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Unbalanced financing worrying in budget bill

A substantial investment in research and an increase in basic funding are positive parts of the government budget bill that was announced last week. However, how the money will be allocated and the degree of long-term thinking behind these investments will be crucial. My hope is that the allocation will be based on the capacity to take on research and the ability to deliver research that is internationally competitive.

According to the government’s draft budget for 2021, SEK 3.4 billion will be invested in research and innovation.  Basic funding will gain an additional SEK 500 million for 2021, to compensate for reduced income from external private research financing bodies as a consequence of the pandemic.  A permanent increase in funding will also be added in the next few years. For me as an obstinate advocate of increased basic funding, this is naturally pleasing.

However, at second glance, I wonder if this will genuinely generate greater strategic freedom of movement and give universities and colleges more room to manoeuvre. I say this because alongside the basic funding, the research councils will also get more money which in one respect is good.

It will mean that there is a risk that the imbalance between basic funding and external financing will remain. Basic funding for research can be used for unrestricted research to an ever diminishing degree, as is the freedom to make strategic prioritisations locally or centrally at universities. As this imbalance now looks set to remain, this is not good news in the long run.

The bill also includes investments in large scale, national infrastructure, but here I cannot avoid being reminded of the financing of local infrastructure that rests heavily on the shoulders of each individual university. A good infrastructure (both local and national) is both an absolute necessity and a quality determinant for KTH researchers and students.

And by extension, also for Sweden’s competitiveness.  An infrastructure that works well for laboratory learning, research tests etc., is an essential everyday requirement for a university of technology. The local infrastructure supports the needs of education, which is absolutely necessary, not least because we still await any information on how the government intends to tackle the issue of price tags within education.

Science and technology are areas that have lost the most since these were introduced in 1993. It is high time that this issue was also addressed.

When the research and innovation policy bill arrives at the end of November, we will see how the money is to be allocated and according to which principle.