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New model for quality-based resource allocation

Published: 20 April 2021

Last week, The Swedish Research Council, Formas, FORTE and Vinnova invited higher education institutions to a meeting to present and discuss the task of developing proposals for a model for quality-based resource allocation of universities and colleges for research and education at doctoral level.

The assignment must be reported to the government no later than 1 June 2021. (For more information, read the bill Research, freedom, future - knowledge and innovation for Sweden , 2020/21:60, chapter 6.1).

The new resource allocation model will replace the current quality indicators (external funds and bibliometrics) with expert assessment when allocating new grants for research and education at the doctoral level from 2023. The aim is to a large extent reward strategic profiling and prioritization of research at universities and colleges.

The assessment of high quality must, in addition to including internationally accepted criteria that take into account all research areas, also include quality in collaboration with the surrounding society as an important component in the assessments. This will be done by allocating funds to what are called profile areas in the bill; high-quality strategic research initiatives that the higher education institutions themselves define.

Expert assessments 

According to the directives in the Research and Innovation Bill, it is the higher education institutions that apply for funding for profile areas and state research councils that are responsible for expert assessments of the applications. The starting point is that all higher education institutions must be allocated at least one profile area and that the funds are initially specified as the higher education institutions' research grants.

The schedule for developing the new model is extremely short as it is planned to be introduced from 2023. At least SEK 500 million is estimated to be distributed according to the model for 2023 and 2024, and then increase in the long term.
During the meeting, quality aspects and assessment criteria for the profile areas were discussed, some of which were more recurring: scientific quality, education and research, clear development profile regardless of whether the profile area is established or new, interdisciplinary, collaboration and university-wide collaborations. I agree with all of these and especially emphasized the importance of profile areas being university-wide, because I think it is important for Sweden that we create national strength through cooperation, not create silos with several similar profile initiatives at different individual universities.

Dimension of the investment

Another point of discussion was the dimensioning of the investment. Given that this is basic funding, which through the proposal is exposed to competition, many considered that "the smaller the amount, the better", which means the 500 million SEK that is stipulated but no more. In order for the investment to create as much benefit and as little start-up and evaluation costs as possible, everyone wanted it to be a long-term investment of 5 years or preferably 5 + 5 years. Here, too, I expressed similar views. I also emphasized the need for a rough calculation of the total cost of the investment (model development, application work, evaluation of the applications and evaluation of both selected profile areas and the investment in general) in relation to the budget. This is to make visible how large a share of the sum of SEK 500 million remains for research and education (if any).

Before we know how the final model will be designed and what quality criteria will be used, it is difficult to predict how the investment will affect our university. However, it is clear that the distribution in profile areas will not follow the ordinary distribution keys. According to the bill, each higher education institution must have at least one profile area. This means that the research-heavy higher education institutions are losers while the smaller universities are winners.

Birgitta Bergvall-Kåreborn, Vice-Chancellor of Luleå University of Technology.

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