Published: 04-07-2023 10:38 | Updated: 04-07-2023 10:38

Government stops all development research grants

Personer KI:s universitetsledning
President Annika Östman Wernerson. Photo: Liza Simonsson

At its meeting of 22 June, the government made the decision to stop all grants disbursed by the Swedish Research Council itemised as development research, effectively pulling the plug on a great deal of planned research in the field. Researchers in the sector have protested publicly against the decision, which has also been condemned by KI president Annika Östman Wernerson.

“This is a regrettable decision, made without any preceding dialogue at all with the universities and researchers concerned. It will have a pronounced effect on the researchers who have spent time and energy on the grant application process and who now have to cancel their plans. It also affects international partners. This is especially lamentable as it’s a research field of which Sweden has long been at the forefront.” So says Karolinska Institutet president Annika Östman Wernerson in response to the decision, which was announced the day before Midsummer Eve.

It means that the government will now be withdrawing all funds from the Swedish Research Council (VR) budget for development research, a field that is defined by the Swedish Research Council as

"Research of particular relevance to the fight against poverty and for sustainable development in the least developed countries, and support for collaboration and knowledge exchange between researchers in Sweden and researchers in the least developed countries and lower middle-income countries. Development research includes both research in development and research for development, spans a large disciplinary range and covers both basic and more applied research."

The government’s rational for its decision, which will cut a total of SEK 180 million from the VR budget with immediate effect, is that support for Ukraine must be given priority. For KI, it will greatly reduce the university’s ability to finance development research projects, especially when taking into account the government’s earlier decision to slash Sida’s budget in the same field by over 50 per cent.

“Our initial analysis suggests that KI research will lose around SEK 30 to 35 million a year in financing, going by the average appropriation over the past few years,” says Professor Östman Wernerson. “This is a lot of money for this kind of research – money that will be difficult to obtain from other sources.”

The government’s decision has drawn considerable attention and condemnation both within and outside the sector. Many articles, leader columns and op eds have been published this past week, and the issue promises to continue stimulating interest and debate. Here are some of the reasons for the critical response:

  • The decision was taken without any preceding dialogue or endorsement from the academic community
  • It is yet another example of how politicians are tightening their hold on academia
  • The decision is a mortal blow to a research field in which Sweden has long been leader
  • All the work and time that he been put into applications for advertised grants has been wasted
  • Current and planned international collaborations will be made difficult, if not impossible to complete
  • And not least: It will be much harder to conduct quality research in poorer parts of the world, which will both affect the countries we cooperate with and impair our own skills and knowledge development when it comes to potential pandemics and the like.

“I myself have been involved in research projects in poorer parts of the world, and know that a solid, long-term financial base is incredibly important,” says Professor Östman Wernerson. “The university management will continue to actively pursue this issue. We’re supporting and running planned sector-wide activities, for example, and are expecting to address it in our statement on the forthcoming research bill. We need to take a united stand.”