“We must assist each other to think strategically about research infrastructures”
Relevant research infrastructure is crucial for being able to collect, process and access data. But advanced technology is expensive and then there is the question of who should bear the costs. “It’s an urgent issue," says Anna Qvarnström, Deputy Dean of Research for the Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology.
Research infrastructure means broadly everything from smaller databases to biobanks, large-scale computation tools, laboratories and research labs. During the autumn, the costs of future research infrastructure have been debated widely in the media and the issue was also raised in Uppsala University’s contribution to the Government of Sweden’s coming research bill.
Major national and international initiatives in particular lock in a significant proportion of today’s available research funding. Virtually half of the Swedish Research Council’s (VR) budget goes to infrastructure for research but the Swedish krona’s low exchange rate has meant that the cost of Sweden’s international commitments has increased, leaving reduced funds for new infrastructures. That is why we must put our heads together to make good decisions about the research infrastructures that the University needs," says Anna Qvarnström.
“We need to make strategic decisions on what research infrastructures we ought to have, and what kinds of infrastructure we should perhaps allow some other university to have but which our researchers can still use. Unlike the case of a regular project grant, we need to think in national terms. In Sweden as a whole, how we going to have the infrastructure that our researchers need?”
Strategically important research infrastructures
One of the biggest research infrastructures coordinated by the University and used a great deal by Teknat researchers is the Swedish National Infrastructure for Computing (SNIC). SNIC is mainly financed by VR and is a national research infrastructure for large-scale computations.
“SNIC has a substantial connection to artificial intelligence since that area is also about being able to process large quantities of data. So it is well in line with what our strategy is," says Anna Qvarnström and continues:
“At the same time, Teknat also co-finances Max IV, which is coordinated by Lund University. Many subject areas such as materials research and life science are generally big users of Max IV, so we do of course have a long-term interest in this infrastructure as well.
At the University level, there is the Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor on Research Infrastructure Kristina Edström who heads a committee of representatives from all of the disciplinary domains. There is now also a newly established forum in the Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology which is intended to serve as support for the departments and the Advisory Committee for Research. Its members have been selected by the respective heads of department..
“The members of this forum are meant to know what kind of infrastructure their respective departments have and what the needs of the researchers at these departments are. This gives the representatives on the Advisory Committee for Research and the Faculty Board access to the overarching information that we need when we are going to make decisions,” says Anna Qvarnström.
Co-financing in plenty of time
The Advisory Committee for Research compiles decision support for decisions on whether co-financing is needed at a level higher than the departmental level. Some co-financing of large infrastructure projects is decided at the Vice-Chancellor level. Applications to VR always begin with a needs inventory based on VR’s two-year funding cycle.
The Swedish Research Council’s model for prioritising and funding research infrastructure
Source: The Swedish Research Council’s guide to research infrastructure 2018
Only the research infrastructures that get included in the Swedish Research Council’s guide can apply for funding, which makes the needs inventory important.
“Higher education institutions play an important role in the needs inventory, although it is still possible for individual researchers to submit needs notifications. But it’s less stressful in the system and the dialogue within the faculty can start at an early stage in this two-year cycle,” says Anna Qvarnström.
“So it’s better if we can work consistently at an even pace with these questions and not need to rush into things. It’s about being out in good time to ensure that you have enough time to form functional consortia with other universities and have scope for co-financing.