In December, the government presented the research bill that paves the way for higher education policy in the years 2021-2024. As SFS wrote about in one earlier blog post we lacked initiatives that take a collective approach to education and research. Despite the fact that there have been hopes for reforms also in education, not least the education's resource allocation, the research bill had a one-sided focus on research.
In some blog posts, we will reflect on a few more issues that have characterized the higher education debate in recent years: Dimensioning of postgraduate education; the system of price tags for education; as well as gender equality and sexual harassment. On the one hand, we want to shed light on them on the basis of the research bill, and on the other hand, say something about what else needs to happen in these areas until the next parliamentary election in the autumn of 2022. In this post, we begin by dimensioning the doctoral program.
The long-term trend has generally been that the number of doctoral students is declining, despite the fact that the rest of the university is growing. A contributing reason is that doctoral student places are financed through the same grants as other research and that the higher education institutions have not taken responsibility for how the money is distributed. Another reason is that the doctoral students' conditions have improved, which means higher costs for each doctoral student.
Figure: Started education at doctoral level at the latest at the age of 30 for cohorts born in 1956–1987, proportion of the population in total and divided into women and men. Source: UKÄ statistical analysis "Half of the population begins postgraduate education" 2019.
This is a worrying development, not least because the universities themselves are dependent on graduate students being trained to secure their own competence supply. Here we can already see problems in certain subjects. When UKÄ during 2018–2020 has reviewed the quality of teacher education, a recurring element is that there is a shortage of PhD teachers. It weakens the scientific basis of education. A consequence will also be that the existing teachers will have a high workload within the educational assignment and thus will not have enough time left for research. In this way, it has a negative effect on both research and education. In total, these increases correspond to just over 130 doctoral student places.
In teacher and preschool teacher education and in nursing education, there are graduate schools to educate more graduate students. The research bill announces that the existing graduate schools will be strengthened. Fully developed, this will bring an additional SEK 50 million to the graduate schools for teacher education and SEK 65 million in nursing education. There is also a smaller one of SEK 2 million for a graduate school for folk high school teachers.
The other areas with the least proportion of doctoral students in relation to the number of students at the undergraduate level are the humanities and social sciences. In the research bill, the government announces that the Swedish Research Council will be commissioned to announce funding for national graduate schools and thus secure and strengthen the supply of skills for teachers. This is SEK 30 million per year, which corresponds to approximately 60 doctoral student places.
To put the investments in the graduate schools in perspective, they correspond to an estimated 170 doctoral student places in all. The grants for research schools can, however, be used in other ways, for example to increase the throughput for doctoral students, which means that it is not certain that it will lead to a completely large increase in the number of places. No matter what, the resources contribute to strengthening the doctoral programs, which is welcome.
Another measure that is included in the research bill to increase access to doctoral teachers is to make it easier for foreign doctoral students to stay in Sweden after graduation. This was done a little over a year ago by changing the rules for residence permits. These changes are positive.
At the same time, there is a system error that the government does not seem to dare to address in the bill. The higher education institutions find it difficult to take responsibility for the doctoral programs on their own. It is about both resources and priorities. Perhaps it is a matter of higher education institutions feeling compelled to base their efforts on more experienced researchers in order to increase the chances of attracting external project funding. But such a problem needs to be solved by strengthening the proportion of basic funding in relation to external research funds. Another measure could be to set more general goals for how many doctoral students the higher education institutions need to examine. However, it stops at point bets.
Point efforts do remedy the problem in the short term, but at the same time it does not give the higher education institutions the right conditions to take their own responsibility for the situation. The number of doctoral student places needs to be developed more proportionately in step with other research and the expansion of undergraduate education. The way forward may need to be to investigate how the dimensioning of research educations should be managed in the longer term.
In the next post, we will comment on how the work for increased gender equality and the preventive work against sexual harassment may develop in the coming years.
Simon Edström, Chairman of SFS
Pil Saugmann, Chairman of SFS-DK