Henrik Cederquist. Foto: Niklas Björling

There are many important news that will affect our Area for a long time to come. Mainly, I am thinking of the research policy bill and the large investment in data-driven life science by Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. In addition, other changes may have a significant impact on the University, such as the ongoing pandemic. The heads of the departments, teachers and other employees make outstanding efforts that enable everything to continue in the best way possible and in certain respects even develop, for example regarding online teaching. I expect that the demand for teaching facilities and premises for working on site will somewhat decrease in the long run after the pandemic.

The research policy bill

In many respects, the proposals in the research policy bill are good. It entails, on the one hand, a strengthening of the basic funding for research and third cycle education and, on the other hand, a substantial increase in research funding through the governmental research funding agencies. This is, of course, very good news for the higher education sector as a whole, especially as there have been concerns for some time that there might be a proposal to redirect research funding from going via the governmental Research Councils to the universities directly. I believe that such a change would have been a major mistake and, in the long term, would have reduced the amount of internationally leading research at Swedish universities. The governmental Research Councils have the resources and knowledge to make broad, impartial evaluations with the support of panels with leading researchers from relevant fields. It would not be possible to build a similar system within each university. Fortunately, this is not how things turned out. Instead, there will be significant investments both through direct governmental funding, “basanslag”, and the Research Councils. The direct funding will be strengthened permanently – to SEK 720 million for 2021 and then it will increase further to reach SEK 900 million in 2024. The figures apply to the Swedish university sector as a whole and only in April will we know how the new funding will be distributed among the different academic institutions. However, there is uncertainty about the SFO funding. Will it somehow be earmarked or will the universities with SFO funding be “forced” to compete for this funding again? In the latter case, perhaps by applying for new profile areas from 2023 and onwards in some of the cases. The research bill proposes that the principle of performance-based allocation of basic appropriations be changed from 2023. Until then, the current principles will prevail, which means that this part of the allocation is based on, among other things, bibliometrics and the ability to attract external research grants. From 2023, it is envisaged that the performance-based allocation will be based to a significant extent on the profiling applications of universities and higher education institutions, which will then be evaluated by the Swedish Research Council (VR). At least 500 of the nearly additional 900 million will be distributed through profiling applications. We do not yet know how the application process will be structured –  the Swedish Research Council, VR, will be tasked with developing a system in collaboration with academic institutions and other research councils – but it is obvious that universities and the two academic areas must start work on this matter as soon as possible. The two areas, Natur- and Humanvetenskapliga området, have been given the task to start this work by the President of Stockholm University.


The research bill emphasises the importance of free unbound research and the importance of basic research. It expresses that free knowledge search has great value and that this knowledge can generate immediate and direct benefit in connection with various societal challenges such as the pandemic we are currently experiencing. Vaccines have been developed at a record speed by research and development expertise in companies. This competence has been created thanks to strong PhD programs at universities around the world. The benefits of research have become much more clear to the broad public and in politics than before the pandemic. This is reflected in the research bill in a good way. I would, however, have liked to have seen a greater investments in open bottom-up research projects. Out of the additional SEK 1,100 million to VR through the research bill, only SEK 40 million is reserved for open projects and another SEK 40 million for excellent research environments with no prescribed focus for 2021. However, these amounts will be significantly increased to 215 and 140 million respectively in 2024, which is positive. Likewise, I welcome the investment in research infrastructure, a significant part of which is aimed at MAX IV and ESS and where there is also a reasonable scope for other infrastructure of national interest. The Swedish Research Council's Research Infrastructure Council (RFI) has issued two calls in early 2021. Researchers at SU have at short notice prepared a number of strong infrastructure applications with excellent administrative support from the Office of Research, Engagement and Innovation Service at SU. 

The research bill also contains major investments in so-called National Research Programmes (NFP). There are both increased investments in existing NFPs, such as the climate programme, which receives an extra SEK 100 million per year, as well as in new programmes such as the programme Sea and Water, which will be allocated SEK 210 million during 2021 – 2024. Here, there are clear opportunities for our researchers to attract external funding for new interesting and urgent projects.  

Discussions in the Board of Science

In addition to the permanent increases in the direct governmental funding for research and PhD studies, the government has allocated an extra SEK 500 million to higher education institutions for 2021 as compensation for reduced funding from private foundations and companies due to the pandemic. Here, SU has received SEK 35 million, of which SEK 18.73 million is allocated to our area of research - Naturvetenskap. I, together with Deputy Dean Lena Mäler, have presented a proposal for a strategic allocation of this temporary funding to the four Section Deans and to the Chair for the Advisory faculty committee for undergraduate studies. The proposal, which has so far been well received, will be discussed in the Work Committee, AU, and the sectional committees with a potential decision by the Board of Science, ON, by the end of March. 

In the board meeting at the end of March, we will also discuss preliminary employment profiles for two associate lecturers in Data Driven Cell and Molecular Biology where five departments have expressed preliminary interest in hosting. In this case, funding of SEK 17 million per recruitment is provided through Knut and Alice Wallenberg's large investment in Data Driven Life Science DDLS through a comprehensive programme with SEK 3,100 million in funding over 12 years. This shows that the activities of the Science for Life Laboratory are seen as exceptionally strong and worthy of support. SciLifeLab activities are also highlighted in the research bill and will receive increased support through a targeted investment via KTH (in the same way as for the current SFO grant to SciLifeLab). This is satisfying given the great care that the faculty, lead by the former and current pro-dean, Ylva Engström and Lena Mäler, has devoted to SciLifeLab activities. 

At its first meeting, on 4-5 February, the Area Board, ON, decided on a new two-year action plan for 2021 and 2022. The measures focus, among other things, on the opportunities offered by the new research bill and on measures to firmly consolidate the financial situation by 2023 at the latest while still continuing to develop research and teaching with strongly increasing rental costs. Meanwhile, we are delighted with the new premises in Albano. NORDITA will be the first unit from our faculty to move to one of the new buildings there. 

Balanced finances

The work to consolidate the financial situation is on track and, as you are well aware, the faculty and its departments and centres have taken a number of measures that still allow us to strengthen our research and teaching activities. We had a positive economic result in 2020 although it is not easy to estimate the effect of the pandemic on this. Through the government's additional investments in education due to the pandemic we have received additional funding. On the side of this we also note that the activities in research in fact were larger in 2020 than in 2019 as can be seen in the amount of external research funding used. Through strong efforts, our teachers have been able to offer new courses and education at very short notice and this has helped SU and especially our faculty to seize the opportunities provided by the extra governmental funding for education. 

Many important processes are underway and I would really like to thank departments and centres for the fantastic work you have done on research, teaching and not the least on the financial side in these difficult times. I very much appreciate the meetings we have had so far and in the autumn, I plan follow-up meetings with the leadership of our 19 departments and centres. I have also very much appreciated meeting, together with the President, Vice President and faculty leadership, our four sections for open discussions on the quality assurance system for research that we are now forming at Stockholm University. These discussions led to many interesting discussions which will be used as this work continues. We have also recently completed step 1 of UKÄ's higher education quality system review, but more about this in a later Fakultetsnytt – perhaps then after we have completed stage 2 of that evaluation including its in-depth evaluations. Finally, a major change regarding teacher education is in progress, where we have been given the task to see to it that it will be possible to organise all such education within the Human Science Area. An important part of that assignment is to provide means for continuing collaborations between subject and subject learning and teaching in mathematics and science.   

Henrik Cederquist