Category Archives: Internationalization

Is open access to research results in line with the rest of the world?

The seeming conflict between academic freedom and open access to research articles is worrying. Or at least according to an opinion piece in Svd. But is this really the case?

Many Swedish research funding bodiesalready require research findings to be made available to the public today and not just in the form of publication in scientific periodicals that are behind a pay wall. There are also recommendations from the EU that member states should be able to provide open access to research results and data. A tightening is now coming into force via the so-called Plan S that is to be the standard from the year 2020. Many Swedish public research funding bodies have already signed up to this. That any research that has been paid for out of tax revenues should also be made available to taxpayers is one line of thinking, another is that research that is freely distributed can help additional research that is based on available findings.

That publishers charge for publishing articles today (including owning copyright) and also charge for being able to read them is and always has been strange. This in itself can appear odd in that researchers that have done the work themselves then have to pay a subscription to be able to read their own results. In the latter scenario, the researcher pays a fee for an article to be made available to everyone via an open publication process. Digitalisation has opened up opportunities for digital publication, that is to say, a publisher is no longer needed to publish periodicals.

Naturally, open access is the way forward, in a researcher community without borders, but it is a case of thinking pragmatically and not simply in terms of principle – not least from the perspective of the individual researcher. What happens in the case of privately funded research and what is the difference between the two? How does this affect the individual researcher and the merit that follow from publication in a highly esteemed periodical and future allocation of funds from the respective university? Today, openness clashes with meritoriousness, and in terms of peer review. It is easy to open a digital periodical and many researchers have already been persuaded to submit research findings where peer review is, in principle, totally absent.

There are highly ranked periodicals in many research areas where it is necessary to publish for reasons of both tradition and merit. Appearing in corresponding open access channels is unlikely to happen overnight. Traditions within the science fields are often varied which makes the rapid timetable for OpenS somewhat worrying. To regulate in exactly which periodicals a researcher may publish infringes on academic freedom. The assessment one makes as an individual researcher when new findings are to be presented, is based on a number of criteria. Sometimes, the most important thing is that other researchers in the same field can access the findings via publication in periodicals everyone reads. In other cases, the current merit system is what drives publication in highly ranked publications such as Nature and Science, even though, one knows that colleagues will perhaps not read these in the first instance.

The publishing strategy ought to be changed and gradually, open access will mean that more research findings will become generally available. But perhaps this will not proceed as quickly as is thought outside the research community. What will the rest of the world do? It can be somewhat odd if we in Europe now have a very rapid timetable for Open Access while the rest of the world has a different schedule. Ultimately, research findings are international, and as such, the ways of making them available also need to be global.

I have a certain sympathy for the logic that tax funded research should be made available to everyone (worldwide?). But on the other hand, I fail to see the logic of fee paying education, why is this, which is also tax funded, not freely available to everyone?

 

Internationalisation even more important in a changing world

That internationalisation and cooperation across borders are necessary to meet the challenges the world faces ought to be self-evident. In Sunday’s Sydsvenska Dagbladet (https://www.sydsvenskan.se/2018-11-11/vi-ser-med-stor-oro-pa-den-vag-av-nationalism-och-populism-som-sveper-over-sverige-europa-och-manga-lander-i-varlden), several colleagues and I write about this in an opinion piece on this very subject and that our research and knowledge society should be open and accessible. This is particularly important at a time when narrow-minded, fact denying mindsets tend to give the impression that the world should and ought to shrink.

As a small country, Sweden has managed to assert itself in global competition by both educating students and attracting skilled researchers from all round the world. Via close cooperation between industry and the engineering sciences, many Swedish companies were able to become internationally established in the early years of the 20th century. However, there is much more still to be done here if Sweden is to be able to continue to have a place in the international arena.

This is something that appears to be the thinking behind the government inquiry “Increasing the Attractiveness of Sweden as a Knowledge Nation” that has just been published (https://www.regeringen.se/rattsliga-dokument/statens-offentliga-utredningar/2018/10/sou-201878/). With the help of a number of measures, it should be easier and more attractive for both international students and researchers to come to Sweden. By establishing a presence abroad and vice versa, for example, international freedom of movement, the aim of the inquiry, should increase in both directions.

The inquiry proposals include keeping a closer eye on what is happening outside Sweden and creating an organisation to boost Sweden’s international presence. These proposals are good if they also give universities greater freedom to further develop existing partnerships with foreign partner universities via university branches.

I welcome the call for a greater focus on higher education and research such as via research and innovation offices and TeamSweden.

From my own experience, I know that Swedish ambassadors around the world are a big help when universities want to organise activities. However, in addition to this, more knowledge and expertise are required for Swedish higher education and research among the echelons that work to raise Sweden’s profile. This can only benefit Swedish universities.

What’s more, the inquiry appears to have taken a proper look at how the process for foreign students that pay to study here can be made easier and who could easily get caught up in a maze of public authority contacts. This is welcome, to enable student visas to be granted more quickly.

Something else that the inquiry wants to see is more grants to enable students to finance their studies and living expenses etc., in Sweden. Student voices and student rights that should also apply for foreign students are also named in the inquiry. This is already the case today with the barriers that exist being mainly language-related.

However, I would also have liked, as I wrote when the interim report was published, a clearer and more pronounced strategy concerning which parts of the world we should target. The problem for such a Swedish internationalisation strategy is that we live in a changing world, however. Nonetheless, international cooperation, student and knowledge exchanges are imperative for academia and vital for positive social development.

 

The importance of academian freedom

It is now three weeks since the general election in Sweden and we are still none the wiser when it comes to forming a government. Is politics important for higher education in Sweden? My answer is obviously yes. Although universities and colleges have a more independent stance than most other government authorities, we still work on behalf of taxpayers.

Over the years, a long line of private financing bodies, such as various family foundations, have appeared that support research at our universities.

However, one thing I do know is that a high-quality university sector that works well is something that all politicians ought to consider as the highest priority.

Several issues are of utmost urgency for the incoming government. Some of these are related to being successful on the international stage, others concern increasing basic funding for education and research. It is crucial that basic funding is increased for education, otherwise being able to maintain high quality will gradually become more and more difficult.

Our universities have a relatively high degree of autonomy, (something I can appreciate) not least in my role as a board member of Vinnova when I see the monthly reconciliation process between the Director General and the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation.

This is not the case for a university president. As President of KTH, I have tremendous freedom to develop KTH to the best of my ability and that of our employees as well.

Freedom of research is enshrined in the Universities Act and the Higher Education Ordinance, more specifically with regard to the free choice of the research subject. Within the Swedish higher education community, we increasingly talk about the need to also give education the same status. At the same time, KTH, as with other government bodies, must adhere to fundamental government values,  that in part concern objectivity and free opinion building.

The development of the scope of universities to ensure we work in an optimal way for the benefit of Sweden and society, is a continuous process. Being able to act on the international stage and sign agreements between KTH and international parties is a kind of freedom that calls for a certain degree of innovation.

The most recent Times Higher Education (THE) rankings  show that many Swedish universities have fallen down the rankings. One important question in this context is whether Swedish universities have the right platform to be an international presence. Having said that, I think it is becoming increasingly difficult to relate to a more troubled world. What is right and what is wrong when it comes to international cooperation is not always crystal clear.

The same applies to cooperation in general – of regulating in contracts how research findings that are the result of a joint project should be utilised, can sometimes be difficult precisely because universities are government bodies.

We in the university sector are often pretty inward looking and believe society and the enterprise sector know as much about our issues as we do ourselves. This is rarely the case. We need to take greater responsibility in inviting involvement in issues that are important to us and explaining and entering into dialogue on these issues.

A proper understanding of academia is necessary in order to be able to make wise political decisions on higher education and research. By being open and transparent and sharing our knowledge, we can contribute to good political decisions. KTH can then continue to offer programmes that impress employers and in so doing, compete on an increasingly competitive university market.