Economist: Increasing level of Swedish political control over government research funding

Roger Svensson

Competition and Control in Government Research Funding, english summary 36.0 KB PDF

An increasing portion of government research funding is distributed through research councils and government agencies. Increasingly, these actors also communicate specific demands for providing funding. This may have a negative impact on research, writes economist Roger Svensson in a new SNS report.

Over the past twenty years, a growing portion of public research funding has been allocated through research councils and government agencies. So-called targeted calls have also become much more common, which include special terms for granting funding to researchers.

At the same time, there has been a decrease in the number of open calls where researchers themselves may propose projects within the framework of the respective funding bodies. These trends have a number of negative effects on research, writes economist Roger Svensson in the SNS report Competition and Control in Government Research Funding.

“Targeted calls limit competition and may result in research becoming more uniform in case the researchers focus too much on the terms in the call. Furthermore, an important scientific argument for funding via research councils has been that it makes the system more flexible. However, the last government research propositions do not include any such arguments regarding efficiency. Instead, it seems as if politicians want to control the research carried out at higher education institutions,” says Roger Svensson, associate professor of economics.

Following the so-called autonomy reform in 2011, the government was no longer able to control how direct basic funding was allocated between faculties at higher education institutions. The government may have tried to compensate for this by introducing research programs controlled via research councils, according to Svensson.

Partially, these trends may also be the result of how research propositions are developed. Svensson notes that the government typically tasks agencies engaged in funding research with submitting proposals for guidelines regarding research policy. In such a case, it may be close at hand for these agencies to propose increased funding for themselves, he argues while calling for new procedures.

“It is obviously no wonder that the government wants advice on what the future research policy should look like. However, this task should be assigned to experts, who do not in any way receive research funding themselves. This makes it easier to avoid conflicts of interest while also safeguarding academic independence,” says Roger Svensson.

about the report

In the report, Roger Svensson analyzes how government research funding is organized and governed. Among other things, he analyzes the government’s motives for funding research and weighs the pros and cons of different ways of allocating funding. The report also compiles statistics on the distribution of government research funding and compares this with other countries. These questions are analyzed based on research literature in economics on the creation of knowledge and the role of universities in society. This, in turn, results in concrete recommendations for decision-makers formulating Swedish research policy. This report is published within the framework of the SNS research project Higher Education and Research.

about the author

Roger Svensson is an associate professor of economics at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN).