Learned societies in Finland 2018
Learned societies are important actors in the scientific community along with other organisations, such as universities and research institutes. However, only fragmented research exists on their current forms of operation. The operating environment of learned societies is in change with the objective to move towards open scientific publishing. The aim of this study was to collect information on learned societies operating in Finland, and their organisation and activities. The research was conducted in cooperation of the Federation of Finnish Learned Societies (TSV) and Tampere University.
In 2018, TSV had a membership of 278 societies and four academies. The exact number of learned societies in Finland is unknown, as not all learned societies are members of the Federation. This study examined the role of learned societies as academic publishers in Finland. Two Finnish publication databases were used in the analysis (the Publication Forum’s publication register and the VIRTA publication information service). TSV’s member societies published 54% of Finnish publication channels and 56% of the Finnish peer-reviewed publications produced by Finnish universities in 2011–2017. The corresponding share of other learned societies was 16%.
The activities of TSV’s member societies were studied more broadly with a survey questionnaire and interviews. TSV’s member societies (282) were sent an online survey, which gained 115 responses (a response rate of 41%). In addition, seven respondents that represented different learned societies were interviewed. The majority of the questionnaire respondents stated that the main objective of the society they represented was to promote a specific academic discipline and field of research. The most common sources of income for the societies were membership fees and publishing subsidy from TSV. Volunteer work plays a major role in the activities of learned societies, as an average of 70% of work was done without remuneration. The most common benefits for the members of the learned societies were the opportunity to participate in the society’s events, a newsletter and a discount/exemption from participation fees for events or journal subscription fees. More than 60% of the respondents were concerned about a decline in their society’s membership.
Typical activities of the societies were the organisation of seminars and other academic events, societal influencing and publishing. Approximately 70% of the societies’ publications were in Finnish. About a quarter of the societies stated that they supported research in some way (e.g. by funding research). 90% of the respondent societies maintained contact with other Finnish societies and 74% with foreign or international societies. Other typical cooperation partners included universities, other higher education institutions and research institutes.
More than 40% of the societies plan to launch new activities in the future. Many activities, like publishing and organising seminars, will remain core functions. The societies see that, in the future, it is important to invest more in support for young researchers, digital communication, interdisciplinarity, cooperation and international activities. Based on this study, it can be concluded that learned societies play an important role in the Finnish scientific community both as publishers and actors in society. Therefore, it is important to resolve the issues of open publishing to avoid jeopardising the financial capability of learned societies.