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Swedish research policies are stuck at status quo

Since the Löfven government took office, it has promised a greater share of basic allocations for research to universities to provide them with better potential for long-term strategic investments and, not least, for them to be able to employ people in a sensible manner. In the government declaration in 2014, the newly-appointed Prime Minister Löfven declared the “basic allocations for research will be given higher priority,” when he spoke about the forthcoming research bill.

Håkan Lindkvist, 1:e vice ordförande i SULF
Håkan Lindkvist,  First Deputy Chair SULF

Now we are almost there and the proof will be in the pudding. In November, the Government will present its new bill on research, innovation and higher education. We already know that the Government intends to increase direct funding for research by SEK 1.3 billion by 2020. This is a welcome initiative, but as it is also increasing its investment in research councils and industry research institutes by SEK 1.5 billion, for academic research this means that the unfavourable balance between basic allocations and external funding will persist or become even worse. Today, 57% of higher education institutions’ revenue for research and doctoral studies comes from external sources.

The Government does not, of course, bear all the responsibility for the revenue sources enjoyed by universities, but if they want to actually seriously talk about giving priority to increased basic allocations, this should be reflected in the R&D Funds Table in the state budget (Table 8.1 Area 16). On closer examination, it turns out that the percentage of direct allocations to universities and colleges will decrease by one percentage point between 2015 and 2016 to land at 43%, including funds for SLU. A decrease in the proportion of direct allocations in the state budget cannot, with the best will in the world, be said to be making a priority of basic allocations. Instead universities are stuck at status quo.

Why is it so important that universities receive a higher proportion of basic allocations? In a new report presented by the Danish Research and Innovation Policy Council a comparison is made between the research policy systems of Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. What separates Sweden from the other two, more successful, countries is that Sweden has a higher proportion of external funding. It is reportedly virtually impossible to pursue an academic career without a constant influx of project funding. In addition, it takes a considerable amount of time to write research proposals and researchers must rely on short-term financing so they choose the less risky projects and more secure publications. Strategic decisions are made in practice about research because external funds have replaced the previous fixed financial resources.

For university teachers and researchers, Swedish research policy means they virtually have no guaranteed time for research in their working agreement. Since permanent jobs mostly concern teaching positions, teachers with high level scientific qualifications may work for long periods with very limited opportunities to conduct research. Scientists, on the other hand, are usually employed on short, fixed-term contracts and may not be able to acquire the necessary educational qualification. This is hardly a productive situation for either research or for student education. The fact that we know that women are disadvantaged by insecure employment conditions does not honour a feminist government.

The next research bill could change the course of Swedish research policy, but it does not look like it will. We are disappointed.

Håkan Lindkvist
First Deputy Chair SULF

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