Annual Report 2023: HIIT Overview

Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT is a joint research institute established in 1999  by Aalto University (previously, Helsinki University of Technology) and University of Helsinki.

The mission of HIIT is to support the Finnish ICT research community and to enhance the quality, visibility and impact of ICT research while facilitating intensive cooperation with other disciplines, the industry, public organizations and key international academic partners.

HIIT is a strategic initiative that pools together local ICT researchers to form a community and an internationally highly visible research hub, a flagship of Finnish ICT research. Regarding the scope of this research community, the policy of HIIT is to not to assess the contributions of individual persons in ICT research, which would be quite infeasible as relevant work is nowadays being done across numerous departments in the two universities, but to rather define the “HIIT community” as a union of those departments where ICT clearly is a focal area of research. After the recent merger of two departments at Aalto University, HIIT sees the research on ICT to be in the focus of the following three different departments in three different schools/faculties:

  • Computer science (Aalto, School of Science),
  • Computer science (University of Helsinki, Faculty of Science),
  • Information and Communications Engineering (Aalto, School of Electrical Engineering),

The current strategy of HIIT is to support its mission by focusing on attracting new talents to our ecosystem. We feel that recruitment of new talents is perhaps the most cost-effective way for enhancing the quality, visibility and impact of the local ICT research community as a whole, and that the added value is greatest when focusing on bringing in new talents on the postdoctoral level, since with doctoral or masters level students the scope of impact easily remains within the research group of the supervisor. For this reason, we have been continuously improving our recruitment processes, and this work has started to bear fruit, witnessed by several top-level recruitments through our bi-annual calls. Some statistics regarding the calls organized in 2023 can be found in Recruitment 2023.

In addition to organizing general calls for recruiting postdoctoral researchers and doctoral students funded by their supervisor, HIIT offers also more strategic HIIT-funded Fellow positions to exceptional candidates working in the focus areas of HIIT: HIIT Postdoctoral Fellow positions for early career postdocs and HIIT Research Fellow positions for more senior candidates. The strategic research focus areas prioritized in these recruitments are described in Focus Areas 2023. The HIIT-funded fellows 2023 and their research profiles can be found in HIIT Fellows 2023, together with examples of their recent publications.

Regarding publications of the whole HIIT community, Publications summarizes the main statistics of 2023. One observation that can be immediately made is the substantial increase of journal publications. There are probably many reasons for this, but this can be at least partly explained by assuming that during the covid quarantine, people focused more on writing journal articles instead of conference articles. Whatever the reason, this is of course a good trend which we wish will continue, especially taking into account that the number of conference publications has not declined despite of the increase of journal publications. For more influential publications or other research results we have made a highlight news item, which are collected in Highlights 2023.

In Funding 2023 we summarize the overall competitive funding of the whole HIIT community, and separately the direct basic HIIT funding controlled by HIIT.  As this basic funding has not increased, while we have been more successful in recruitment than in the earlier years, this means that we currently and in the future have less funding available for other activities like short-term community support. This is a strategic choice approved by the Board, and we have recently updated our guidelines for community support funding, putting more focus on activities that we see to benefit the community more widely, and some activity categories are no longer supported.

Year 2023 showed that although the worst of the pandemic is (hopefully) over, our ways of working seem to have permanently changed and remote online meetings have become a standard part of our daily agenda. Nevertheless, physical interaction is clearly still the more efficient way of communicating and working together, and the amount of physical meetings is increasing slowly , but people are perhaps more carefully planning when a physical meeting is a necessity, and when matters can be handled remotely.

As already stated, the success in recruitment continued in 2023, which can be considered a very good achievement considering the extremely competitive situation in the job market. One of the development targets in the future could be to plan how to retain the talents we manage to recruit to Finland. However, as this is a problem that does not only concern the academia, but also the private sector and society at large, this is not something HIIT or the hosting universities can solve alone.

Petri Myllymäki

Director of HIIT