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Profile areas once again

Repeating certain things in a louder voice rarely makes them better or more palatable.
This struck me when I think about the obstinate insistence on profile areas as crucial to how money is allocated to universities and university colleges.

The 2019 Swedish Public Inquiry into Management and Resources (STRUT) discussed the two current quality indicators and the shortcomings these contained, together with the need for something different. The research proposition announced the following year specified this as profile areas, a concept copied from the Finnish system.

Last year, Formas, Forte, the Swedish Research Council, and Vinnova were tasked by the government to develop a proposal for a new resource allocation model. While the indicator model presently used whereby resources are allocated based on bibliometrics and external financing, can certainly be perceived as a somewhat blunt instrument, it is understandable and manageable to my way of thinking.

In the new model, universities should display their finest plumage, that is to say, formulate one of their profile areas and then receive a gratuity ranging from a couple to ten million kronor in return. The quality of the research within the profile area is to be assessed by expert advisers commissioned by government research financing bodies. At the same time, it has been said that all universities, large and small, are to receive an allocation for at least one profile area. This makes the whole thing seem odd, why can there not then be a direct increase in basic funding for all universities?

The vast majority of research within the Swedish system is done in projects financed via external grants that researchers compete for. This is said to improve the quality of the research and when you look at the results in terms of publications and citations, this appears to be the case in principle.

A bigger problem is the co-funding of research that government research financing bodies also make use of. This all too often works for a large university even if it also means that the basic funding is eaten up by co-funding. Certain small universities are, however, forced to say no to such financing as their basic funding is quite simply not sufficient.

I think that the proposal smacks of both a waste of resources, as each university needs to invest time and energy in their application, and a lack of trust in the ability of universities and colleges to decide for themselves via higher basic funding.

The proposal has been criticised for various different reasons and not least for its abstruseness. Sad to say that these signals do not seem to have reached home to any great extent as the government has just announced its decision to ask the above named financing bodies to further develop the model. I must admit that I read it as discontinue, but quickly realised that my eyes had deceived me.

This further developed model is scheduled to be completed by 1 June, and according to the government decision, (in Swedsih)the intention is to implement the model in 2024. Uppdrag att vidareutveckla en modell för kvalitetsbaserad fördelning av forskningsanslag

Speaking of funding and research, it is time for the second round of KTH Debate On February 9. The heading is The cutting-edge research that disappeared.

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