(Original Swedish post published 25 January, English version published 26 January.)
I’ve just come home and will try to sum up my impressions from the annual meeting of vice-chancellors with the Minister for Higher Education and Research in Steningevik. It has become a tradition for the Swedish Higher Education Authority and the Association of Swedish Higher Education to organise these occasions at which we vice-chancellors have a chance to meet the minister and ask questions. Day two focuses on what’s going on at the Swedish Higher Education Authority. I appreciate the opportunity to meet my fellow vice-chancellors, it gives us a chance to discuss many other issues of common interest.
Helene Hellmark Knutsson started out by talking about current politics and then went on to issues of more specific concern to the higher education sector. This was the minister’s third time in Steningevik and it showed: she is now very familiar with the issues. She began by emphasising that she sees universities as important actors, we are institutions that advance democracy and stand for academic freedom. In these times, it is important that higher education institutions can take on this role. The minister reminded us of the question that was in focus last year, which was the reception of refugees. She feels that issue is now under control. There’s a lot going on politically: she mentioned Brexit, which has dominated EU politics, and Trump as the new US President. She said that we don’t know how this will affect issues such as free trade, abortion rights, attitudes towards climate change. But she emphasised that both these developments have come about as a result of democratic votes.
The research bill that was presented nearly two months ago will be processed in March, first by the parliamentary committee and then by the Riksdag. Government bills always contain many issues that will be dealt with more precisely later. These formulations are very deliberate, the minister explained that the government wants to have freedom of manoeuvre in the Riksdag. So much preparation is in progress and further inquiries are on the way: internationalisation and governance and allocation of resources – all important issues for us. She actually said very little that was new, we’ve heard most of it before. But it’s still useful to listen and have a chance to ask questions.
Representatives from the Swedish Higher Education Authority told us about future plans for research evaluation. And what they arfe doing first is to wait for instructions, which seems wise since they actually haven’t yet received any such formal instructions. In the meantime they’re looking at international developments, at what higher education institutions have done and what lessons can be learned. The Authority intends to work with reference groups and advisory groups, in a similar way to when methods for educational evaluations were developed. Dialogue with the sector was stressed. All this sounds good. We have long campaigned for a sensible system and division of responsibilities for evaluations in Sweden. Now we have come a fair way where educational evaluations are concerned and research evaluations can turn out well too as long as developments at the higher education institutions are respected. We ourselves, of course, are busy with our own research evaluation Q&R17, and the pilots on the education side will get going this year.
What I’m concerned about is collaboration. The bill indicates that the performance of higher education institutions in the area of external collaboration will have an increased influence on the distribution of the basic appropriation for research. I am extremely sceptical about this. Currently there are neither clear definitions nor reasonable quality indicators for collaboration. Attempts in recent years to develop models to evaluate performance and quality in the area of external collaboration, under the auspices of the Swedish Agency for Innovation Systems (Vinnova), have been useful exercises in some ways but are far from satisfactory as a basis for decisions on resource allocation.