Statement of the Astronomy research unit


Dear colleagues,

The Astronomy research unit of the University of Oulu is the northernmost department of astronomy in the world at a mere one degree south of the Polar Circle. We are a small but scientifically active research group consisting of 4 senior researchers (1 permanent, 3 fixed-term) and externally funded postdocs (3) and PhD students (4). According to all measures, we are proud to count ourselves among the best research units of our university. However, despite our success in attracting external funding (currently in excess of 300k€ per year), a strong publication track record (99 papers in 2016-2018, including 4 in Science and Nature) and a well-developed teaching curriculum, the Astronomy research unit is now in serious danger.
Without any preliminary consultations with the staff or the unit leader, the university board has decided to start a process that aims at terminating the main subject status of Astronomy, and converting two of the current astronomy researcher positions to teaching positions in Physics. This would be a serious blow for us, but it is in line with other actions taken previously by the faculty of science against the Astronomy unit, like a series of budget cuts, and the denial by the dean to approve our suggestions for continuation contracts of key personnel of the unit. The loss of the main subject status may sound like a harmless thing. But it is not: the process (called YT-negotiations), initiated by the dean of the faculty of science, is usually used by employers in Finland to terminate work contracts “efficiently” in a situation of economic difficulties. It is a heavy cannon, and it is surprising that this heavy measure is used for this purpose, in particular since the Astronomy unit is producing positive net income to the university, via the bonus university receives from the Ministry of Education and Culture based on the unit’s research output. We are afraid that the process will permit the faculty to take away positions from our unit. This will endanger the unit as a whole, because our budget is directly related to the research output, and a reduction in research staff would lead to a downward spiral and eventual termination of our research unit within a few forthcoming years.
The YT-committee will probably support the plans pursued by the faculty. However, the final decision will be made by the rector of the university (prof. Jouko Niinimaki), after discussion with the head of the university board (Dr. Risto Murto). There is no formal way for us to even raise our voice or formulate an appeal against the recommendation by the committee. In this situation, our only hope is the international astronomy community. We hope that supporting statements from international astronomy departments and institutes could be sent directly to the Rector’s office. Of course you cannot directly comment on the quality and quantity of teaching in our unit, having not seen it in person. But if you decide to support us, you could express your worry on the consequences of a reduction in staff on the research output of the unit and the international collaborations. For instance, during the last 2 years our researchers have been awarded 40% of all accepted ESO proposals with a Finland-based PI, with only 15% of the astronomy personnel in Finland. The Finnish investment in ESO is the largest scientific investment for astronomy in the country. Taking away positions from the group in Oulu would significantly decrease the science return for Finland.
If you decide to support us or you have any questions, please write me a message at and I will then send you the addresses, to which you can send your statement.
Thank you for your consideration,
Dr. Vitaly Neustroev
on behalf of the members of the Astronomy research unit

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This entry was posted on Sunday, February 24th, 2019 at 21:39 and is filed under Astronomy, Blog, Official, Work. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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