USA  Erityisasiantuntija Petri Koikkalainen.

Petri Koikkalainen, senior specialist, has served as a specialist in higher education and research at Finland’s Embassy in Washington since October 2021. He has extensive experience in the fields of universities and research as well as in education, research and innovation policy.

Prior to his current position, Koikkalainen worked as Professor of Social Sciences at the University of Lapland, Vice-Dean responsible for research, Academy Research Fellow at the European University Institute and Chair of the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers between 2015 and 2018. Earlier Koikkalainen was a visiting scholar at the University of California (UC Berkeley) in the United States. Koikkalainen is a Doctor of Social Sciences and gained his degree from the University of Lapland in 2005. His field of research is political science, and he has studied in particular political theory and the history of political thought.

The main priorities of Koikkalainen’s position include monitoring and analysing education, science and innovation policy in the United States, promoting RDI cooperation between Finland and the US, and boosting the recognition of the Finnish fields of higher education, research and innovation. His work involves strengthening cooperation between Finnish actors and liaising with ministries, higher education institutions and research institutes that play a key role in research. He will also explore funding opportunities and invest in promoting mobility for researchers and students. 

In recent years, Finland has forged cooperation with the United States especially in Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado and Washington. State-level cooperation gives actors in the field of research opportunities to find interesting new partners of high scientific standard. The aim is for Finnish higher education institutions to be clearly present in North America, establishing stronger networks with North American higher education institutions, research institutes and companies. The job description of the Team Finland knowledge network is part of the wider Team Finland efforts, to which the perspectives of research and higher education are closely linked.

United States – the superpower of science being challenged

The United States is the world’s leading superpower in science, but it is no longer the world’s largest scientific power in terms of all indicators. US public and private investments in research and development amounted to approximately USD 600 billion in 2021, but the figures for China have been slightly higher in recent years. In absolute terms, China has also surpassed the United States in the number of scientific publications. Given China’s ability to spread research-based technology from consumer products to various strategic investments, the United States has never faced as strong a scientific and technological challenge as it now has, which also takes the shape of an ideological rival.  

The United States continues to lead the way in its reputation, effectiveness and attractiveness, though. This can be seen in areas such as the number of Nobel Laureates, in citation indexes and in the best-recognised university rankings that elite universities of the United States govern in a sovereign manner. At the end of the last decade, the number of foreign exchange students in the United States stabilised at over one million a year. In the 2020-21 academic year of COVID-19, the number was 914,000. Altogether 71 per cent of the students were from Asia, 35 per cent from China, and only seven per cent from Europe. For US exchange students, in turn, Europe is the most attractive continent.

The growing investments in RDI that the US have been making are largely in response to the international geopolitical challenge. On the other hand, the United States is strongly pursuing industrialisation and competition policy based on national needs to secure domestic employment and production chains. National and international objectives are not always easy to reconcile. However, the US is seeking international partners, especially from countries that it considers like-minded and safe in terms of its key objectives. This is why key international research partnerships may become stronger in the future.

The United States is facing challenges in education and in maintaining an adequate level of competence. There are signs that well-known universities and affluent students are strengthening their position, but the situation of those in a poorer position is deteriorating. Nonetheless, the US is likely to retain its strong position in international student and researcher exchange. Foreign researchers completing a doctoral thesis are in a clear majority, especially in many fields of natural sciences and technology. Science will continue to be international in scope, and no other major power has been able to create an equally attractive and viable destination for international talent.

Finland and the United States – sustained robust research cooperation

The research links between Finland and the United States are strong. Finnish researchers have the largest number of international joint publications with US researchers, and the United States is the most popular individual country as a destination for Finnish researcher mobility. The networks are extensive and multidisciplinary and extend to ASLA-Fulbright Pre-Doctoral Research Fellows Program that first commenced in the 1950s.

Finland has a reputation in the United States as a country of high-quality education, science and technology. Finland is seen as a reliable partner with whom it is safe to share objectives and expertise. The research funding system in the United States is decentralised, and besides the university field, cooperation may take place with research agencies such as NSF, NIH, NASA and NIST or national laboratories. Many of them are among the world’s largest providers of funding for scientific research, and some of them may significantly increase their budgets in the coming years.

The United States also needs talent and ideas from beyond its borders. Finland is interested in areas such as AI research, energy, quantum and high-performance computing, biosciences and forest sciences, cyber security, 5G and 6G, Arctic and cold climate research, space and atmospheric research, teacher education, and medical and health research. Societal policy goals, such as the goals of mitigating inequality, are on the Biden government agenda. There is demand for research-based knowledge and international benchmarking in this context too. 

It is advantageous if research and the knowledge based on it can be seen comprehensively as part of solving major problems.  Even though the United States is probably ahead of Finland in areas such as the commercialisation of research innovations, from the American perspective Finland’s close cooperation between universities, research institutes and different sectors of society is likely enviable.

United States – challenges of a leading nation of science

With its public and private investment in R&D activities totalling USD 500 billion a year, the United States is the leading nation in higher education and science. Most of the Nobel Prizes for Science are still awarded to researchers working in the United States. Close to 50% of articles that are scientifically most effective are produced in the United States. The wealthy and autonomous universities at the top of the ranking lists and the centres of expertise around them have attracted over one million students in higher education from all over the world to the United States. There are many foreign students particularly in the fields of natural sciences and technology. In 2018, there were 800,000 foreign doctoral students or post-doctoral students enrolled in universities across the United States.

However, with the focus of the world's human and material resources having shifted rapidly to Asia, the United States will be undergoing a major change over the course of next generation. The global superpower contest between the United States and China has repercussions on higher education and research. This is because the rivalry is in essence about scientific and technological leadership as well as expertise and knowledge management. The standard of research and universities is on the rise in China and other countries intent on investing in knowledge and expertise, and the United States is now losing its pole position in some disciplines. In the coming years, international cooperation in higher education and research could easily be hampered by strategic superpower competition, trade wars, stricter migration and visa policies, nationalism and an emphasis on security issues.

However, there is reason to see developments in a positive light for both Finland and the rest of the world. This is because research is full of deep global interdependencies. Openness, mobility, international cooperation and new investments in knowledge and expertise are essential elements of the dynamics of the US economy. For the US to succeed in the superpower contest, it needs to build ever-closer connections with the centres that produce new information.


Finland and the United States – at the pinnacle of research and education together

With the United States increasing public research funding, the conditions for international cooperation will augment. Finland is in an excellent position to increase cooperation with institutions of higher education, educational institutions, research companies and regional actors in the United States. Foreign actors are eligible for many of the world's largest public funding instruments (DARPA, NIH, NASA, NSF, NASA, NIST). This is possible provided that the quality of research and teaching is high, that partners are acquired from the United States, that evidence of effective cooperation exists and that the applicant country is generally prepared to make own investments too.

At grassroots level, in terms of mutual scientific references, US researchers are already one of the most important research partners for Finnish researchers. Over the decades, the Fulbright programme has created an alumni network of several thousand researchers, teachers and other experts. This offers an excellent platform for expanding and deepening cooperation in higher education and research.

Finland has a good reputation in education, science and technology and is known to be a reliable partner. Topical issues in education and research both in Finland and the United States have much in common. The United States is interested in our expertise in areas such as artificial intelligence, 5G and 6G, quantum computing, cyber security, arctic research, personalised medicine, teaching in mathematics and the sciences, school curricula, digital learning environments, versatile development of literacy in the general population, and teacher training.

In terms of human resources, the United States relies to some degree on foreign human capital. Its level of knowledge and expertise as well as standard of education now also lag behind those of the best countries in the world. Hence, the development of education opens up opportunities for sharing Finnish knowledge, expertise and educational innovations.

Petri Koikkalainen on Twitter: 


Washington (USA and Canada)

Petri Koikkalainen, Senior Specialist 
Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Embassy of Finland, Washington DC (WAS), Team Finland
[email protected]