The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has published a report on the reciprocal relationship between research and higher education entitled “Research basis – a key factor for quality in higher education”. The report was written by Kerstin Sahlin, Professor of Business Studies at Uppsala University.

The Academy initiated the report in response to what it sees as the remarkably low profile of the quality of higher education in political debate in recent years.

The link between research and education is emphasised in the Swedish Higher Education Act. The Act states, for example: “The operations of higher education institutions shall be organised to ensure that there are close links between research, and courses and study programmes.”

The report notes that “A review of the documents governing the university and higher education system and the development and reform of the system shows that the research basis has repeatedly been compromised. Action is therefore needed to improve the research basis of higher education.”

Four shortcomings identified

The report identifies four shortcomings in the current research basis and the conditions affecting it:

  • The research basis is unclear and unconsidered.
  • A consistent lack of focus on the quality of the research basis.
  • The research basis is limited by lock-in effects due to the funding of education, resource allocation models and a lack of visionary leadership.
  • Strong research and strong research environments are underexploited as a resource for the research basis.

Proposed action programme

The report concludes with a proposed action programme to improve the quality of the relationship between higher education and research. The proposal focuses on changes that can be implemented relatively quickly.

The action programme is divided into four parts.

Move the research basis into focus

The proposals include expressing the purpose, forms and progression of the research basis more clearly in governance documents, follow-up and evaluation. Students and employers need to be involved in discussions about the importance, justification, forms, results, quality and practical benefit of the research basis.

Open up the research basis of higher education

The report points to the need for visionary and active leadership at all levels and underlines that students should be given an opportunity to deepen and broaden their knowledge by drawing on all parts of the university environment. Large universities are stated to have a particular responsibility for the latter point.

Link educational development resources to strong research programmes

The report points out that higher education is one of the most important channels for disseminating new research and translating research into new practice. Closer links should therefore be nurtured between successful research and higher education, for example by allocating resources to the development of specific educational components based on current research.

Develop networks of expertise for senior lecturers

The report emphasises the importance of networks for senior lecturers to provide a platform for peer-based professional development. The purpose of the networks would be to increase the dissemination of research results, broaden and deepen the research basis, and enhance the capacity to absorb new knowledge.