Sweden's research shakedown provides clearer vision - interview
Swedish research will have more coherency as a result of the reorganisation of the country's research supporting institutes according to Pär Omling, director-general of the Swedish Research Council, created on 1 January 2001, speaking in an exclusive interview with CORDIS News. At the beginning of the year, four new research councils and a new authority for research and development were formed, while a large number of research councils were discontinued. In addition to the new Swedish Research Council, two new councils were set up in areas where the need for new knowledge was considered important: working life and social sciences and the environment, spatial planning and agricultural sciences. The Swedish agency for innovation systems completes the new structure, and funds needs-based R&D (research and development) to support innovation systems and sustainable development and growth. The reorganisation aimed to overcome fragmentation in Sweden's research system. Clarity needed to be introduced to both the funding of research and management, Mr Omling told CORDIS News. 'It was difficult for anybody to support anything they thought would be good,' said Mr Omling. The aim of the exercise was to create fewer, bigger agencies and to establish a balance between basic and 'political' research, such as the environment and social issues, he added. The role of the Council is 'to support fundamental science of as high a quality as possible,' said Mr Omling, whilst at the same time supporting a bottom up approach. Indeed, the body is controlled by a majority of researchers. The organisation works very closely with the government, as the government sets the budget for different areas of research following requests and recommendations from the Council. However, within these frameworks, the Council is free to divide the money as it considers appropriate. Priority areas include the natural sciences, which currently receives one billion Swedish kronor (approximately 110,375,500 euro), medical research, which receives 350 million kronor (approximately 38,642,000 euro) and the humanities, which receive 200 million kronor (approximately 22,082,000 euro). The Swedish Research Council is also prioritising the recruitment of young scientists, biology, material science and information technology. The Council is also currently building up a field in education science, Mr Omling told CORDIS News. In terms of figures, Mr Omling is satisfied with Swedish participation in EU research projects, but is more interested in further European collaboration. 'The EU has to have a vision', said Mr Omling. He supports the idea of a European Research Council, run by researchers and financed by the European Commission. This is necessary in order to compete effectively with the USA and Japan, Mr Omling believes. Such an institution would bring strong support from the scientific community for further European integration, Mr Omling added. He recognises however that academies have the tendency to protect their own money, his solution being 'we must leave national research councils with their own money,' whilst at the same time creating more integrated projects. Mr Omling is also aware that this is a fairly ambitious project, and added that such measures should perhaps be introduced into the seventh framework programme (FP7) rather than FP6. In general he is supportive of the Commission's proposals for the next framework programme, seeing it as a 'step on the way towards the European Research Area [ERA]'. He questions however 'forcing private and government funding together for large projects', believing that this represents hidden support for certain projects. If private companies need this form of support in order to survive, there is something wrong, said Mr Omling. In his opinion, these funds should be used for more 'real' research.