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Innovation Support Inquiry causes some concern

Almost two weeks ago the comprehensive 360+page Innovation Support Inquiry landed on Swedish Minister for Higher Education and Research Matilda Ernkrans’ desk. The Inquiry appears to be ambitious and there are some good proposals. But the question is whether the Head of the Inquiry Alf Karlsson bites off more than he can chew.

The main focus for the task he was given by the government was to review how the innovation system at universities and university colleges works to enable their research to bring benefits and in so doing generate societal benefits and by extension, Swedish competitiveness.

Sweden has a good reputation when it comes to its capacity to innovate and is often ranked in the top three when it comes to national innovation capacity. Recently in the World Economic Forum Innovation Index. The principal task of universities and colleges is education and research, of which cooperation is an integral part. This is worth emphasising. The biggest benefit that emerges from universities and colleges comes courtesy of their graduates whose education brings benefits to society. That ideas are generated by students and researchers in addition to this is naturally excellent. So, despite all this, it is therefore somewhat surprising that such wide-ranging changes Karlsson proposes should be the solution. And while several of the proposals in the Inquiry are good, some are a bit worrying.

Instead of making life easier for today’s holding companies, increased management, control and monitoring is also proposed, where all the universities should be involved to take responsibility for converting their respective research into practical applications. It is good that resources are also being increased for both innovation offices and for the verification of ideas to evaluate and mirror them against the market.

However, I can see a few causes for concern for KTH.

That the holding companies will lose their respective investment briefs and should put forward proposals for good investment initiatives to a national financing company instead, is something I have my doubts about. There is a risk that those universities that are successful within innovation will be forced to take a back seat to broader thinking where all universities are included. Another risk is that both national and international cooperation will be made more difficult as a consequence of the holding companies’ new intended societal briefs where there is a risk that elbow room will become far more cramped.

That the changes are to be paid for by a reallocation of funds, around three percent, from the grants for research and education appears remarkable. Added to which, I am surprised that Karlsson proposes changes for utilisation in the Higher Education Act and the Higher Education Ordinance. Apart from the fact that cooperation (utilisation) is self-evident and already being incorporated in the HEA and HEO in accordance with the STRUT Inquiry, this will also increase the amount of detailed regulation. That is not a good thing.