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The Migration Institute of Finland Turns 45! – We Spoke With the Director About the Institute’s Role, Challenges and Future

The Migration Institute of Finland Turns 45! – We Spoke With the Director About the Institute’s Role, Challenges and Future
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Tuomas Martikainen. Picture: Family album

In the second interview of our series, we talked with Tuomas Martikainen, the director of the Migration Institute of Finland, about the institute’s role, its achievements and the future.

1.  As the first question, would you briefly introduce the Migration Institute of Finland and some of its main objectives?

The Migration Institute of Finland was founded in 1974, so we are celebrating our 45th anniversary this year. We are a private foundation (säätiö) founded by Finnish universities, the City of Turku as well as some ministries and NGOs.

The main task of the institute is to be a national center for research and documentation on migration and related issues. We are also a specialist archive for data on Finns abroad. In order to fulfill our mission, we do research, collect data, publish and do outreach activities. Our main sponsors are the Ministry for Education and Culture and the City of Turku. In addition, we apply for external research funding.

2.  As the Director of the Migration Institute, where do you think the Institute based on your plans is headed in the next three years?

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Three things top the agenda for our future plans: stronger research at the institute, better national co-operation and improved knowledge dissemination. We aim to be an even stronger research institute and for that, we would need to expand our pool of expertise.

We have already many great researchers with different disciplinary backgrounds, but, for example, having an economist and a demographer would expand our opportunities for research.

In my opinion, we still lack efficient national structures for co-operation between different universities and research institutes in our field. Thereby knowledge creation is nationally not as cumulative as it could be. It would be even beneficial to have more common ground in identifying medium-term major knowledge needs, as such efforts usually require co-operation, long-term planning and joint funding.

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We also need a more research-based discussion on migration in public. We aim to be more active in this.

3.  You have been appointed as the director of the institute since 2015. What are the three biggest achievements attained during your leadership? How about the biggest challenges you have already faced?

The main achievement is that the institute is now fifty percent larger than in 2015. An important element in that has been our success in the tough competition for the Academy of Finland and other funding, where our personnel have done outstanding work. This has led to an increasing interest for both different organizations and individuals to work with us. We have now a highly skilled staff.

The main challenge has been, and still is, how to combine the institute’s legacy with current societal interests. The institute was previously mostly known for research and other activities on Finns abroad.

We are also among the few Finnish organizations that have this focus. For the Finnish society, this is not the main issue now, but rather immigration tops the agenda.

We are committed to research on Finns abroad, but it stills needs to be better integrated into general migration research. Another challenge is the growing share of project-based researchers that needs to be dealt with carefully so that working for us supports these individuals’ own career interests.

4.  The institute is basically financed by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture. How do you support the cultural activities of immigrants in Finland? In the Migration Institute, you also have a center, named the Centre of Swedish-Speaking Finland. In what ways this center at the present time supports the institute in its missions?

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The financial support by the Ministry for Education and Culture and the City of Turku makes half of all our current funding. The rest comes mainly from various projects.

Our mission is not to support the cultural activities of either Finnish emigrants or immigrants as such, as for cultural purposes there are several other sources of funding. Instead, our mission is to create better knowledge of these phenomena. However, in our activities, we have overlapping interest with different groups, including immigrants, so that we have arranged events and other things together with them.

The Centre of Swedish-Speaking Finland is part of our activities. It still works as a project with temporary, mainly external funding. Swedish-speakers have an over-representation among emigrants, so research on them has been its main focus, but even how immigrants are active in the Swedish-language milieu in Finland.

5.  The institute has an Administrative Board and Council whose members provide governance and guidance in matters related to the missions of the institute. How are they selected? Do you benefit from any immigrants in your Administrative Board and Council?

The Board and Council memberships are exclusively based on the respective organizations’ suggestions. We have individual members of immigrant background in both, and many of other members have spent times of their lives as Finnish emigrants somewhere or work in a role in related migration. Having different skills and backgrounds in these administrative positions is, of course, beneficial for the institute. The same applies to our staff.

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About The Author

Mehdi Ghasemi

Mehdi Ghasemi received his Ph.D. from the English department at the University of Turku, and now he is a postdoctoral researcher at the Finnish Literature Society (SKS), University of Tampere and University of Turku. He is also a fiction writer and a reporter for Finland Today. He has published three fiction books.

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