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Don´t forget the third-cycle education

With the arrival of the new year we encounter hopes and exciting steps to take in terms of the development of KTH Royal Institute of Technology and the surrounding world. Our new school organisation and the new development plan are setting the tone and direction towards an even more efficient and excellent seat of learning.

A key part of being able to develop and renew many research projects, learning initiatives and programmes is obviously a persistent awareness of quality and recurrent work in this area. Another key factor for the success of a seat of learning is its researchers, teachers, administrative staff and students.

But it is also a question of money, resources and funding, and how these are to be applied for, allocated and, not least, suffice.

As many people have indicated, there is a great deal of room for improvement and change, including to promote the development of seats of learning to enable their best sides to evolve – instead of the current situation in which all seats of learning are treated in the same way and compete for the same funds, regardless of their circumstances.

This is why I’m looking forward to the report from the Government inquiry, which is in full swing, that will highlight the current governance and resource allocation system for Sweden’s universities and institutes of higher education and offer a proposal for a future system.

Last week, the analyst Pam Fredman provided in a rough sketch, an initial hint of what may conceivably emerge, and there are many important trains of thought and aspects regarding a new financing model. ( in Swedish) The inquiry is to have been completed by December this year.

The proposal includes that, instead of the current system in which the funding of the seats of learning is earmarked for education and research/third-cycle studies respectively, the seats of learning shall receive a pool of funds to allocate as they see fit between these two areas.

I think that having a single grant rather than two different ones may support the view that there is a vital link between education and research. One thing that is implied in the rough sketch is that basic grants must increase. This is an incredibly important issue; the seat of learning’s own priorities and strategies are hard to implement with such a large proportion of external contributions as is the reality today. Another element of this is that external funding with high demands for co-funding “eats up” the basic grant. This also needs to be dealt with by the governance and resource inquiry.

Greater security in the funding of teaching and research staff lays the foundation for an attractive seat of learning in my opinion. On the other hand, it is a matter of concern if you intend to eliminate the view that different areas of education have different amounts of remuneration – what are known as price tags.

This puts special universities, such as institutes of technology and other institutes of higher education with one main area of education, at a disadvantage. It primarily benefits the large, broad universities, which are able to redistribute funding between educational areas. KTH’s educational area is mainly within the realm of technology; its programmes require relevant and up-to-date infrastructure.

This requires a great deal of resources, as comprehensive – but absolutely crucial – laboratory work in both education and research is very expensive. This is the case even if you consider all the new opportunities presented by educational models that are emerging in the wake of digitisation. Even if the governance and resource inquiry turns out such that current funding in the form of first-cycle funding and grants for research/third-cycle studies are to remain unchanged, the inquiry needs to consider how resources are allocated when expanding education provision.

Third-cycle education is not mentioned specifically, but an approach is required for this portion. Should it continue to be linked to research, or should it be counted as education? With a single grant, each seat of learning is naturally free to use the total funding as it sees fit. It is important, however, to word things in terms of skills supply, including where postgraduates are concerned. This applies to both the need within academia and to society in general. In recent years, external research financiers have financed Ph. D. students to a lesser extent, while opportunities to provide scholarships for third-cycle studies have been become less freely available. This justifies addressing third-cycle studies in the inquiry.

With a single grant, seats of learning have more of an opportunity to decide for themselves where needs exist and how resources should be allocated, which is likely to not only encourage independence, but also efficiency.