In Finland, Universities of Applied Sciences are increasingly focused on defining and showcasing their impact on society and their stakeholders. One such institution taking strides in this direction is the South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences – Xamk, which has developed a model to systematically manage and demonstrate the impact of its Research, Development and Innovation activities.

Impact is a bit of a buzzword. These days, many organisations are looking to define and demonstrate the impact they can have on society and their customers. The world of higher education and research is no exception.

In Finland, Universities of Applied Sciences (UASs) have started emphasising impact as part of their vision, identity, and narrative. They sense that they increasingly need to show impact in order to justify both private and public funding.

To manage and demonstrate the impact of its Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) activities more systematically, in late 2019, South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences (Xamk) started developing its RDI impact model to guide its project planning and implementation.

The largest Finnish UAS by RDI activities

With 246 RDI projects in 2022, representing 30.2 million euros in direct RDI expenditure by Xamk and 18.6 million euros in external funding, including 12.6 euros in EU funding, Xamk is the largest among its Finnish peers in terms of RDI activities. External funding includes international research programmes, Business Finland – the Finnish government’s funding and investment arm, the Research Council of Finland, foundations, businesses, and other organisations.

Xamk is a limited company owned by the cities of Mikkeli and Savonlinna in South Savo and Kouvola and Kotka in Kymenlaakso. Xamk has campuses in all four cities.

Like other Finnish UASs, Xamk has a mandate to equip students with relevant skills and knowledge for employment in its operating regions, promote entrepreneurship and international relations, and co-develop new solutions for businesses and industries through RDI.

Research and development work is particularly needed in the regions of South Savo and Kymenlaakso, where the population is on average less educated and less internationally oriented compared to other Finnish regions. Also, the population in these regions is ageing and decreasing, and as these regions have proportionally fewer successful businesses, it poses a risk to their future economic viability.

Xamk’s RDI activities are focused on four areas, aligned with the economic activity and requirements in the regions where it operates:

  • Digital Economy
  • Forest, the Environment and Energy
  • Logistics and Seafaring
  • Sustainable Well-being.

Xamk plays a pioneering role in oil spill response and wood fibre treatment processes, as well as in user-centred design. It conducts youth research focused on equality and develops environmentally safe solutions for growing industries.

Xamk’s RDI activities are focused on four areas, aligned with the economic activity and requirements in the regions where it operates.


The focus areas of Xamk´s RDI are

Digital Economy
Forest, the Environment and Energy
Logistics and Seafaring
Sustainable Well-being


Impact cornerstones

Within the scope of its RDI impact model, Xamk has defined three ‘impact cornerstones’ in which its focus areas can be recognised while approaching ‘impact’ at a slightly more abstract level.

The three cornerstones concretise the organisation’s strategic vision for this decade. By 2030, Xamk will have renewed the vitality of South-Eastern Finland. The cornerstones are centred around the Environment and Sustainability, a Human-Centered Approach, and Entrepreneurship and High Added Value.

1. The Environment and Sustainability

In 2030, Xamk will be the key partner for regional businesses in their sustainability leap, and South-Eastern Finland will utilise natural resources in an exemplary, sustainable manner. Xamk’s expertise plays a crucial role in South-Eastern Finland’s bio-circular economy. Xamk’s environmental knowledge is an internationally acclaimed product. The residents and visitors of South-Eastern Finland value its pristine nature.

2. A Human-Centered Approach

In 2030, user experience and people’s well-being will take precedence for businesses and communities in South-Eastern Finland. User-friendly services generate added value and well-being. Communities provide meaning and support. Significant strides have been made in digital equality.

3. Entrepreneurship and High Added Value

In 2030, South-Eastern Finland will create value through impactful, international, and digital business operations. Xamk’s RDI activities will have established models for accelerating businesses. Scalable business models are South-Eastern Finland’s trump card. South-Eastern Finland is the birthplace of impactful enterprises. Xamk’s footprint is visible in global value chains.


UN Sustainability Goals

The United Nations’ seventeen Sustainable Development Goals serve as a guideline for the kind of impact the university is after. Xamk has integrated the UN goals into its RDI project management system to make this more concrete and measurable. In practice, this means every project needs to track how it furthers one or more sustainability goals.

“From 2020 on, we have been taking part in the UN Global Compact network, a corporate sustainability initiative that lines up with the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” says Hanna Kuninkaanniemi, Xamk’s Head of Research Development, who is responsible for developing its RDI impact model.

“It became clear to us very quickly that it would make all the sense in the world to incorporate the sustainability goals in our RDI impact model. These goals are indeed the ones that actually matter. They are widely recognised and important if we are serious about maintaining some balance in this world. Our work in RDI contributes to several of these goals. While we may not be able to change the world, we can and should do our own bit.”

‘A model to express our impact’

The goal of our Research, Development and Innovation work is to achieve positive change and create lasting benefits; in other words, to generate impact. The broader impact on regional development often materialises over a longer period of time and in various operating environments.

Societal impact is the result of multiple factors. On one hand, it manifests itself in the number of new businesses and job opportunities, and on the other hand, in the improvement of people’s well-being.

At Xamk, research and development activities are systematically measured and evaluated at various stages of each project’s lifecycle. Strong expertise in project and quality management supports the impact of our development work. Collaboration with education and the business community ensures that knowledge translates into new, better practices.
It is crucial to our work that we reflect together with regional stakeholders on what we aim to achieve with our RDI. What is the societal problem we want to solve? With whom and for whom do we create change? Through what specific actions can we best support the region’s vitality in both the short and long term?

We seek answers to these questions with our partners.

In case you read Finnish, you can find more information about our RDI impact model in ‘Vaikuttavuus ei ole kvartaalitaloutta’, an article on XAMK READ, our RDI publication, with references to further reading at the end:

International exposure

Timo Aro, who, as a consultant with Finnish state-owned research agency VTT, studied and reported on Xamk’s significance for its regions, has stated that it has a strong impact on population development, the availability of skilled workforce, the renewal of economic structures, the increase in education levels, and entrepreneurship. “If Xamk didn’t exist, it would need to be invented,” he said.

While the University of Applied Science has a clear mandate to make a regional impact, increasingly, it affects nationally and internationally as well. For example, Xamk’s Fiber and Process Engineering Laboratory – one of the University of Applied Science’s eleven research units – has been conducting ground-breaking material research in collaboration with national and international partners ranging from UPM and Stora Enso to H&M and Adidas.

With funding from the European Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, the New Cotton Project sports a consortium of 12 participants across the textile industry production value chain to demonstrate that creating new clothing from regenerated cotton textile waste is commercially viable and it can be done today.

Xamk’s FiberLab has conducted applied research to pilot and scale pre-treatments of collected cotton to remove impurities, particularly non-cellulosic materials like polyester before it is further processed and re-used. In the autumn of 2022, both Adidas and H&M unveiled clothing designed and produced within the project.

The other participants are Infinited Fiber Company, Frankenhuis, Inovafil, Tekstina, Kipas, REvolve Waster, RISE, Aalto University, and Fashion for Good. The New Cotton Project is EU-funded (CE-FNR-14-2020 – Innovative Textiles – Reinventing Fashion).

Qualitative proof

On one hand, societal impact can be measured in terms of how many new businesses and jobs are created. On the other hand, it can manifest in improving people’s well-being.

Kuninkaanniemi notes that impact is not just about demonstrating relevance through performance indicators. “There is much more to it than how many students we have, how many projects we run, how much funding we receive or how many research papers we publish. We’re hoping to find ways to demonstrate our impact also more qualitatively. One way to do this could be through case studies and the feedback we have received from the partners and stakeholders that we are trying to have an impact on.”

Visit our Impact page for background and case articles. Expect more coverage from us about the impact we have as a University of Applied Sciences. And if you are curious about our RDI activities, the education we provide or our services for companies, do not hesitate to get in touch via our Media Enquiries page.

(A condensed version of this article was first published in Xamk READ.)

If Xamk didn't exist, it should be invented

Economic indicators highlight Xamk's regional impact. The recognition of Xamk's significance by Timo Aro, an expert in regional development from the Finnish national research organisation VTT, underscores its critical role.

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Articles about our impact

How does Xamk promote sustainability and regional vitality? Click here for articles addressing our impact.