Sweden invests lots of money in research and development, and has considerable R&D expenditure in relation to GDP. In international comparison, Sweden also has a high percentage of researchers and of scientific publications per inhabitant, and a population that places great trust in research. The prerequisites for being an internationally leading research nation are therefore good. Despite this, Sweden is not among the foremost countries when it comes to the percentage of highly cited scientific publications.
So how should Sweden strengthen its position as a leading research nation?
The Swedish Research Council has identified twelve areas that need to be addressed, with proposals for measures within each area. In-depth discussion of all the areas can be found in the report Future choices for the Swedish research system – Knowledge, quality and integrity. The report forms part of the foundation for our long-term work, and for our recommendations to the Government on research policy issues. It also formed a basis for our input to the Government research bill submitted in 2019.
Brief presentation of the proposals
1. Researcher-initiated research and undirected researchers
Undirected researchers and undirected curiosity-driven research form the foundation for new knowledge, innovation and societal development. To create prerequisites for society’s long-term development, support for undirected research must be strengthened and allocated on the basis of research quality, peer-reviewed in national or international competition.
2. External funding and direct government funding
External funding awarded in competition is needed to drive the development of Swedish research quality. The main goal of direct government funding to higher education institutions shall be to provide the best researchers with better, more long-term and stable conditions. The interplay between direct government grants and external funding by government agencies assumes a clear division of roles and a clear picture of how the different types of funding are used.
3. Research infrastructure
Advanced research infrastructure is often a prerequisite for carrying out research of the highest quality. To improve access to research infrastructure, the Swedish Research Council should receive increased resources to maintain and strengthen its role as responsible for prioritising, coordinating and funding research infrastructure.
4. Prominent research environments
Strong and creative research environments are an important factor for conducting research of high quality and for linking together research, education and society as a whole. Primary responsibility for building up research environments rests with the higher education institutions, at the same time as external funding forms an important complement. The higher education institutions should collaborate to a greater extent to create the best prerequisites for strong research and education environments.
5. Strategic research initiatives
Strategic research initiatives constitute an important complement to undirected, curiosity-based research. The Government should mandate the Swedish Research Council to establish a new council for strategic research, tasked with proposing areas for strategic research initiatives.
6. Evaluation and quality assurance
Evaluation of the results of research drives quality. In order for Swedish research to achieve the highest scientific quality, all research must be peer-reviewed. Evaluations conducted by higher education institutions and national actors should be implemented in such a way that they complement each other.
Participation in international collaborations and contexts is crucial for the quality and development of Swedish research. Sweden should develop unified national strategies for internationalisation, covering both education and research.
8. Career paths and mobility
A functioning and clear career path system within the higher education sector is needed in order to develop the quality of Swedish research in the long term. To create incentives and resources for this, we propose that funding is increasingly aimed at the employment category “career development employment”, where research and teaching merits, as well as researcher mobility, are taken into account.
9. Gender equality
Research quality is strengthened by a gender-equal research system. To achieve this, the responsibility of higher education institutions to promote gender equality must be developed and reported through monitoring, for example of how direct government grants are allocated in terms of gender.
10. Ethics, good research practice and scientific misconduct
Ethics in research is a cornerstone for the execution and quality of research and trust in research. Research ethics reviews must work in a satisfactory and uniform way across the entire scientific field, including within international collaboration. A national code of conduct for good research practice should be established, and awareness and knowledge about research ethics issues need to be strengthened.
11. Open access
To enable the transition to open access, we need a dialogue between the actors in the research system, both nationally and internationally. The transition to open access to scientific publications must be made with focus on quality in publications, and with consideration for researchers´ merit acquisition. In order to successfully transition to open access to research data, Sweden needs a national strategy, and to allocate resources to implement it.
12. Science communication
The need for scientifically-based knowledge and understanding of the scientific process is increasing. Science communication efforts should be strengthened and coordinated, so that researchers, higher education institutions and research funding bodies can complement each other. New infrastructures for knowledge dissemination should also be developed, to make it easier for researchers to communicate their research.