Outrage as Lund's top cats take the grant cream

Swedish researchers furious after managers claim 70% of funding award. Melanie Newman reports

January 28, 2010

Stem-cell researchers at a Swedish university have clashed with their managers over who has control of a multimillion-pound research grant.

The medical faculty at Lund University recently won a strategic research grant of SEK113 million (£9.75 million) from the Swedish Research Council, which was to be allocated over five years to early-career researchers in stem-cell science.

However, as soon as the funds were transferred, university managers stepped in and claimed 50 per cent of the money, which they said was to be distributed by Lund's central administration. The university has since said that half of this will be allocated to managers and half to faculty deans.

After another deduction of 20 per cent for overhead costs, just 30 per cent of the grant was left under the researchers' direct control.

Ten medical researchers quit the project after the university refused to reconsider the top-slicing.

In a letter to Per Eriksson, Lund's vice-chancellor, the aggrieved academics say that the university has disregarded their budget, which was included in the grant application to the research council.

They argue that the budget was one of the primary reasons the grant was awarded to Lund.

Colleagues of the researchers, who are studying Parkinson's disease, cancer and diabetes, have also written to the vice-chancellor to express their disapproval.

In a response posted on its website, the university says the cash is a "new form of grant" allocated as direct government funding for strategic research areas.

The university is entitled to use a percentage of any grant for general spending in the relevant research area, it adds.

"The part of the funding that is distributed in consultation with the university and faculty management can, for example, go to infrastructure of importance to the research area, the recruitment of top researchers, leadership development for researchers and doctoral students, and communication and innovation initiatives," the statement says.

Government strategic research grants have also been awarded to the Chalmers University of Technology and the Karolinska Institute, but in both cases the proportion of funds made available to researchers was considerably higher than 30 per cent.

The Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan quoted Arne Johansson, chief secretary for natural sciences and technological sciences at the Swedish Research Council, saying that Lund may have breached regulations.

"We assume that the grant will be spent as stated in the application. Using it for other purposes was not part of the budget. It was intended for a specific purpose - to conduct world-leading stem-cell research.

"An evaluation will be made after five years," he said. "If Lund lives up to the Government's ambition to create world-leading research environments, the grant will be made permanent. If not, it might lose part of or the whole grant. That would mean an incredible loss of prestige."

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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