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Inspiring at MIT

Last week I was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, in Boston in relation to our partnership with them. The sense of playfulness and derring-do when it comes to research questions both minor and major was incredibly inspiring. It is a place that sets no limits as to what questions research can pose or what it can achieve.

One part of the Swedish Public Inquiry into Management and Resources (STRUT), concerns increased basic funding. Less than 40 percent of the research being pursued at KTH today is supported by basic funding, that is to say, funding for research and third cycle education.

This means that research is very much steered by external funding that researchers have to apply for and compete to receive. While on the one hand KTH researchers are very successful, on the other hand, I sometimes reflect over whether there is enough time and energy to dedicate to more profound questioning.

Daring and entirely new research ideas sometimes fail to attract external funding as a great deal of external research is all too often dictated by political opinion as to what should be researched.

I was struck by the fact that many internationally very highly ranked universities are able to offer their researchers exactly this kind of scope for visionary research that does not offer any immediate benefits to society, thanks to their substantial resources. Financing is one part, another part concerns the research climate in Sweden where we are perhaps, by tradition, more methodical that adventurous. Both parts are needed and they reinforce each other.

More visionary research can lead to social benefits a bit further down the line instead. We need a financing system that is sustainable in the long-term and that provides a sense of peace and quiet. Only then, can more exciting new thinking be thought.