Helsinki University campus. Photo: Helsinki University

University of Helsinki and the city collaborates to support well-being of Helsinki residents and solve global challenges

What happens when two high-profile players work in close collaboration? Meaningful and influential actions to promote health, prevent negative effects of climate change, develop education, streamline services, fight inequality and support entrepreneurship.

The collaboration between the City of Helsinki and the University of Helsinki keeps producing new results. The collaboration goes a long way back, and it has been intensified and extended to new sectors in the last few years.

The University of Helsinki turns 380 on 26 March. Helsinki congratulates its long-term collaboration partner.

Mayor Jan Vapaavuori. Photo: Jetro Staven, City of Helsinki
Mayor Jan Vapaavuori. Photo: Jetro Staven, City of Helsinki

“The international competition between cities for skilful employees and investments gets more fierce in the current situation. We have established a joint goal to develop the metropolitan area into the best operational environment for research, development and business activities in health technology”, says Mayor Jan Vapaavuori.

“For the City, the success of the University of Helsinki is increasingly important when the global challenges become more complicated. Moreover, the university is an important backer for the City’s divisions in making everyday life more fluent for the Helsinki residents.”

University of Helsinki’s rector Jari Niemelä says that it is natural that the city and the university have joint activities. For the university, it is big plus that Helsinki is one of the leading smart cities - not to mention the city’s success in international rankings, whether it is about the quality of life of the residents or the work-life balance.

Rector Jari Niemelä. Photo: Linda Tammisto, Unigrafia, Helsinki University
Rector Jari Niemelä. Photo: Linda Tammisto, Unigrafia, Helsinki University

“It is important to us that both domestic and international students are content in the city where they study. In order to be able to attract the best researchers and experts, it is important that the city is functional and that there are good schools for the children.”

Niemelä believes that the international marketing of the most functional city in the world is best done together.

Out to the world with air quality research

City of Helsinki. Photo: Jussi Hellsten, City of Helsinki

One example of the collaboration is air quality and the measuring of it: How is the air quality now and how does it change, for example, during the morning commute?

The MegaSense research programme produces first-rate air quality data with sensors developed at the university. The data is collected at a very local level, which means that the measures affecting the air quality can also be aimed at the right place.

Professor Sasu Tarkoma says that the measurement of air quality and measuring equipment are about to reach an entirely new level thanks to artificial intelligence. Tarkoma is the project leader for the MegaSence project.

“We are able to build equipment at a relatively inexpensive price that, in terms of measurement capability, is very reliable and precise. We can start using wearable technology, and the meters are no longer tied to a certain place.”

According to Tarkoma, these are just the first steps in the development.

“In the industry, we are talking about virtual sensors, by means of which we can also add physical sensors to the measurements in new ways and get entirely new kinds of opportunities.”

The large research programme is made up of many smaller projects, one of which is UrbanSense. Its participants, in addition to the university, are the City of Helsinki and digital solution producer Forum Virium Helsinki.

UrbanSense supports the utilisation of the 5G network in the city environment and expands the air quality measurement with equipment connected to the 5G network.

In the project, the air quality is monitored with new sensor technology in real time and with precision, while companies can utilise the project’s 5G test platform in their product development.

Tarkoma considers the City of Helsinki a pioneer in opening its data and in its pilot projects, where new technology is developed, tested and introduced on an open platform.

Making university familiar to upper secondary students

Chemicum labrotary. Photo: Linda Tammisto, Helsinki University

The collaboration is also tangibly visible in the development of schools and education. For example, Helsingin luonnontiedelukio (upper secondary school) moves to the Kumpula campus in a few years, when the new building is completed in autumn 2023, according to the current estimate.

The rector of Helsingin luonnontiedelukio Timo Hartikka says that collaborating with the university is not a new thing, but that the collaboration has been further enhanced over the last few years. New forms of collaboration, among other things, have been worked out together with the co-ordinators at the faculty of science.

For example, first-year students at the upper secondary school can go the university to hear about its offerings immediately at the beginning of their studies. Studying at the university becomes familiar in student shadowing as well, where, as the name suggests, the upper secondary student follows the university student like a shadow.

Upper secondary teachers are well updated on how things are at the university.

“We were recently on quick dates with the researchers at the university. Researchers and teachers met face to face for 3–5 minutes and the teachers heard about different kinds of research projects.”

The upper secondary students are also allowed to use the university's well-equipped premises for their lessons in physics and chemistry. During the cross-disciplinary climate change course, the upper secondary students make a camp school at the Hyytiälä forest station.

The university’s materials and corporate contacts are also utilised in the programming studies. University courses can also be taken as part of the upper secondary studies. Hartikka believes that thanks to the close collaboration, the university will get motivated students in turn. Without an active dialogue, many students would not necessarily even come to think of countless fine career opportunities.

When the upper secondary school moves to the campus, the university researchers and students will have increased natural possibilities to explore syllabuses and start pilot projects for new forms of teaching.

Learning from each other

Health Capital Helsinki. Photo: Keksi Agency, City of Helsinki

The collaboration between the city and the university supports the well-being of the Helsinki residents. The city’s health care benefits from the medical research conducted at the university campus in Meilahti and the university hospital’s academic community, which has been evaluated as the fifth best European community conducting clinical research.

During the last decade, HUS has introduced more than 700 solutions for improving treatments or diagnoses based on its own research work.

The city and the university are also participating in the Urban Academy network, which unites urban research to multidisciplinary research, education and societal impact. The Aalto University and the cities of Espoo and Vantaa have also joined the Urban Academy.

The city and the university have also collaborated for several years in Helsinki Think Company. The community-minded work and event space with its entrepreneur services started its operations in 2013 and has since then expanded to four university campuses.

In the future, the collaboration between the city and the university will likely be further expanded, which in part will be ensured by the advisory board for collaboration (HYNK), comprised of members from the top management of the City of Helsinki and the University of Helsinki, whose task is to develop and co-ordinate the collaboration.


Text: Kirsi Riipinen
Photos: Helsinki University; Jetro Staven, City of Helsinki; Linda Tammisto, Unigrafia, Helsinki University; Jussi Hellsten, Helsinki Marketing; Keksi Agency/ City of Helsinki