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Academics in Uproar After Sweden Cancels Research Funding


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At a meeting on June 22nd, the government decided that the Swedish Research Council, the government body which is Sweden’s largest funder of research, should from June 30th fund no more grants in the area of development research.

In a press release, the council said that the decision, which came in the form of a regulatory letter, would apply with immediate effect, meaning any applications currently being assessed would not be given funding.

It will not apply retroactively, however, so all researchers already granted funding will be able continue their research until the end of the grant period.

Katarina Bjelke, director-general of the Swedish Research Council, said that the research funded by the council since it began giving grants in the development field ten years ago had “contributed to handling challenges linked to the global sustainability goals”.

The aim, she added, had been to “strengthen Swedish research of the highest quality with particular relevance to poverty alleviation and sustainable development in low-income countries”. 

Ashok Swain, head of the Peace and Conflict department at Uppsala University, told The Local the decision had taken him and his colleagues by surprise, and would mean a couple of projects at his department would go unfunded. 

“When I was told by somebody a couple of months back that this was a possibility, I laughed at it because I didn’t think anyone would ever do this because hundreds of people, hundreds of researchers have applied for the funding, and writing a research grant application is a huge, huge time-taker,” he said.

“I thought this would not be done in a country like Sweden.” 

Sebastian van Baalen, an assistant professor at Swain’s department, told The Local that he had spent three to four weeks preparing a proposal alongside a colleague based in The Netherlands, time which would now go to waste.

Swain said that the Swedish government’s funding of development research, which was up until 2013 managed from within the government aid organisation Sida, had long made a small but significant contribution to the country’s ability to punch above its weight when it comes to international development. 

“Sweden is a small economy with 10 million people. But it has always kept a much larger image internationally because of things like this,” he said.

“But this uniqueness of Sweden —  this kind of research, these kinds of ideas, this kind of foreign and security policy — is gradually going away. These kind of unique, special Swedish characteristics are going away.” 

He said that he did not expect the development funding to be reinstated next year, or even after the next election if there is a change in government. 

“Once these decisions are taken, it doesn’t really come back, even if there’s a change in government,” he said. “I don’t see it changing next year and I will be pleasantly surprised — even if there is a change of government — if things go back to be honest.”

Source : The Local

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