Input focuses on strategic issues

Every four years it is time to have our say on government research policy. This can pay off. One example of change that came after the last time KTH provided input in 2015 was that the law was changed such that the time for acquisition of qualifications posts  was extended from four to six years.

This time, we chose not to address many specific research initiatives, as in our experience, we have found that a long wish list does not get you very far. The government receives input from over 150 organisations to take into consideration.

So we focused on a number of strategic issues instead. Such as converting Strategic Research Areas (SRA) into permanent basic funding. The SRA structure, that was launched in 2010, has naturally created incentives for us universities to develop strong research fields within these areas where interdisciplinary partnerships are required to achieve excellence. Establishing such partnerships has enabled several multidisciplinary and internationally successful research fields to emerge.

This is shown by our rankings and we have been able to recruit top international researchers, connect them to a context and able to perform research within areas that the researchers themselves define. Making these SRA initiatives permanent contracts within the parameters of basic funding, would offer long-term stability where the universities are responsible for remaining at the forefront of knowledge within the areas identified.

One question that we raised in our input was what would happen if a research area falls between different research funding body priorities, such as fusion research. Around half the research into fusion in Sweden today is done at KTH, while Uppsala University and Chalmers are doing about a quarter each.

Via the EU, Sweden invests substantial sums in the development of fusion energy, where the two main commitments are the construction of the experimental ITER reactor in France and coordination of European EUROfusion, a consortium of national fusion research institutes in the EU, Switzerland and Ukraine. This is a joint co-fund project that also includes JET, the central research facility of the European Fusion Programme, based in England. The next EU framework programme Horizon Europe, has an increased focus on innovation and here there is a need to strengthen cooperation between Swedish and European industry.

The Swedish Research Council has signalled that it does not wish to continue to have responsibility for fusion research grants related to ITER and EUROfusion, however no other authority has taken over this responsibility. Nor is it clear where the responsibility for innovation within the fusion area resides. If we are to be able to attract researchers to this area such that we could leverage the opportunities of Swedish national undertakings in fusion research in the long term, I think a clear financing model is required together with some kind of national coordination between academia, industry and different authorities.

Something else that has happened on the KTH research front is that the expansion previously announced by the government with regard to research into technologies for digitalisation was included in this year’s budget bill.