New minister with a research focus

It’s a new year and new efforts—something which was apparent during last week’s Vice-Chancellor’s conference in Steningevik. After several ministers’ speeches in the years I have been Vice-Chancellor of the University of Gothenburg, I can ascertain that the ministers’ priorities come through quite clearly when they present themselves for the first time at the annual conference in January. Our new Minister for Education Mats Persson (L) was no exception and he set down three keywords that characterise the Government’s direction for us – excellence, internationalisation, and innovation.

While ministers of previous governments largely put the emphasis on education and lifelong learning, Mats Persson takes a clear aim at research and the global view of Sweden as a research and innovation nation. The minister highlighted excellence and believes that Sweden delivers lower research output than some countries in our vicinity, such as Denmark, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. There’s an awareness that these are slow changes while at the same time, we Vice-Chancellors highlighted that we must be aware that other countries have stronger base funding.

Regarding the profile area issue, which the sector has been working on over the past year, the minister signaled that it will be difficult to implement in practice. Despite the lack of clear answers, we should probably see this is an issue that’s on hold for the time being. At least it’s unlikely that anything will happen before the next research bill, was the consensus.

We’re good at internationalisation, according to Mats Persson, but more can be done. Especially when it comes to skills supply. Making things easier for incoming highly educated people is of great importance, as is solving the problem with residence permits for international students.

When it comes to the third keyword—innovation—Mats Persson believes there’s a Swedish paradox. Sweden invests a lot in research, but there aren’t enough results that can be converted into innovation efforts for society, or companies that come out of our science parks. Less talk and more work was called for.

The universities find themselves in the middle of these wishes and keep striving. My view is that we must not forget that our mission as a university is based on research and education of the highest quality, both of which are fundamental. Regardless of investments in strong research areas, we must also contribute to the excellence of education: children’s curiosity and involvement in school is a prerequisite for us to reach potential students who then become active in solving society’s challenges in the best possible way.

Eva Wiberg