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Strategic Research: Medicine Negotiations - Who Know's Best?

28 January 2010

Who should decide on how the money should be invested to achieve the status of a global leader within the strategic research areas? This was the question that sparked the conflict between some of the Medicine coordinators and Dean of Medfac Bo Ahrén and Vice-Chancellor Per Eriksson.

The Government and the funding bodies leave the responsibility of how to achieve global leader status within the respective areas to each university. There are, therefore, no guidelines on how the grants should be divided between central, faculty and research level. However, from the Research and Innovation Bill, which preceded the distribution of the funding, it is clear that this is a new form of funding that places demands on the universities to take long-term responsibility for ensuring the development of the strategic areas.

Neither were there any clear decisions from Lund’s central and faculty management on guidelines for the division of the grants when they were announced last summer. In October, however, temporary boards were appointed for each strategic research area, and on 18 December the University Board decided that half of each grant should be allocated directly to the programmes via the boards. The other half would be distributed to the respective strategic research area in consultation with the faculty and University management, with the aim of ensuring development towards becoming a global leader in the long term.

The three coordinators in the Faculty of Medicine reacted negatively to this distribution and one of the coordinators went as far as to threaten to leave his post on the grounds that the conditions to achieve global leader status had now been worsened. The coordinators’ view was that it had previously been said that the Vice-Chancellor and faculty’s portion of the grants would also go to the research programmes but that this wording had been changed to the research area.

Bo Ahrén of the Faculty of Medicine saw it as an ideological conflict of the University versus the individual researcher. Should a University collectively drive development towards strategic goals or function as a ’hotel’ for researchers, where individual research teams work towards their respective goals under the University’s name? Vice-Chancellor Per Eriksson considered that the distribution had not been made sufficiently clear from the start.

In those cases where the strategic research area does not fall under a faculty, for example Middle Eastern Studies, there are fewer opinions to take into consideration on how the money should be invested. In other cases, there may be research underway within the area that is not part of the programme on which the application was based. Within research areas that require expensive equipment there can also be particular conflicting interests. A new laboratory that can be used by diabetes researchers, for example, but also by other researchers – should that be paid for out of the strategic research money or not?

Ringing round, it turns out that Sweden’s universities are managing the grants in different ways. And even within Lund University, the views vary between the faculties (see following articles). However, in the vast majority of cases there is agreement on how the money should be distributed in the first year – this year, 2010.

But when LUM went to press, discussions were still underway on this year’s grants with some of the research teams within the Faculty of Medicine. And questions are being asked in a number of the strategic research groups ahead of the coming years, 2011–2014, on how large a percentage of the grants will be decided on centrally when the grants increase and are fully established in a few years’ time.

Background to LU's Strategic Research Funding:

Lund University (LU) has received strategic research funding from the Swedish Government in order to develop nine strategic research areas to the highest international level. The University also participates in three projects coordinated by other universities, but for which LU receives funding for its part of the work.  

- Maria Lindh
Email: maria.lindh@rektor.lu.se