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Fifteen research environments to receive funding in the Swedish Research Council's excellence initiative

The Swedish Research Council’s grant to centres of excellence will fund 15 research environments. The quality of applications was very high. At the environments that are now receiving funding in strong competition, there are great opportunities for ground-breaking research.

During autumn 2022, the Swedish Research Council issued a call for grants to centres of excellence. Following the international panel’s review of the 124 applications received, the Swedish Research Council has now decided to fund 15 research environments. This is more than the original plan for 10 environments.

“The panel, which consists of experts on this type of centre formations, was very impressed by the quality of the project proposals. A high proportion of the applications was of exceptionally high quality”, says Mattias Marklund, Secretary General of Natural and Engineering Sciences, who led the design of the grant.

Of the 35 applications that went through to the second stage of the call, there were researchers from a large number of different higher education institutions, and also junior researchers.

“With this call, we can offer long-term funding of innovative ideas that may lead to ground-breaking research results, which is facilitated by the design of the grant.”

Each research environment will receive 4–6 million SEK per year for five years, and the plan is to have the option of a further five years following evaluating. The funding shall be used for long-term program activities, where researchers from different disciplines focus on a theme or a question. Around this, they will build up a centre for research and teaching activities. A greater focus will now be placed on the thematic idea and the organisation compared to previous excellence initiatives.

The applications received span many fields, but most fall within natural and engineering sciences. This is probably a contributory reason to why only 3 of the project leaders awarded are women, Mattias Marklund believes. The corresponding figure for men is 12.

“Men being over-represented among those who receive grants is, unfortunately, symptomatic when it comes to initiatives involving excellent research environments. One explanation may be that large research environments are more common in natural and engineering sciences – where considerably more men are active. For many years, the Swedish Research Council has been working actively on gender equality, for example by carrying out gender equality observations, and the outcome of this initiative shows that we must continue with this work.”

Centre in life chemistry

One of the research environments awarded funding is a centre at Uppsala University where researchers will be able to combine knowledge within individual fields to gain in-depth understanding of what is described as ‘life chemistry’. Here, researchers will for example be able to study the chemical mechanisms that control the circadian rhythm – is it actually single hormones, and if so, what underlies their increases and decreases? It will also be possible to study chemical interactions at detailed level, to understand what governs the development of cancer.

The centre will hold seminars and workshops, as well as courses for students and doctoral students, aimed at creating a master’s programme in life chemistry. A platform for combining data from different molecules and techniques will also be developed. The idea is that the centre will function as a hub in a research mechanism where researchers with differing backgrounds and expertise can find collaboration partners across traditional subject borders.

Competence centre in artistic research

Another applications awarded funding relates to a centre for art and political performance, where researchers will be investigating how artistic practice shape how the political domain is visualised and represented today.

Researchers describe the need for a research environment where material research processes and bibliographical research practices in art can meet. They regard the concept of ‘the political imaginary’ as the most productive ground for such a meeting – as it focuses on the important social role that art can play in intensive upheaval and radical global transformation.

The research environment will be a collaboration between HDK-Valand and the Royal Institute of Art, and will result in the establishment of a competence centre for artistic research – which Sweden has to date been lacking. The purpose is to support the highest level of artistic research in Swedish third cycle higher education and in visual arts.

Excellent research environments are central for research quality

Initiatives supporting excellent environments are central for research quality as a complement to individual projects, in the view of Katarina Bjelke, Director General of the Swedish Research Council.

“Added value is created when research is carried out in well-functioning, strong and creative research environments. By concentrating resources and creating a critical mass, the excellent research environments counteract fragmentation and provide good prerequisites for scientific advances. Collaboration between team members, who often come from differing scientific fields, lays the foundation for risk-taking and creative thinking – which in turn can lead to innovative and ground-breaking research”, she adds.

The Swedish Research Council has implemented initiatives for excellent environments before, for example via the Linnaeus support and strategic research areas.

“Evaluations of our previous initiatives show that excellent environments contribute to new research questions and approaches, collaborations in new clusters, and increased risk-taking in combination with great ambitions.”

The grants will be paid out as from 2024. The investment in grants for centres of excellence is a mandate from the Swedish Government. The plan is to issue a further call in five years’ time.

Facts about the call

The call was open from 21 September to 22 November 2022.

124 applications were received, of which 15 were successful.

Read more about the grant decision.

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