This debate article was originally published in Nerikes Allehanda.
In the large congress hall in Örebro, the country's environmentalists gather this weekend for the Green Party's congress. The agenda is overshadowed by the choice of mouthpieces, where political commentators judge that there is a split between what the party should focus on going forward, where one half prefers broadening the party to reach further, while the other prescribes a clear and pervasive climate focus. Regardless of which way the Green Party chooses to go, politics will need higher education and research.
Today's societal challenges such as the environmental and climate crisis, insufficient total defense, lack of integration and increased gang crime require interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary for better understanding and knowledge about what can really change behavior and reverse societal development. At Örebro University and other institutions of higher education, the students of the future are educated. After their education, the students will contribute to a knowledge-based social development on a democratic, equal and sustainable basis.
However, there are several obstacles for universities and colleges in Sweden to contribute in the best way to sustainable social development. We see a great need for politics to address the following issues.
- Review of the funding system for higher education
Since 1993, Sweden has had a funding system for higher education that is a stumbling block for universities and colleges. According to studies higher education costs have nearly doubled since 1993, but funding has not kept pace. Appropriations would have to increase between 30 and 50 percent to reach the levels that prevailed in the 90s.
The consequences are that Swedish students receive the least teacher-led education of all students in Europe, that the number of students per teacher grows, that the universities are forced to cut back on educational facilities and that the teachers have less time for preparation and development of the teaching. The higher education sector has long warned of this development, but without a response from politics. It is gratifying that the government, in connection with its investment in engineering education, has finally recognized the reality that we are witnessing, and highlights the need to strengthen resources, but we see a continued need to do in more areas than technology and science.
- Invest in free research
Research is crucial if we are to cope with future societal challenges, regardless of what form they take. Right now we find ourselves in a situation where a high proportion of the state research funding goes via competitive bidding with the state research financiers, while at the same time the proportion of base grants paid directly to the universities is falling. We believe that there is a great risk that this type of distribution of funds can lead to a lower degree of risk-taking, that is, fewer research projects that challenge common perceptions. In the long term, this risks undermining the possibilities for ground-breaking and innovative thinking in research.
The basic government grant is the foundation and prerequisite for free research. This requires a high percentage of state base funding that is at a stable level over time, combined with a high degree of freedom for the higher education institutions to use these funds.
- Strengthen Sweden's attractiveness
Today's migration legislation is in direct conflict with the ambition for increased internationalization and must therefore be designed so that it strengthens Sweden's attractiveness for highly qualified labor and the opportunity for international researchers to stay in Sweden. We also see a particular need for Sweden to become more attractive as a country in order to attract young researchers and people with postgraduate training.
In a world situation with war, climate crisis, serious crime, bubbling pandemics and alarming economic development, society needs a good foundation based on scientific approaches. We, who are representatives of the academy and the students, are ready to take our responsibility in contributing to sustainable development. For the whole to succeed, politics must also take responsibility. The Green Party also needs to increase its focus on research and higher education, regardless of what other path choices the party makes for the future.
Anna Olsenius, chairman Örebro student union
Jacob Farnert, chairman of the Swedish National Union of Students