Download the full report (in Finnish) here.[/text_output][/vc_column][/vc_row]