Young Academies filing appeals against Nordic research policy

Young Academies filing appeals against Nordic research policy

– A sharp cut came without warning.

The words came from Marte CW Solheim, Vice President of the Academy for Young Researchers and Professor at the University of Stavanger.

The background is that the Swedish government decided about two weeks ago that the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish Research Council, would no longer fund development research. It came without warning. The Swedish Research Council has announced that this year’s invitation will also be cancelled, and applications already submitted will not be processed.

This happens after the Swedish Research Council has since 2013 provided support for such research, funded by the aid budget.

“disrespectful” and “arrogant”

The fact that funding is now being stifled has provoked a harsh response.

– It’s a very bad decision, and it’s also disrespectful to all researchers who have applied and who are involved in the Swedish Research Council’s preparation processes. The decision came without warning, above our heads, as stated in a statement by Hans Adolfsson, Rector of Umeå University.

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The manager is not alone in the reaction. Dagens Nyheter called the decision “disrespectful” and “arrogant”. “The government’s suspension of funding for Swedish development research is, together with other cuts, a severe blow to the quality of higher education in Sweden,” writes Professor Mats Malqvist in Svenska Dagbladet.

Aid and Foreign Trade Minister Johan Forssell rejects the criticism.

2% of Swedish Research Council grants are set aside for this purpose. He adds that you can still apply for money from the remaining 98 percent Everything.

One of the four support beams

Now the Swedish decision is being criticized in a joint call From young academies in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. In addition to the Academy of Young Researchers in Norway, it is signed by the Swedish Youth Academy, the Danish Youth Academy and the Finnish Nuorten Tiedeakatemia.

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The appeal was due to the Swedish decision, but the criticism of the young academics does not stop in Sweden, they also turn their eyes to other Nordic countries.

– What happened in Sweden was the straw that broke the camel’s back in what we see as a common north direction. We have seen that this is an increasing political control of research that we also see in other Nordic countries. Marte CW Solheim says it’s about political connections that can have consequences for research, but also about academic freedom.

The Nordic Manifesto states that a free academy is one of the four pillars of a democratic society, along with a free press, a free judiciary, and a free civil society. They argue that upholding academic freedom, including institutional autonomy, should be in the government’s interest.

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“It is important that we see academic freedom as part of a democratic society,” says Solheim.

“At a time marked by many major challenges and crises at the regional and international levels, research is an important factor in facing and resolving these challenges. This requires strong support from our governments, not the other way around,” says the young academics.

Increase political governance

In addition to the decision to cut funding for development research, they point to a controversial decision by the Swedish government to reduce the mandate period for external representatives on university and college boards from three years to 17 months.

He triggered a call from 37 deans at Swedish universities and colleges where it was stated that “the decision can only be interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the competence of the sitting boards and the current process for their appointment”. Deans also received support from other parts of Europe, including from the European University Association, which condemned the decision.

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The government justified the change by establishing security policy and wanting to bring in people with experience in security policy.

The Young Academies believe that the two decisions are “another example of the increased political governance we have seen in the Nordic countries in recent years”.

“In Sweden, decisions are often justified on the grounds of national security or the war in Ukraine. However, the specific reasons for the decision are rarely explained. These decisions, regardless of the motive, place limits on academic freedom.”

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Norway: – Challenges of autonomy

As far as Norway is concerned, they write that the government has within a short time “reduced the management of the Research Council of Norway and significant sources of funding have been put in place”, and also “new regulations and university and college law have been introduced that challenge the autonomy of Norwegian universities and colleges.”

They further write that members of the Danish Parliament “threatened academic freedom” and refer specifically to this dispute On a decision in the Danish Parliament in June 2021 regarding “excessive activity in certain research environments”.

With regard to Finland, they write that there has been “an increasing emphasis on political considerations, the so-called strategic research funding, and this is at the expense of funds for basic research of the university and research environments”.

Is increasing political control over universities and colleges a threat now?

– I can understand that a political person wants to run a little bit in terms of money going to universities, but when it’s unpredictable, as we’ve seen, for example, the way it’s done in Sweden, where quite unexpectedly they don’t want to go forward In development research funding, this does not inspire confidence. It also seems poorly thought out when it also runs counter to other things the Swedish Research Council has committed to, such as the United Nations’ sustainability goals. Solheim of the Academy of Young Researchers tells Chrono that when there are procedures, as in Denmark, that interfere with academic freedom, it is not good.

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He says the youth bear the brunt

In the appeal, they also wrote that “it is young researchers who bear the brunt of these sweeping changes in research policy.”

– How are young researchers affected here?

“We already know that few of them want to be younger researchers,” says Solheim. Survey of members of the Swedish Research Societywith one in three saying they would not recommend a career in research and higher education to young people.

Among postdoctoral fellows, only one in five said they would recommend a research career. In addition, one in three permanent employees say they are considering quitting.

“Financing is getting more and more difficult to come by,” Solheim says, referring to Swedish cuts, “and I don’t think it makes going into this career path any more attractive when you see how something that was originally intended is being cut.”

She adds that this was also part of the reason why the Academy of Young Researchers objected to the fact that it was difficult for young researchers to get Fripro funds earlier this year.

We saw that it would affect younger researchers more than more established researchers, she says and adds:

– Another important element is academic freedom, as we know that it can be more difficult for younger researchers than more established researchers to express themselves, so recent developments cast a dark light.

Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

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