Towards new HIIT programmes via the AoF CoE call

Mon, 29.02.2016

HIIT is renewing its research programmes. The HIIT Board, which eventually will make the decisions concerning new programmes, has decided that we will in the first stage take a look at the proposals for new Academy of Finland Centres of Excellence as potential candidates or starting points for new HIIT programmes. The formal decisions will be made by the HIIT Board after the AoF deadline of April 27, but the next meeting of the Board is on March 9, and it would be good to have an initial idea of relevant programme candidates already there. To this end, we now ask all directors of relevant new CoEs, who would be interested in joining HIIT, to send an email to the Director of HIIT (petri.myllymaki at by Friday March 4, with the following information: (Tentative) name of the CoE, name of the Director, and names of the PIs with affiliations. Plese add "HIIT & AoF CoE call" in the subject line.

No decisions regarding the new programmes will be made in the Board meeting on March 9, but we would like to have an overall picture of the situation so that we can decide whether we will open later this year after the CoE deadline another call for additional programmes, or postpone this until Spring 2017. The formal request to join the HIIT programme structure is done by sending a copy of the AoF CoE application to the Director of HIIT by April 28.

Action points / deadlines:

  • Initial expressions of interest: Friday March 4, 2016
  • Applications to join HIIT (copy of the AoF CoE application): Thu April 28, 2016 (one day after the AoF deadline)

Which CoEs can be considered for HIIT?
The mission of HIIT is to combine top ICT research of Aalto University and University of Helsinki into a positive collaborating critical mass forming a strong Helsinki ICT brand. CoEs supporting strongly this mission are eligible, which means that the CoE has to be supported by strong ICT research groups. Moreover, as the directors of HIIT programmes form the Steering Group of HIIT, this means that the director of a suitable CoE has to have a background that is suitable for a person belonging to a governing body of an ICT research institute: by default we assume that these persons are members of the HICT doctoral education network (and are listed in

What are new HIIT programmes like?
HIIT is looking for research programmes that

  • are scientifically top-level (the AoF CoEs are a good yardstick for the scientific ambition level),  
  • have high scientific and societal impact potential,
  • support HIIT’s "Helsinki ICT" mission and objectives,
  • demonstrate clear added value and support the strategies of the host universities,
  • are challenge-oriented/thematic/goal-driven with research objectives shared by the participating research teams,  
  • are cross-cutting/interdisciplinary/collaborative so that the overall composition of teams supports the research objectives, and
  • are fixed-term, ensuring dynamicity and renewal of HIIT.

Who can participate in the HIIT programmes?
Any research group of the host universities can participate, and interdisciplinarity is strongly encouraged, but the overall composition has to support HIIT's mission (see above). Also, by default the financial and other support given by HIIT will be targeted at ICT research groups.

How is HIIT supporting its research programmes?
HIIT is coordinating a lot of activities that support not only the research programmes, but also the Helsinki ICT community as a whole: we coordinate the Helsinki Doctoral Education Network in ICT (HICT), the joint “Helsinki ICT” recruitments on many levels (postdocs/Fellows, Ph.D. students, summer interns), the Aalto Digi Platform, and the regular meetings of the Helsinki area ICT Department Heads, and moreover, we actively participate in branding, networking and outreaching activities related to ICT (e.g. the Helsinki Distinguished Lecture Series on Future IT and the Helsinki ICT Research News feed), and we plan and implement IT solutions that encourage and support collaboration. The most important support targeted directly at research programmes is financial: first of all, each programme receives a small annual budget for operational costs related to activities like organizing joint events or hosting short visits from external collaborators. Second, a programme may be given funding for recruiting a researcher (typically a postdoc for 2-3 years). Typically these HIIT programme researcher slots are allocated only 1-2 at a time for a programme, depending on the funding situation of HIIT, and the overall progress of the programme in question (see below).

How are the HIIT researcher slots filled?
When unallocated funding becomes available, depending on the progress of the programmes, the HIIT SG gives one or more programmes a permission to open a call. The programmes then organize the calls (either jointly or separately), review the candidates, and submit a proposal to the HIIT SG. The HIIT SG makes the final selection, and assigns the chosen HIIT researcher to one of the participating ICT research groups, taking into account aspects like the added value for the overall mission of HIIT, balance (between universities, groups, nationalitities, sexes), and the applicant’s personal preferences. Note that HIIT will not hire the researcher directly, but the actual hiring process will be handled by the hosting department, according to their normal practises and guidelines, with HIIT only funding the contract.

How is the progress of the HIIT programmes evaluated?
For assessment of scientific output, we use standard evaluation criteria used by the host universities and the scientific community at large. In addition to this, we also monitor annually several indicators related to both internal and external activities of the programmes. Internal activities include joint publications, joint projects, and joint events like meetings, workshops and seminars. It is difficult to set exact numerical target values for these indicators (what should be the proportion of joint publication wrt. all publications?), but at the very least we can compare the performance of different programmes, and also monitor the development of these indicators. External activities include visibility in media and other forums and other similar outreaching activities. Furthermore, a well functioning research programme is such that it maintains a portfolio of external projects supporting the research activities. The target level is that the total volume of external projects should be at least 4 times as much as the total HIIT funding for the programme in question (but see the question about the size of the programmes).

How big are the HIIT programmes supposed to be?
A short answer: big enough so that the research questions of the research programme can be addressed, but not bigger. As indicated earlier, initially each programme typically only gets 1 or 2 researcher slots to fill, with more funding to follow if the progress of the programme is good. This means that if you are, say, one of the 4 professors in a programme, and the programme gets initially 2 researchers, then your chances of getting a researcher into your group is about 50%. More funding can follow with good annual progress, but note that success in this game is not directly linked to the pure volume of a research programme (in man years, or in terms of its project portfolio): for a bigger programme it is of course easier to produce a high number of publications or a good ratio between the HIIT funding and external funding, but for a smaller programme it is probably easier to demonstrate better internal cohesion (ratio between joint publications and all publications, lots of other joint activities, etc.). Also note that the two host universities support HIIT in equal shares, and if the composition of some research programme is very uneven wrt. to contributions of the ICT groups from the two universities, so that the balance between university funding shares is very uneven within this programme, then this may affect the balance of other programmes too. This is also a factor when constructing the overall programme structure.

What are the duties of the HIIT programmes?
First of all, as stated above, the directors of the programmes constitute the Steering Group of HIIT, which oversees some of the most important operations of HIIT (like recruitment processes). The most important task of the research programmes is to show steady progress wrt. the evaluation criteria described above, and to work together towards a common goal. Monitoring the progress requires a certain amount of bookkeeping and reporting, which we try to automatize as much as possible, working in co-operation with the hosting departments, but we need to be able to keep track of issues like the results of the programmes, the contributing people, and the financial information regarding the project portfolio, which means some administrative overhead on top of normal "non-HIIT" operations. This overhead affects mainly the programme director and group leaders, for the researchers the overhead should be very light-weight (for example regarding publications, the main duty of the authors is to use HIIT as the secondary affiliation and to tag the entry appropriately in the publication databases).

If you have any questions regarding this process, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Petri Myllymäki, Director of HIIT

Contact person: Petri Myllymäki

Last updated on 29 Feb 2016 by Petri Myllymäki - Page created on 29 Feb 2016 by Petri Myllymäki