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Resource model misses the mark

As parliament,last week on April 21, voted in favour of the government research bill recently presented, I feel compelled to return to my old hobby horse: Increase basic funding instead.
What worries me is the new model for allocating resources for research that will come into force in two years where strategic profiling will make the difference.

The thinking is, as far as I am aware, that the resources will be allocated in accordance with a new model to stimulate research and education at researcher level. This should then drive quality such that Swedish research will be able to better hold its own internationally.  To gain their share of these resources, universities will need to showcase their respective profile areas and the quality of these is to be evaluated by expert advisers to the government research councils.

The aim is said to be to broaden the concept of quality, which can sound laudable. But I have my doubts. Naturally, the current model in which two indicators are used to measure quality, is not perfect. Since 2009, bibliometrics (the number of publications and citations in scientific journals) and the amount of external funding, have been a model for reallocating part of basic funding for research and third cycle education.

It is always difficult to know whether what you do measure is what you actually want to measure, as is whether the results enable accurate comparisons. However profiling, where each university is to apply for an allocation, risks having the opposite effect. Plus, it indicates an inability to prioritise. Is the aim to boost the international competitiveness of the universities or to strengthen research and third cycle education at both large and small universities in the whole of Sweden? The proposal now presented does neither.

 From the proposal now resolved on it is clear that the idea of profile areas comes from the was the  Inquiry on Governance and Resources (STRUT) (SOU 2019: 6). University profiling and the need for more dialogue were discussed there, but how this goes together with the profile areas now being launched and the coming announcement on applications, is less clear.

More dialogue is by necessity not the same thing as universities being required to apply for resources. On the other hand, there is an expectation of being able to discuss goals and strategies in greater detail for the chosen profiling of a university.  Replacing one system (bibliometrics and external funding as indicators) that passively measures results with a system where the universities are going to have to allocate time to apply for what in practice is relatively meagre funding, feels like a waste of resources. And it will be a case of meagre resources, as all universities, according to this line of thinking, are to be guaranteed that they will get at least one profile area.

Which brings us back to where we started. Why not let the universities decide for themselves to a greater extent by raising basic funding instead? Sometimes, commendable aims can cloud the view as it is perhaps more about taking greater control. In which case, there will be less room for manoeuvre in the pot of jam.