Published: 30-11-2016 12:45 | Updated: 02-12-2016 13:55

The government research policy bill contains investments in many of KI’s strength fields

The government research policy bill was presented on Monday at Scilifelab in Solna. It contains investments in many of KI’s strength fields, such as life science and registry research, as well as a greater focus on the universities’ interaction with surrounding society.

Helene Hellmark Knutsson, minister for higher education and research, presented the government’s research bill, which outlines its views on research policy.

The government intends to gradually increase its annual appropriations for research and innovation to SEK 2.8 billion until the year 2020 as previously announced. This will, it has now been specified, entail an increase of the basic appropriations (the money the government grants direct to the higher education institutions) of SEK 1.3 billion over the coming three years.

“The aim is to improve the quality of the research and, rather than increasing the number of researchers, to create more research opportunities for them and a stronger career structure,” says Ms Hellmark Knutsson.

New resource-allocation principle

The government is also introducing a new resource-allocation principle for the HEIs. As well as the current two quality indicators – publications/citations and external grants – account will be taken of outreach activities.

– I think it’s excellent that outreach is to be factored in, says Karin Dahlman-Wright, acting vice-chancellor at KI. We at KI have also been discussing this in relation to how we allocate resources and build our incentive structures. Higher basic appropriations are good, it’s what we’ve been wanting, but then we’ll have to see how the money is divided up.

The government has now appointed a taskforce to look into a new control and resource-allocation system for HEIs. The inquiry will cover both education and research and how outreach activities can be rewarded financially. It is hoped that a new system will in place by the 2020 budget.

The research policy bill focuses especially on investments for the 2017–2020 period but also adopts a ten-year perspective in which priority will be given to research on the three major societal challenges of climate, health and life science and to increased digitalisation.

– KI has a vital part to play in this respect,” says Dahlman-Wright. “Health and life science are our primary areas, but we’re also active in digitalisation and the environment. I believe that the bill represents a lasting commitment to Sweden’s status as a major knowledge and research nation. I applaud the signal it gives that success comes through building quality and that there are no shortcuts.”

Six new ten-year research programmes

The bill also launches six new ten-year national research programmes, including antibiotic resistance, climate and working life research, into which a total of SEK 420 million will be injected up to 2020.

– The government research financiers will identify the needs that exist in these areas and announce competitive calls for application in order to build up strong, sustainable research environments, says Ms Hellmark Knutsson.

She also announced that the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ), which currently has responsibility for the quality evaluation of higher education, will also oversee the quality evaluation of research.

Improved conditions for junior researchers are another priority. One of the intentions of the higher basic appropriations is to create more career development positions in order to strengthen the HEIs’ competitiveness and quality.

”A clearer career path”

– There should be fewer temporary positions and a clearer career path, says Ms Hellmark Knutsson. The career development positions are to be filled more through competitive processes nationally and, when appropriate, internationally. We’ll also make sure that there’s a more unified, nationally regulated career structure.

The government believes that more needs to be done to make it easier for young researchers to gain qualifications and experience. The report of the research career commission has passed through the consultation stage and the issue is now being now been dealt with by the government offices.

In advance of the bill, KI argued that the career development position of research associate should be extended from four to six years. When presenting the bill, Ms Hellmark Knutsson asserted that 4–6 years will be possible.

The bill also proposes to abolish doctoral grants in the hope that more doctoral students will then be employed and thus obtain better social protection.

More female professors

The government also wants to see a more rapid growth in the relative number of female professors, and is introducing for the first time a national target to supersede the HEIs’ own: half of newly recruited professors are to be women by the year 2030.

The previous government’s investments in strategic research areas will continue, as KI has wanted. Biobanks and registry research will also be reinforced, as formerly announced, in the form of an increased appropriation to the Swedish Research Council – SEK 30 million in 2018 and another 10 million per year in 2019 and 2020.

Clinical research will also be bolstered, partly through an increase in the Swedish Research Council’s financing of clinical therapy research and partly through an initiative that will help to develop thematic research and innovation collaborations among the healthcare, academic and private sectors.

Investments in biopharmaceuticals

The government is also investing SEK 90 million in biopharmaceuticals with GE Health Care through an increase in Vinnova’s research appropriation under the life science collaboration programme.

To enhance the accessibility and utilisation of national research infrastructure, such as Scilifelab, the Swedish Research Council’s appropriation will be raised by SEK 40 million in 2017 and 2018.

The government sees SciLifeLab as a vital national resource and a central infrastructural pillar for several important strategic research areas.

– By virtue of its size, KI has to take considerable responsibility for medical infrastructure and this requires additional resources, adds Karin Dahlman-Wright. Generally speaking, the bill addresses many issues that we’re already working very hard on, such as career paths and equality.

Text: Sara Nilsson