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The Risk that local interests be given the power to prioritise research

Should the Swedish research councils, where researchers can apply and in competition, obtaining funding for their research after peer review, be put down and the state rather than give these very large resources directly as basanslag to the country's universities and colleges? This extraordinarily radical proposals presented by the researchers, Patrik Hall, and Ulf Sandström on this page on may 12. We are far from convinced that their argument holds true.

We believe that the state of the art here is much more insecure than what they claim. In a recently published article in the journal Economic Debate shows economist Roger Svensson that there are also a significant number of studies published in very reputable scientific journals that that is exactly the opposite, namely that the results of research gives ”mixed” results and that there is no ”well-done study where they found that increased basanslag leads to increased forskningsproduktivitet”.

Hall and Sundström pointing to the problems of conflict of interest in research councils, that is to say that the researchers who have to assess applications often provides the foreword to the type of research which they themselves are familiar with. This problem is certainly there but we can't believe that this problem would be smaller if the president and fakultetsledningar out at each institution should make these priorities.

, not at least if you consider the problems that Universitetslärarförbundets report ”A game for the gallery? If anställningsprocesserna in the academy” demonstrates. The report shows that employment is rarely added with the applicants who do not already operating at the institution, that the advertised jobs in strikingly many cases are sought by extremely few people, and that the several appointments made already before the application deadline or within a very short time thereafter. In such a situation, giving more power to the universities, the wiring seems particularly questionable.

One of the big advantages with the Swedish system is that scientists almost always can seek funding from various research councils, that there are several alternative financiers. It feels disadvantaged in a try another. The possibility would disappear in the Hall, and sundström's model, where the researchers will be referred to their local makthavares favor.

to counteract this, they suggest that each institution can ”engage external researchers in forskningsbedömningar”. This means in reality that each university and college would establish a small local research councils for allocating funds. It goes without saying that if scientists from the country's all universities may compete for available research funds so as to get a higher gear ratio of the funding that goes to research than if you only have to compete with the local talent.

How such a system would manage the increasingly important collaboration between researchers at different universities, including foreign universities, which is easily within the current system, leaving the authors unsaid. Even here, one can fear an increased provincialism with their proposal.

Hall and Sundström also proposes that universities be given the task to define ”strategic development areas”, that is to say, in reality, to decide what the researchers are researching about. You override this with the silence of the two problems.

today's universitetsledningar really the skills to carry out these priorities? We are convinced that the scientists themselves are much better at quickly identifying important and samhällsrelevanta problems when they seek the appropriation of free competition.

The other problem you ignore are the universities, the boards of directors that are appointed by the government and that a clear majority of members coming from other sectors of society. Under the higher education Act shall be the boards to have ”supervision over the university, all matters and be responsible for its duties are fulfilled” but their role is strangely absent in the Hall, and sandström's article.

As a study of the academy of engineering demonstrated, is a problem that many of these members do not have the university's best interests, but instead see themselves as the representatives of the different interest groups vis-à-vis the research. The risk with Hall and sandström's proposal is that it opens the door for a korporativt influence over the research where local interests are given power to formulate the research priorities.

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