Swedish research can be enhanced without expensive reorganisation
The Swedish Research Council rejects the proposal for three new public agencies in our response to the consultation document proposing a new public agency structure for funding research and innovation. We consider that the proposal has too narrow a system perspective, and that the quality perspective and researcher influence are too weak. Furthermore, it is based on a manufactured differentiation between basic research and needs-motivated research.
The Swedish Research Council’s response to the Research Funding Inquiry’s consultation document “Ny myndighetsstruktur för finansiering av forskning och innovation (SOU 2023:59)” rejects the main proposal of a governmental external research funding structure with three public agencies, and also the proposal with two public agencies. The inquiry lacks evidence that a reorganisation of governmental external research funding would lead to higher quality and improved impact of Swedish research. Moreover, the analysis of the consequences of the reorganisation is inadequate.
“The current governmental research funding system has some shortcomings, and we agree with some of the challenges that the inquiry identifies, but no expensive public agency reform is required to solve these. The quality and effectiveness of Swedish research can be increased by gradually adapting the current system,” says Katarina Bjelke, Director General of the Swedish Research Council.
“We lack both a link between the problem description and the proposed solution, and also an in-depth analysis of the consequences, both for research and for the proposed new agencies. The inquiry does not provide sufficient evidence to justify a reorganisation.”
The Swedish Research Council’s consultation response in brief
A too narrowly defined system perspective
A successful reform to strengthen Swedish research must cover the entire research and innovation system, including higher education institutions, private research funding bodies, and the business sector. Focusing only on governmental external research funding and the number of governmental research funding bodies is misleading, and cannot solve the challenges that the inquiry points out.
A weak quality perspective
The inquiry claims that there are noticeable quality problems in Swedish research, but does not present any clear evidence of this. Nor does the inquiry show that a new way of organising governmental external research funding would actually lead to higher quality and improved impact of Swedish research. We wish to underline that research quality is primarily dependent on factors other than the number of research funding bodies and how they are organised.
A too sharp differentiation between basic research and needs-motivated research
It is unsuitable to create new public agencies based on a logic that draws a sharp and manufactured division of research based on the degree of applicability, funding via broad or targeted calls, and disciplinary scope. This risks creating new problems. The focus should instead be on research being of high quality, which benefits both continued research and society.
Researcher influence is lacking in important parts
Creating relevant research initiatives requires in-depth knowledge and engagement from active researchers who understand the different research fields. Researcher influence is crucial for quality assurance, and for making Swedish research internationally competitive. Research-funding public agencies without researcher influence at strategic level, which the inquiry is proposing, is directly unsuitable.
Improvements without a costly reorganisation
In some cases, we share the problem description presented by the inquiry, for example the need for strategy, vision, and clear processes for prioritisation when it comes to research infrastructure. The inquiry also points out important development areas for future international collaborations. In our own input, and the joint public agency input, to the Government’s bill on research and innovation policy, we presented concrete proposed measures for a number of development areas. The proposals are based on established cooperation between the current governmental research funding bodies, and several parts of the development work have already started.
The inquiry highlights that the current governmental research funding bodies have shown great flexibility, adapted their activities to new directives and circumstances, and become ever more effective in terms of results in relation to their administrative government grants.
“Taken together, this indicates that a reorganisation is not necessary. It is clear that the changes that are needed to strengthen both the quality of Swedish research and our ability to innovate can be implemented within the current organisation,” says Katarina Bjelke.
About the inquiry’s proposal
The final report from the inquiry proposes the establishment of three new public agencies: A Science Agency, an Agency for Strategic Research, and an Innovation Agency. At the same time, it proposes that the current public agencies Formas, Forte, the Swedish Research Council, and Vinnova are closed down, and that the external research funding at the Swedish Energy Agency shall terminate.
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