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Long-awaited renewal of resource allocation system

A few days ago, the Minister for Higher Education and Research, Helene Hellmark Knutsson, announced that in 2017 the government will appoint a commission with the mandate of proposing a new system of governance and resource allocation: (http://www.regeringen.se/debattartiklar/2016/11/pengar-till-hogskolorna-ska-ses-over/. This is welcome news. The current system dates back to 1993 and has not kept up with inflation.

The undergraduate grant, based on the allocation of full-time students (FTE) and annual performance (HPR), is probably the most debated aspect. Resources are assigned to the institution when the student enrolls. When the student performs and achieves points as expected in their courses, the HPR payment is triggered. This means that if the student does not perform as expected, i.e. obtaining 60 credits a year, the university, and thus the course, does not get reimbursed for the costs that have been incurred.

One argument is that teachers are now forced to approve students’ credits for economic reasons. However, there is not enough concrete evidence to suggest that education standards are decreasing because the students are not being approved at the required level. Nevertheless, this so-called truth appears regularly in newspapers. SFS, the Swedish National Union of Students, welcomes a government investigation and, among other things, calls for the replacement of the current performance-based system with a participatory system to remedy this situation: http://www.sfs.se/blogg/sfs-valkomnar-utredning-om-resurstilldelningssystemet (Swedish only).

There is a further need for a new resource system for training that relates to the students of the future; one that goes beyond the previous way of only following courses and not always complying with the examinations. The student of the future may put together a portfolio of courses which consist of Massive Open Online (mooc) courses, distance learning courses or even a traditional course on campus anywhere in the world. A new system needs to take this into account.

Another issue is price tag per subject, where the humanities and social sciences have been in the forefront of showing that money is not enough to create good conditions for good education. In this context, it is important to remember that although the price tag for science and engineering (the N/T price tag) is higher than that for humanities and social sciences, it is still not sufficient to sustain the technology that requires training. For many years, KTH, which mainly conducts training with an N/T price tag, has seen that there are insufficient resources for the laboratory-intensive education.

Lab work is an integral part of technology training and this is where students are training for their future profession. In addition, lab work provides a foundation for the more theoretical aspects. The academisation of engineering education programmes has been spoken about for a long time. The scientific foundation has become more important, but in practice it has also become increasingly expensive to maintain facilities and equipment to operate the labs. Lab work is also very learning-intensive. Overall, the cost of operating laboratory education has risen much faster over the years than the change in the N/T price tag. A new system needs to turn this around, not least to continue to development the quality of technology training.