Rector Ülle Jaakma`s inauguration speech

Foto: Maria Kilk

Honourable President of the Republic of Estonia, Honourable President of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, honourable ministers, former Rectors of Estonian University of Life Sciences, fellow Rectors, the Mayor of Tartu, dear members of the Council and Senate of the University, the University membership!

Ladies and gentlemen!

I feel anticipation and great responsibility, standing before you as the tenth rector of our University.

My respect and gratitude to Rector Emeritus Mait Klaassen, under whose leadership the University has been developing its strengths as a research university, has achieved a remarkable position among the hundred best universities in the world in the field of agriculture and forestry, has created a modern campus and an international work and study environment where Estonian language and culture are highly valued. The contribution of all previous rectors is as significant.  We are proud that two Presidents of Estonia were our Rectors: President Arnold Rüütel and President Alar Karis.

I would like to thank the supportive University family and my fellow candidates, Professors Endla Reintam and Paavo Kaimre, for the stimulating discussions during the election period, which provided certainty and clarity in shaping the priorities necessary for the development of the University.

Estonian University of Life Sciences has its roots in the Veterinary School of Tartu, founded in 1848. Thousands of alumni consider the best years of their lives to be those spent at the EPA, or Estonian Agricultural Academy, established 72 years ago. Major changes in the University's structure, research and study led to a change of the University's name in 2005, at the suggestion of Rector Alar Karis.

The mission of Estonian University of Life Sciences is to create and share knowledge for the promoters of the bioeconomy for the benefit of Nature and Man. By creating synergy between the focus areas of agriculture, forestry, environment, food and health, engineering and technology, and rural economy, we contribute to the sustainable use of natural resources, food security, and ensuring the health of ecosystems and living environment through our academic activities. We have the opportunity and the obligation to help find a balance between the preservation of nature and the factors necessary for the well-being of people. Finding a balance is not easy, as we can see from the heated debates on forest management. In such matters, it is not only a conflict between business interests and the interests of conservationalists. The values and decisions embedded here affect the life and livelihood of all residents in Estonia. Evidence-based knowledge is needed more than ever, because wise decisions cannot be based on beliefs. We encourage scientists to express their knowledge-based opinion more prominently.  As Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise expressed at the science policy conference this autumn: "The more the smart people decide to remain silent, the more resilient the lies are".

Geologists say that for some time already we have been living in the Anthropocene, an era when the planet and its destiny are shaped above all by the human species. Sir David Frederick Attenborough, an English natural historian and author of BBC Nature Films, has said that the Anthropocene may turn out to be a very short period in geological history and may end in the extinction of humans as a species, but it does not necessarily have to be that way. The Anthropocene may mean the beginning of a new, sustainable relationship between us and the planet. I, as a grandmother of 4 bright-eyed grandchildren, cannot stand the thought that their future is a fight against the deepening environmental crisis, pandemics and hunger. To prevent this, we must learn to cooperate with nature, to live in harmony with it. Our distant ancestors were forced to get along well with nature in order to survive. We have to learn it, too, because in an urbanized and welfare-oriented society, ancient skills and wisdom have faded.

The research of the University is based on the goals of sustainable development. Environmentally friendly plant protection, precision farming, improving soil fertility, food security, carbon emission and sequestration issues, valorization of wood, valorization of by-products and residual products of production, renewable energy, health of water bodies, innovative engineering - these are some keywords to characterise the present time.

Changing the world starts in our own backyard. We must demonstrate this in the design and management of our campus, as well as in developing the content of the curricula. We want to provide knowledge and skills and expand a smart green way of thinking that inspires the creation of innovative technologies, smart management and social organisation. Under the leadership of the Green University working group, we are mapping our carbon footprint and moving step by step towards a more sustainable university.

We need to find ways and methods to foster our students' creativity and ingenuity.  If the world does not offer ready-made solutions, it is necessary to find them ourselves. In addition to e-learning, flexibility in learning formats also means brainstorming, open laboratories for testing new ideas, and professional projects for solving "real" problems. In cooperation with successful companies, we can expand the possibilities of the specialities and be confident that the acquired knowledge and skills enable interesting work that is necessary for society.

The University's image and reputation are shaped by the members of the academic family, who conduct research at an international level and share knowledge openly and reliably with students and the wider society. I would like to thank our Chairs and research group leaders for your commitment! It is important to continuously support young people’s academic aspiration, as they will become carriers of the continuity of their profession and professional Estonian language. Acting in the responsibility areas of our University requires good knowledge of local conditions and close relations with entrepreneurs, therefore it is necessary to have enough graduate students from the youth of our own country in addition to international talented young people. I hope that the updated doctoral education system will create better opportunities for this. Despite the predominantly project-based research funding, we need to create good career opportunities at the University for capable young people. We will continue with the successful system of bridging grants, where financing secured from the baseline research funding helps young researchers to "survive" at the University, if their very good application in the tight competition for research grants from the Estonian Research Agency was initially left without funding.

The Estonian Research Agreement, concluded four years ago, has given greater assurance that the country will continue to support high-level research, knowledge transfer and cooperation between science and business. Complex problems, whether global or local, can only be solved through good cooperation. When looking towards the representatives of the state, I would like to emphasise the importance of consistency and systematic approach in the support of national research programs that promote the cooperation between researchers, and between researchers and business. This is a prerequisite to ensure that new technologies or products emerging from scientific research can be further developed to technology readiness levels where the private sector is able to take over the development work. National research programs in priority areas should be designed within such a time frame that allows setting ambitious long-term goals and better planning of researchers' time.

Science-based education is a value that provides greater resilience, helping to cope with change. Cooperation between universities in achieving the aims of the Research Agreement and in higher education financing issues has shown that we are stronger together. I wish that we continue in the same way, thinking even more about the possibilities of cooperation in the field of science and education.

The Nobel Prize laureate Joseph Brodsky said in a speech to students in 1988: “The world is not perfect. There hasn't been and won't be a golden age.” Indeed, the world around us is no longer the same, it is putting our principles, knowledge and skills to the test. Especially in today's crisis-ridden world, the golden age seems light years away, but we will not give up in our quest to make the world a better place than it is now – at least the part of the world that is within our reach.

Estonian University of Life Sciences cannot save the entire planet, but under the leadership of our researchers and graduates, in selfless cooperation, Estonia can be an example to the world in finding solutions for sustainable food systems, forestry and energy production, preserving biodiversity and mitigation of climate change.

As Rector, I promise to support the creation and implementation of innovations and always stand for the University.