High expectations for the new minister

Last week I went to the annual presidents meeting in Steningevik organised by the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ) and the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions (SUHF). The carrot is usually that the Minister for Higher Education and Research attends and explains which way the political winds are blowing within the sector. This year was different as the government had only been formed the day before the meeting. The name of the new minister was probably unfamiliar to many of us although expectations were high.

Matilda Ernkrans, the new Minister for Higher Education and Research, has, like her two predecessors, no previous experience of the sector.

There has been a discussion about the minister’s prior knowledge and expertise and the lack of an academic degree.   An interview with her on Swedish Radio triggered a stream of comments on social media (https://sverigesradio.se/avsnitt/1222129 ).

Naturally, many of us wonder whether higher education and research is given priority by the new government, given that the minister is someone who has studied at university but without finishing a degree.

Does this mean that higher education and research is being given a lower priority or should it be interpreted as tremendous faith that we 75,000 employees and some 400,000 students can drive and develop the sector in a good way?

Another reflection is that the Ministry of Higher Education and Research appears to be an entry point for entirely untried ministers. Various other ministers in the government have held a long list of other ministerial posts, so I wonder why this area in particular is not deemed worthy of someone with previous experience of being a minister.

Having said that, we have now gained a minister who is well versed in politics and parliamentary/committee work, which is probably an advantage.

Rather than providing a more extended presentation of her views on the sector and the future, the minister gave a short speech over dinner.

Anything more was probably not to be expected as it was her first day at work. It was very largely the same as the previous government had stood for and most of what was said was included in the statement of government policy. The question of when work on the new research proposition would be started was not answered.

And maybe the Governance and Resource Inquiry (STRUT) is likely to recommend an education and research proposition. STRUT will submit its proposal to the minister on 1 February.

During the meeting in Steningevik, we were given a great deal of information from civil servants at the Department of Education, including concerning the budgets for government authorities in general and the universities in particular. A new budget process is being started straightaway and it is likely that we will see an amended spring budget on 15 April with bigger changes than is usually the case at this time of the year. However, I think the bigger moves are more likely to be found in the autumn budget.