Finn visits SU’s division for research development

Stellenbosch University's Division for Research Development recently played host to a colleague who works thousands of kilometres away at the University of Turku in Finland. Research funding specialist Lauri Keskinen's ten-day visit was possible through an exchange programme between research managers and administrators at universities in Southern Africa and the European Union (EU). 

It flows from the Strengthening of Collaboration, Leadership and Professionalisation in Research Management in SADC and EU project (also known as the StoRM project) of which Stellenbosch University (SU) is the lead institution and involves a consortium of ten partner institutions in Southern Africa and the EU. It is funded by the EU Erasmus+ programme and supports the professional development of staff members involved in managing and administrating research endeavours in Southern Africa and the EU. 

Since its inception in 2017, it has allowed two types of staff exchange programmes to be run. One is between the ten partners who are formally involved in the international StoRM consortium, while another is administered by the Southern African Research and Innovation Management Association (SARIMA). The latter provides opportunities to staff members of institutions that are not part of the international consortium.

Keskinen is one of nine people who have been granted work-related exchange opportunities through the SARIMA exchange programme. At the University of Turku, he is a research funding specialist, and helps researchers in the field of social sciences and humanities apply for suitable grants to support their work. Keskinen did a PhD on the cultural history of sport in Finland. The experiences he gained as a newspaper journalist often comes in handy when he provides advice to researchers about how to pitch and edit a specific research proposal.

He is in all likelihood the first visitor from the University of Turku to Stellenbosch. His home institution has seven faculties and around 25 000 students.

Keskinen says he chose Stellenbosch University to visit because the institution is similar in size and structure to his own. During his visit, he also spent time at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the University of the Western Cape (UWC). He did presentations about Turku and its research administration structures and participated in a seminar on EU funding along with SU, UCT and UWC colleagues during which ideas and experiences could be exchanged.

“One of my main tasks is to continually motivate researchers to keep positive about writing research proposals, because only about one in every 10 are ever successful," he explains the reality that researchers in his country also face.

He says the exchange programme has provided him with a much needed opportunity to spread his wings and benchmark himself professionally. He was also able to gain valuable insights into the functioning of other research offices.

He had, for instance, taken for granted that all universities have a central database such is used at Turku to process and store funding proposals. He says it makes project management and the internal approval process much easier. Colleagues with whom he interacted during his stay in South Africa were very interested in it, and he could help with some advice.

He hopes that future collaborations will stem from his visit to the Western Cape. “There is so much more to gain than to lose when working together and building networks," he believes. 

For more information about the StoRM project, visit the Facebook page RMA Professionals or the project website.​

Author: Engela Duvenage