Towards a joint Nordic policy for research infrastructure?

03.12.2013
There is broad consensus that research infrastructure is a prerequisite for good research in more and more fields. But there is far less agreement among the Nordic countries on how best to cooperate on research infrastructure, which is expensive and must satisfy a variety of needs. Here there are many divergent interests to unite.

On 27‒28 November 2013, the conference Joint Nordic Focus on Research Infrastructures - Looking to the Future was held in Stockholm, organised by the Swedish Ministry of Education and Research, the Swedish Research Council, the Nordic Council of Ministers and NordForsk. The conference focused on large-scale research facilities and how the Nordic countries can best coordinate their investments both financially and scientifically.

Kerstin Eliasson

Kerstin Eliasson, Chair of the Council for Research Infrastructures at the Swedish Research Council, opened the two-day conference together with State Secretary of the Swedish Ministry of Education and Research Peter Honeth, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers Dagfinn Høybråten, Director of NordForsk Gunnel Gustafsson, and chair of NordForsk’s high-level advisory group on research infrastructure Lars Börjesson. All five agreed that cooperation in the Nordic countries must be strengthened in the years ahead.

Ms Eliasson was pleased at how much has been accomplished in this regard since the previous conference, held in autumn 2008.

“Since the last conference we have drawn up Mission Statements for the areas of education and competence-building, e-Science/e-Infrastructure, climate and the environment, health and welfare, and materials and molecules. This year we are looking at what is possible to achieve and in which order. It’s fantastic to see that so many have agreed that Nordic cooperation is important, and recognise the advantages of working together and gaining greater insight.”

Dagfinn Høybråten

Mr Høybråten reiterated her sentiments:

“We who live in the Nordic region have a golden opportunity to share our data. This is possible because we trust each other. Our task is to create the best possible conditions for our researchers, and this is more easily done when we cooperate – by sharing our burdens and successes.”

Gunnel Gustafsson set the bar high from the start by seeking to enable NordForsk to translate discussion into action and create added value across Nordic national boundaries by introducing a joint Nordic research infrastructure policy. Lars Börjesson agreed that Nordic cooperation has come a long way since the last conference, and he sees great potential for further coordination at the political level.

Conference participants took part in three different workshops focused on health and welfare, climate and the environment, and materials research. Each group discussed its respective area’s infrastructure needs based on the draft Mission Statement.

A joint Nordic policy?

The conference concluded with a discussion on whether the Nordic region should start activities to draw up a common Nordic policy – starting with a Nordic roadmap.

Katarina Bjelke

Sweden supported this idea. Katarina Bjelke, Director General of Research Policy at the Swedish Ministry of Education and Research, had this to say:

“The Swedish Ministry of Education and Research has focused its attention on research infrastructure and what we have to do to find Nordic added value and further expand existing Nordic cooperation. A constructive next step may be for NordForsk to attach greater importance to education in this area. I think it would be very beneficial to produce a Nordic roadmap of existing infrastructures, so we can make the knowledge and expertise that we already have available and prioritise amongst the many important investments in the best possible way.”

 

Peter SlothDenmark, represented by the Head of the Division of Research Infrastructure at the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education, did not agree:

“I do not think it’s possible to draw up a joint Nordic research infrastructure policy. We are actors on a European stage, and it will be too difficult to commit so broadly at the Nordic level. Denmark will, however, gladly cooperate with Nordic partners from project to project and on certain problems and analyses. This is where NordForsk has a role to play.”

 

Gunnel Gustafsson

Gunnel Gustafsson had other ideas about the issue:

“This is about a new mindset. We need an overview of Nordic initiatives and priorities. Let us think Nordic! We all win if we work together.”

 

A conference summary will soon be available for download here.

 

The conference Joint Nordic Focus on Research Infrastructures - Looking to the Future was held in Stockholm on 27‒28 November 2013 as part of the Swedish presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. The event was organised by the Swedish Research Council, the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Swedish Ministry of Education and Research, and NordForsk.

 

Written by: Linn Hoff Jensen

Photos: Per Westergård

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