BioWorld International Correspondent

The Swedish Research Council is spearheading a campaign by all of Sweden's stakeholders in science and technology in an effort to convince government to increase support for public research by SEK7.5 billion (US$950 million) or 37.5 percent by the end of the decade.

Public support for research and development in Sweden stands at around SEK20 billion per annum, P r Omling, director general of the Stockholm-based Swedish Research Council, told BioWorld International, but it is spread thin.

"We have a nice red Ferrari when it comes to infrastructure, but we do not have enough gasoline to use the full potential of the system," he said.

During the last 10 years the throughput of both undergraduate and postgraduate students from the country's third-level system has doubled, he said, and the number of institutes active in research has risen substantially. Yet funding has stagnated, and there is now evidence, he said, that Swedish research is losing its competitive standing.

Although Sweden's research output remains high in terms of numbers of papers, its quality, gauged by citation levels, is falling. Innovation, as measured in terms of use of patents obtained by Swedish researchers, also is suffering.

"We are not able to transfer them into companies or commercial usefulness," Omling said. A talent exodus is another problem. "There is a drain of people over to the United States all the time." While the numbers might not be large, Sweden is losing some of its best people by that route, he added.

All of Sweden's stakeholders in research, including the Swedish Agency for Innovation Systems (VINNOVA), the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Association of Swedish Higher Education, which represents 39 universities and colleges, have signed up to the campaign. In itself, that is unprecedented, Omling said. Historically, Sweden's universities have enjoyed high degrees of autonomy and have received funding directly from government. But now they have accepted the principle that they might have to compete for funding based on performance measures. Omling is visiting Ireland this week to evaluate a competitive funding program for research infrastructure established by that country's Higher Education Authority in 1999. He also is studying UK and Canadian models.

The council's submission to government calls for an additional SEK3 billion to be made available annually to national research councils and a similar sum to be provided to universities and third-level colleges. It also has called for SEK1 billion for applied research and innovation, to be distributed via VINNOVA, and a further SEK500 million for the same body to spend on incubators, seed funding for early stage companies and other technology transfer measures.

Collectively, those increases would bring public support for R&D up to around 1 percent of GDP, excluding military research, which would add an additional 0.2 percent. In Europe, Sweden is often invoked as a model nation for research and development - overall spending stood at around 4 percent of GDP in 2001, already well above the European Union's target of 3 percent by the end of the decade. A high proportion of business expenditure on research and development has contributed to that figure, but it may be dropping, Omling said.