We’re excellent, we drive progress, we’re no strangers to change and our knowledge is in demand. All this means we’re well prepared for the coming changes in research funding practices.
A few days ago, the report from the research funding investigation was presented and handed over to Minister for Education Mats Persson (Liberals). Everything suggests that the government will be implementing its main proposals. The current research councils will be scrapped and research funding from other public authorities like the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the Swedish Energy Agency and the Swedish Forest Agency will be handled by three new research councils or ‘funding agencies’. The Science Agency’s priorities will be set by researchers and it will offer funding for basic research of a high quality in all scientific fields. Innovation and development research will be brought together in the new Strategic Research Agency to support research and innovation of importance to key sectors in Swedish society, including the private sector. Finally, there will be an Innovation Agency tasked with facilitating the implementation of research and innovation-based solutions to complex societal problems in all sectors. I have yet to read the whole report and can’t say exactly what the new structure will look like.
Everyday work at a university has always been characterised by change and adaptation. Government and parliament, and by extension society as a whole, provide the framework for what we do. Universities have always been characterised by considerable freedom and autonomy, and this will not change. We will continue to decide what methods to use, what questions to ask and how to teach. Our inner freedom has often served as a bridge between periods of attempts to govern us in different ways.
Over the last 30 years, research funding has gone from direct governmental resources to universities, to funding being distributed by a large number of research funding bodies such as government research councils, public authorities and foundations. Originally, our universities were very much dependent on direct government funding. This meant freedom, but in many cases also a certain inertia that opened us up to criticism for not providing sufficient results or contributing to the development of society in the best way possible. This, together with a growing demand for verified knowledge, innovations and competence, led to research grants and commissions being increasingly exposed to competition.
So, how can we adapt to this latest change? By continuing to do what we do every day. Deliver research, teaching and environmental monitoring and assessment of the highest international quality. We are excellent – one of the watchwords for the research funding of the future. Remember that according to the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy’s global ranking of academic subjects, we rank 6th worldwide for ecology. The more quantitative CWUR ranking (https://cwur.org/about.php) ranks SLU 1st worldwide in forestry, 5th in soil science and 7th in biodiversity conservation. We’re excellent, we drive progress, we’re no strangers to change and our knowledge is in demand. All this means we’re well prepared for the coming changes in research funding practices.
Göran Ericsson, Dean, Faculty of Forest Sciences