COLUMN. The University of Gothenburg is putting together a response to the Government’s Steering and Resource Distribution of Universities (STRUT) report that is out for comment. Dean Agneta Holmäng writes in her column that the report’s proposal is problematic in several ways and can have negative consequences, especially for medical faculties at universities offering a broader range of programs.
By May 15 our faculty will submit to the Vice-Chancellor its contribution to the comment the university will provide for the Steering and Resource Distribution report. This is the government proposal that is generally referred to as STRUT. The government proposal has been developed by the investigator Pam Fredman, with the aim of creating a long-term, coordinated and dialog-based governance of higher education. The basic idea is to promote academic freedom, quality and accountability and to avoid micromanagement and distorting incentives. The proposal also aims to strengthen the social responsibility of universities to contribute knowledge and competence based on strong academic integrity and to provide the higher education institutions with long-term frameworks and discretion to assume responsibility based on their own needs and conditions.
The basic assumptions in the report are good, but several things are very problematic and can produce results contrary those indicated above in this proposal.
Several things are very problematic
As for allocation of resources, STRUT proposes that direct government funding for education and research be provided as a combined appropriation, with an education part and a research part, and that higher education institutions develop their own models for how these funds are to be allocated. It proposes that the prevailing conventional pricing of educational programs be removed. In this case, the report has not considered the fact that educational programs for regulated professions come with a higher price tag. Since the conditions are so different among Swedish higher education institutions, I can imagine a situation where the internal discussion leads to different pricing for the same education at different universities, depending on the priorities that individual institutions set and how well negotiations with the government for compensation succeed. A hypothetical example may be that medical training at a university with a narrower focus may cost more per student slot than the same education at a university offering a wider range of courses and programs. If this scenario becomes a reality, quality and competitiveness will be impacted.
We have a well-functioning system with external reviewers
Another important point with the proposal is that the basic funding of higher education institutions will be increased, but this will be at the expense of the Swedish Research Council and other government councils and authorities, which will receive less funding to allocate for research. Over the next eight years, the proposal calls for increasing direct government funding so that it constitutes at least half of the total research revenues for Swedish higher education institutions. Exactly what form this will take is not clear in the document circulated for comment, making it difficult to fully assess the consequences. A majority of our researchers join me in thinking that we have a well-functioning system with external reviewers, where researchers assess the quality of other researchers’ applications. The review procedure ensures that research projects of the highest quality receive funding. If this well-functioning peer-review system were dismantled, it would be very unfortunate and a threat to free basic research. If the universities themselves decide to a greater extent how the money is to be allocated and the quality evaluation occurs at the individual higher education institutions, the possibilities of evaluating research in an objective and transparent way will be greatly impaired and will lead to internal competition among the faculties for these funds.
There is significant consensus about the disadvantages
STRUT proposes that a comprehensive government bill for higher education and research be presented once per term of office, or every four years, which is to be produced through a dialog-based process with the higher education institution. The dialogue is to be conducted directly with the government, which is not an equal party, which can lead to a risk of political governance of research and education. This is likely to work less well for universities offering a broader range of programs where consideration of individual faculties is more difficult to achieve. In addition, four-year intervals are a very short time frame for an institution’s planning.
There is significant consensus about the disadvantages of STRUT among other medical faculties in Sweden as well. At the national meeting of deans in Lund, we discussed the possibility of writing a separate response of our own to the proposal, which would point out specific aspects that affect our work, and I believe this response will be submitted.
During that national deans’ meeting in Lund, we received interesting insight into the MAX IV Swedish national laboratory and the European Spallation Source, both of which are enormously expensive national and international investments in infrastructure. So far we have little knowledge about its potential and importance for biomedical research. For this reason, we hope to arrange a faculty meeting to learn more about this national infrastructure that will soon be available.
In Lund Sahlgrenska Academy also had the honor of receiving the prize for the best internationalization effort for our undergraduate studies. This prize has been jointly established by all the medical faculties in Sweden. It was awarded this year to Eva-Lena Bratt, Louise Freytag and Camilla Eide and the course Nursing Care in Complex Care Situations which is part of the Nursing program. I would like to heartily congratulate these teachers who have succeeded so well in their internationalization and development work!
Something to look forward to is the result of RED19, the ongoing quality evaluation project, which will soon be ready to release its preliminary report. I understand that there have been very good discussions about this work at the departmental level. So it should be very exciting to read the report when it arrives at the end of June.
Dean Agneta Holmäng