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Finn report Finn report
by Euro Reporter
2013-01-28 08:20:49
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New bioeconomy initiative in Finland to support SMEs

The bioeconomy is growing at an unprecedented rate, and the demand for new services and more efficient tools to boost business in this industry is ever increasing. Because of this growth, the need for management of biological information is proving to be vital in keeping up with demand and new concepts. This is evident with the latest figures, which reveal that the global market for bioinformatics is expected to reach more than EUR 4.5 billion next year. In order to home in on this demand, Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, has devised a concept aimed at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Its focus is on developing new business from the management of biological information. The 'Solutions for Biological Information' (BioIT) programme, funded with EUR 10 million (EUR 6.5 million of which are provided by Tekes), with the rest of the funding coming from relevant companies within the industry. The project will run for 2 years. It will support strategic focus areas such as promoting growth and internationalisation of SMEs by combining the development of digital and service solutions with the vitality of the thematic areas of cooperation, health, the knowledge-based bio-economy (KBBE), and information and communications technology (ICT).

It also aims to build new value networks and cooperation between biotechnology ICT players. So, utilising the knowledge and experience of experts such as biologists, geneticists and environmental scientists, and combining this with ICT expertise, will be key. There are already 40 specialist companies within this field, and it is expected that there will be further opportunities for growth and renewal for both new and well-established players. The programme covers areas such as the development of pharmaceuticals, which requires in-depth knowledge of the biological origins of illnesses. This is an area where the development of high data-processing capacity can create opportunities for SMEs within pharmaceutical and diagnostics companies. Likewise, for the food industry, knowledge within nutrition science can help develop healthier and safer food products. Furthermore, knowledge within the biosector can help to produce solutions for environmental issues, such as the quality of air, soil and water.

Tekes Programme Manager Teppo Tuomikoski says: 'In line with Tekes strategy, the programme catalyses new businesses and helps transform industries. [Like] its clients, the programme is agile and relies strongly on networking.' The EU regards life science and biotech sectors as important areas of development, with the European Commission promoting the interests - both academic and commercial - of the sector across the globe. Last year the European Commission introduced a Strategy and Action Plan to develop a strong Bioeconomy to help Europe live within its limits ensuring sustainable exploitation of biological resources thus allowing the production of more from less. In line with this, regular Bioeconomy Stakeholder Conferences are planned within the Action Plan. In February, the European Commission in collaboration with the Irish Presidency, will host the 2nd Stakeholder Conference - "Bioeconomy in the EU: achievements and directions for the future". The aim is to ensure the development of the bioeconomy remains high on Europe's agenda, as well as evaluating the progress achieved to date, in relation to the proposed Action Plan.

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Lessons in equality for educators

As the ongoing public debate around the teachers’ response to Bill 115 makes clear, Ontarians care deeply about the state of their education system. Voters have strong opinions about the responsibilities of educators, merit pay for teachers, and other aspects of education policy. Access to good schools has even proven to be one of the most important factors influencing prospective homeowners when choosing where to live. Not surprisingly, parents want their kids to acquire the skills they need to lead successful lives as they grow up. Yet, considering the importance of education, it is disappointing we hear little about how our pupils fare when measured against their international counterparts — or what Canada can potentially learn from countries with the strongest students. While Canadians likely assume, correctly, that most of the nations to beat are found in Asia, there is one northern outlier that may be especially worth examining. To ensure the country remained competitive in a changing global economy, back in the 1970s Finland’s government undertook a substantial overhaul of its education system.  Unlike other countries that focused on competition in education, however, the foremost emphasis of the new Finnish model was on equity: that all children had the same opportunity to learn, regardless of where they lived or their family situation. The school system was seen not as a way to produce star performers, but an instrument to reduce social inequality.

Officials believed a single approach would be ineffective for meeting the needs of the nation’s diverse communities. As such, they did not implement a top-down approach to education, but allowed schools and teachers to choose how to utilize their time and resources as they see fit. With the exception of one matriculation exam that high-school students write to qualify for post-secondary studies, they also eliminated standardized tests, preferring to give teachers the authority to design their own forms of assessment. To cope with such responsibility and autonomy, Finnish teachers are highly qualified. All educators have a master’s degree, and only about 10 per cent of applicants are accepted into the extremely competitive faculties of education. Because citizens recognize teachers play such a critical role in child development, these learned professionals are accorded as much respect as the country’s doctors. None of this would be particularly remarkable, perhaps, were it not for the fact the system the Finns created today produces some of the best students in the world. Finland has been the top-rated Western nation on the world’s foremost educational test, the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), since its inception in 2000. Admittedly, a handful of Asian countries rank higher than Finland in mathematics, and Shanghai, China, is first across the board in math, science and reading. Yet some Asian teachers have recently begun to lament the fact that extracurricular activities like music and sports are pushed aside as children endure hours of exhaustive cramming and rote memorization. The result, according to these educators, is a student body good at writing exams, but that struggles to excel in other areas.

In contrast, Finns spend the least amount of time in the classroom of all OECD students — just 640 hours a year between the ages of 9 and 11, as opposed to the OECD average of 810 hours. Teachers also assign less homework, and strongly encourage extracurricular activities. Finland is thus in the enviable position of developing incredibly well-rounded pupils, who can nevertheless best almost all their international counterparts on scholastic tests. Finnish officials view education as an investment in productivity and, due in no small part to their strong school system, the country has become one of the most specialized nations in telecommunications technology. What may be even more impressive, however, is just how well Finland has achieved its goal of educational equality. Finnish PISA scores are the most consistent across the country of all participating nations. No matter where they live, Finnish children can attend an excellent school. Thanks in part to this equality of opportunity early on, the country’s poverty rate is just 3.4 per cent (versus Canada’s 13.6 per cent). Certainly, Canadians should be proud of their own education system, which also holds up well when ranked internationally. Still, Finland continues to outperform us, and does so while actually spending about 13 per cent less per student than Canada does. As such, though we are different countries with separate cultures, perhaps there are lessons for Canada to learn from this successful Nordic state and its approach to education — that focused on equity, but ended up with excellence.

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Copyright law proposal

France may be stepping up their HADOPI scheme, but not every European country is heading the same way. In Finland, a new procedure, passed last year might bring a radical change to the copyright law. The secret is public participation. There is some history of public participation schemes in several countries already. The US government has the White House petition site where proposals that reach a certain level of support get an official response. While that’s led to a quick (and amusing) reply on issues like building a Death Star, it wasn’t exactly useful when the public was outraged at MPAA head Chris Dodd’s insinuations of corruption when SOPA/PIPA failed last year. The situation in Finland is a bit better than that, and more in line with the liquid feedback systems proposed by – and in use with – a number of Pirate Parties.

A recent modification of the national Constitution allows for citizens to make legislative proposals for the Parliament to vote on, providing it gets 50,000 supporters within 6 months. A private initiative, called Open Ministry was then formed to help discuss and collect signatures. Now the first real test of the system is coming with a new Copyright proposal. Termed ‘To Make Sense of the Copyright Act’, the proposal (in Finnish) takes aim at modern changes in copyright law, and with the 2006 modification in particular, Lex Karpela. Included in the proposal are reducing penalties, increasing fair use, and easing the ability for people to make their own copies of items they already own (for format shifting, or backups)

According to the DailyDot, it was one of the most commented on, and best rated of the proposals on the Open Ministry site. At the time of writing, the proposal, which has been going for two days, has already gathered over 7% of its target, giving it an estimated success date of Feb 18th. Part of the success might be due to the outrage the Finnish copyright laws generated when it was revealed that a police unit raided a 9yo girl and confiscated her Winnie the Pooh laptop after an allegation of sharing. The matter was eventually settled with the child’s father paying 300 euro to the anti-piracy company CIAPC. Of course, even if the proposal reaches the goal, there’s no guarantee that the Parliament will accede to its contents. However, any proposal that makes it that far will probably get strong consideration, given that it has to have direct support of more than 1% of the voting public. As we saw in the US a year ago, sometimes sufficient public outcry can drown out even the most determined lobbying.



          
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