Today the government presented the budget bill in full. It does not involve any significant changes for the University, but of course it is positive that the expansion of higher education is continuing according to plan. This expansion will mean new places, mainly intended for professions in which there are shortages, such as teachers, doctors and engineers. Needless to say, these professions are vital to the functioning of society, though we would like to emphasise the need for even more unspecified places that would leave us free to come up with creative responses to skills needs and offer completely new research-based courses and programmes. We also perceive a lack of commmitment to quality: without higher allocations per place, the quality of higher education will continue to deteriorate – a process of erosion that has now been going on for 25 years.
Otherwise, right now the University is working intensively on its input to a bill that is enormously important to us, to other Swedish higher education institutions and to Sweden as a knowledge nation: the research bill, which is expected in 2020. Here Uppsala University and the Management Council, which is acting as steering committee, have great ambitions. One of the areas we will highlight is precisely this need to reinforce higher education and put a stop to the erosion. This is essential to meet the country’s need for well-qualified labour and constitutes a necessary basis for the continued development of research.
The wording is still under discussion, but we are unanimous in our belief that if Sweden wants to continue to be regarded as a major knowledge nation, we need substantial investments in research and education. What is required are broad, long-term investments in frontier research, challenge-driven research and research infrastructure that pave the way for the creativity that is the hallmark of academia and that we know has led and will continue to lead to new solutions to the challenges facing society. This input is therefore ‘work in progress’.
Many people in the University have already made important contributions to the document and a first broader discussion was held at an open seminar in the University Main Building on Tuesday. Former state secretary Peter Honeth, Frida Gommel, representing the students’ unions and the Doctoral Board, and former dean Elisabeth Nihlfors, who is now a member of the government’s National Research Committee, gave their reflections on the draft document and many people made good points in the discussion.
It is encouraging that many people who realise how important it is to invest in research seem to agree on the broad lines – that wide-ranging investments are needed and that research infrastructure requires both money and better coordination. The conclusion after the discussion is that we are on the right track, but we have to be clear about what is needed and why. The work continues: the document was referred for three weeks of internal consultations today and we invite everyone to take the opportunity to say what they think. Discussions will also be held in the Academic Senate, at next week’s University Board meeting and at the next deans meeting later in October.
The deadline for our input is 31 October and the finalised bill is expected in April or May.