Researchers 'very stressed'

November 14, 1997

SWEDISH scientists want to reduce their teaching commitments to generate a more creative environment.

"Creative research requires creative researchers," Elisabeth Sauer-Eriksson, a research assistant at the centre for molecular medicine, Umea University, told a seminar. "But the majority of Swedish researchers are very stressed."

The seminar, arranged by the Swedish Natural Science Research Council in collaboration with Umea University, also heard claims that the country's research system works well and that changes are unnecessary.

Dr Sauer-Eriksson said that creative researchers need time and resources, quiet to work in, and a university background that is conducive to research. But the teaching commitment leaves little time.

"The research council likes good research, but the universities and the politicians want an increasing number of students to be trained while resources are falling," she said. "If you want to do good research, you must try to avoid teaching - teaching more than 25 per cent of the time is not a basis for creative research because they are two quite different things and are difficult to combine."

Kaj Nystrom, of the Institute of Mathematics at Umea, echoed her remarks. A creative research environment is characterised by intellectual work; modern leadership based on intellectual capital, relevant and sufficient resources, targets and assessments; gifted and motivated students capable of development; membership of a large network of academics in various fields and researchers in business and industry; and qualified sparring partners.

Olle Persson, an assistant professor in the sociology of science at Umea, asked where research was headed - towards pluralism or profiling, co-operation or competition? He pointed out that Sweden tied with Denmark in fourth place in the science citations index for 1992-96. All Swedish universities contributed equally in proportion to their research and development person-years. Science is a co-production - co-authoring, cross-disciplinary, cross-faculty and cross-border: 56 per cent of research papers from Umea have an author in another country. Collaboration must be supported, he said.

"Money makes papers - more funding gives more research and development, leading to more papers," Mr Persson said. "But papers alone don't secure funding. More money equals more research - long-term funding is essential."

"The Swedish research system works fine," he said. "Don't change the underlying mechanisms of self-organisation, pluralism, competition."

There are 300,000 students at universities and university colleges in Sweden and between 40,000 and 50,000 teachers and instructors. Funding comes from the state, the research councils, the European Union, public foundations based on collective wage-earners' funds set up 20 years ago, and private foundations. About Pounds 80 million is used on researcher training and 35 per cent of faculty funds comes from the ministry.

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