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We and the world are facing turbulent times

Published: 3 October 2022

We are getting used to a high level of uncertainty and to some extent it feels like the current situation has become our new normal. In two, three years we have dealt with a global pandemic, unique in modern times. Just as it began to disappear in several parts of the world, Russia invaded Ukraine and that war of aggression is still ongoing. This resulted in material and component shortages, rampant energy prices and food costs, and much more.

Within the academy, it is currently the rising rental costs that are our biggest concern. It depends on changes in the outside world with rising interest rates, inflation and, on top of that, higher energy prices. Given that we have started the process of building a new house on campus Luleå , premises and rents are extra challenging for us. Many companies and organizations that are faced with building new pull the handbrake and wait. However, that is not an option for us – we have to leave the temporary pavilion solutions and be able to offer both students and employees regular premises to work in.

As is often in difficult times, it is well-managed organizations with good finances that do best. We have a very good economy, well-functioning institutions and good operational support that is adapted to our mission and needs. This allows us to feel safe even though we, like everyone else, shall do everything we can to reduce our costs.
Now we also are facing a likely change of government which can create uncertainty in terms of started investments and investigations linked to universities and colleges. I am mainly thinking of the current government's proposals for a new model for quality-based resource distribution of new funds within the base grant, a model based on the universities defining profile areas and being assessed by experts before the government allocates resources. An at least equally important issue is the new government's view of, and attitude to, the ongoing inquiry into how government research funding should be designed in the future. In addition, we have the upcoming budget bill and the research bill, where we historically know that different parties tend to set different priorities when it comes to higher education and research.

In the latest number of the magazine Universitetsläraren (only in Swedish), Per-Olof Eliasson describes the positions of the right-wing parties, which are largely recognizable from previous years. I recommend you to read the column. On an overall level, the politicians propose fewer colleges and universities, and the Social Democrats also propose mergers between higher education institutions. This is in line with the trend we have seen in Finland, Norway and Denmark, but also in countries outside the Nordic countries.
When it comes to research, several of the parties within the right-wing want to see a concentration of research resources to the large universities. The Moderate Party also advocate increased funds for the Swedish Research Council to promote "free and researcher-initiated research", while thew Sweden Democrats instead want to give less money to the Swedish Research Council and increase the base grants. The Moderate Party also want to review the bureaucracy for ethical review, which they believe is hampering research.

When talking about education, the Liberals want to expand education and higher education institutions that have high quality, and the Sweden Democrats believe that the productivity deduction should be abolished. I agree that quality is always an important aspect to include when deciding to expand activities, and that quality is a multifaceted concept that can be defined in many different ways.
The changes of the Aliens Act, which make it more difficult for foreign researchers to stay in the country, have been extensively debated within academia, and the right-wing parties do not agree on this. Both the Cristian Democrats and the Liberal Party want to change the law, and the Liberals also want to pay back part of the tuition fees to foreign students who wish to remain in the country. The Sweden Democrats, on the other hand, don´t want to have any change of the migration legislation. They believe that the universities should set up permanent positions instead. Luleå University of Technology has a clear position on this issue, the already introduced amendments to the Aliens Act are directly harmful to both the individual, the academy and Sweden as a nation.

However, all parties claim to protect the academy's independence and consider academic freedom as important. At the same time they say that detail management is bad. This is very positive, even though we know from experience that politics and academia often have relatively different views on what is considered academic independence and freedom.

Yes, it was some of my mixed thoughts about the future.