Swedish universities have tended to slide in the international rankings in recent years. This is due to various reasons, of which the most significant is the lack of clear national strategies and prioritising within higher education.
There is no correlation between education and research of high quality and how the two are integrated when it comes to what the rankings measure. The rankings do not paint a complete picture – particularly when you bear in mind that our universities play different roles on a national basis. Hopefully, once a new government is in place in the near future, a number of vital reforms can be considered.
I would like to highlight three areas that are crucial for the university sector where changes must be made to lift Sweden as a knowledge nation:
- Increased basic funding for research and third-cycle education
A report by SUHF shows that the system with external funding corresponds to a quality degradation of 10-20 percent and in monetary terms, between four and eight billion kronor less per year. Increasing basic funding would reduce the time researchers have to spend fundraising, time that they can dedicate to research instead.
In addition, an increase in basic funding would also mean that universities and researchers themselves can develop and profile research areas rather than having their hands tied by political and societal forces in terms of what research should be pursued. When external government financing bodies make announcements, this often concerns areas where the international research front has already reached the commercialisation stage. Bold new ideas are given less room.
- The education and research infrastructure
Infrastructure in the form of laboratories, computers, equipment, instruments etc., is the very life blood of high quality education and research. As we now move towards universities having to finance much of this infrastructure themselves without a corresponding increase in funding, this puts the quality of education at risk.
Much of what is sometimes called research infrastructure is extensively used in education. Our students must be given the opportunity to learn with modern equipment. How will the digitalisation of society be managed if students are not able to use the latest technology in this area during their studies? This infrastructure is also highly relevant for continuing and further education (lifelong learning).
- The role of universities and their ability to achieve high quality
Most politicians are prepared to agree that Sweden should be an internationally prominent knowledge nation. However, there are certain consequences with this. For example, one can then start to question whether it is reasonable for all universities to have the same role and how many universities and colleges there should be. In Sweden, only a small handful of universities are ranked in the top 100-200 positions.
These rankings are an indication of international visibility and they show where Sweden stands as a knowledge nation on the global stage. To my mind, the new government must think about how the university and college sector should be changed in order to become stronger.
Our neighbouring countries have already done several changes. In Denmark for example, many universities and institutes were merged several years ago. Reforms in this direction have also been implemented in Finland. The latest is a merger of a new Tampere University .