President’s editorial: A clear strategy is needed in the next bill(2)

A research bill will be presented in autumn 2020. Government agencies, professional organisations, universities, businesses and academies are now working intensely to complete their proposals and input to submit to the Government. The bill is an important one for a knowledge nation; it will establish the main focus and course for the next four years. Investment needs in specific areas and programmes have been identified and initiatives to change the way universities are governed and funded are aspects that could be included.

In the last research bill, from 2016, the Government attempted to establish a long-term, ten-year perspective. It was a commendable initiative because research and innovation need long-term, predictable and stable conditions in which to thrive.

In his policy statement the Prime Minister said that Sweden is a leading research nation and that this position must be defended. Long-term and innovative independent research needs to be safeguarded at the same time as research policy needs to meet global and national societal challenges. In its last research bill the Government stated its intention for Sweden to be one of the world’s foremost research and innovation nations and a leading knowledge nation. These goals are fundamental to Sweden maintaining its strong position in the global arena.

Planning for the upcoming research bill has just started and will, of course, be affected by sustainability goals and a desire to make Sweden more competitive. But in addition to these important objectives, Sweden needs a strong research bill that looks at the whole picture; a type of knowledge bill that, in addition to research, addresses higher education in Sweden, an area that has long been underfunded, which is presenting a challenge for our talent supply and attractiveness. The conditions for private-sector R&D also need to be improved in Sweden – something that a new barometer survey presented by IVA on 24 September explores. The survey clearly shows that talent supply is the most important factor when companies

want to invest in R&D. There is also a lack of clear incentives and funding today for universities to collaborate with industries and other actors in society.

The research infrastructure funding burden should be shared between universities, research councils and foundations, as well as the Government and the EU. Funding for infrastructure is critical for the quality of, for example, technical and medical research, but it cannot be allowed to drain other funding streams from research councils or lead to reduced basic research funding. A clear strategy and agreements are needed.

The funding system for our universities absolutely needs to be renewed, but the responses to Strut (a government commission to study governance and resources in higher education) were many and varied. A new resource allocation system for universities needs to be based to a large extent on international benchmarking and evaluation, and take into account the role of universities in the innovation system. Basic funding should not increase at the cost of external research grants. Now that we know how much and how fast China and many other Asian nations are investing in research, education and innovation, the research bill is especially important to secure Sweden’s future as a leading knowledge nation.