National treasure in need of riches

March 4, 2005

Stockholm's Karolinska Institute was founded in 1810 to train army surgeons working among wounded soldiers. The institute is Sweden's largest centre for medical training and research. It accounts for 30 per cent of the country's medical training and 40 per cent of its medical academic research.

Despite its international standing, the institute is fighting to maintain its position amid dwindling support from the Government. Ten years ago, two thirds of its funding was provided by the state, but that figure has shrunk to one third.

Staff are concerned. One professor, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "Some departments are close to bankruptcy and are facing major staff cuts. Many of us are looking for jobs in the US."

Last December, five senior professors called on the Government to increase the "dismal" level of research funds available. They claimed that at least 1 billion krona (£76 million) was needed each year to maintain the quality of research associated with Karolinska.

The disparity between funding levels in Sweden and the US is stark. This year, the Government allocated 42 krona (£3) per inhabitant for medical research. In the US, the National Institutes of Health gave the equivalent of 690 krona per US citizen.

But, unlike many other Swedish universities, Karolinska has attracted European Union funding. And the work Karolinska puts into awarding the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine provides it with an invaluable network throughout the medical community.

The institute's leaders are aware that research-intensive universities are a driving force for European economic development, and they strive to take a leading role in the League of European Research Universities.

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