Researchers: Swedish higher education policy leads to Swedish higher education institutions underperforming

The efforts to develop Swedish higher education policy move slowly. Increasing the amount of resources going to higher education institutions (HEIs) has not been translated into higher quality education and research, according to Mats Benner and Sylvia Schwaag Serger in a new SNS report.

Start from scratch. Towards a higher education policy for our era, english summary 53.8 KB PDF

Society is moving toward sustainability – social, economic and ecological – while higher education policy fails to keep up. Several factors have in recent years prevented change, write Mats Benner and Sylvia Schwaag Serger in the SNS report Start from scratch!? Towards a higher education policy for our era. One thing they highlight is a lack of analysis: government studies focusing on important areas have not had an impact. Furthermore, according to Benner and Schwaag Serger, politicians have found it difficult to agree on how to develop the higher education system.

“The higher education system continues to grow, while the efforts aimed at creating an up-to-date framework have ground to a halt. Despite more resources going to HEIs, they underperform compared to HEIs in other countries in terms of both education and research. This is obviously not consistent with Sweden’s need to manage rapid technological developments, geopolitical changes and an increasingly visible climate crisis,” says Mats Benner, professor of research policy.

At the same time, according to the report, the higher education sector faces challenges such as unclear career paths, a low level of engagement regarding digitalization and limited innovative progress in the development of knowledge. We now need radical changes to help create a coherent framework for HEIs in the future, Benner and Schwaag Serger argue.

“The discussion regarding goals and funding for HEIs needs to take off and create a shared narrative on how higher education and research may contribute to a sustainable Sweden. This may also result in a long-term framework for the division of labor in the higher education sector. This would benefit not only Sweden but also the HEIs,” says Sylvia Schwaag Serger, professor of research policy.

In the report, the researchers offer some suggestions for a more modern higher education policy. For instance, they call for interdisciplinary institutes or think tanks. They also argue that it would be valuable to produce various overviews to help decision-makers understand the state of research in different subjects. Furthermore, they want to see more support for cutting-edge research and new approaches in higher education. Perhaps, they wonder, the time has come to create new subjects.

about the project

The report Start from scratch!? Towards a higher education policy for our era is part of the SNS research project Higher Education and Research. This project focuses on the governance, organization and funding of the higher education and research system. The aim is to contribute with analysis and facts on issues such as whether resources are to be invested in cutting-edge research or whether they are to be spread evenly across the country, whether research funding should be centralized or whether HEIs should have more autonomy to freely use their funds. The project timeframe is 2022–2024.

About the authors

Mats Benner is a professor of research policy at Lund University.

Sylvia Schwaag Serger is a professor of research policy at Lund University.