Small States‘ Policies on Research Infrastructure: A Swedish Case Study

Should small states try to develop their own infrastructures for expensive research fields, or should they instead maximize their participation in international research facilities? SISTER (Swedish Institute for Studies in Education and Research) has published a report that looks into broad questions regarding research policy and infrastructure strategies by analysing the evolution of the extraordinary Swedish national research facility, MAX-lab.
 Small States‘ Policies on Research Infrastructure: A Swedish Case Study
Research infrastructure is high on the research policy agenda in all the Nordic countries at present. The national research councils focus on this field in their strategic priorities, as they recommend large investments in national and international research infrastructures in the period ahead. The report Why large research infrastructures can be built despite small investments - MAX-lab and the Swedish research infrastructure analyses some dilemmas that this strategy imposes on small states like the Nordic countries. NordForsk presents some extracts from the report, and provides a link to the full text PDF:

[The Dilemma]
Small states face a policy dilemma in research: How should a country that produces one percent of the total scientific output in the world, organize its research activities? Should it try to spread its resources evenly over the whole spectrum of research, to maximize its capacity to absorb results produced elsewhere? Or should it, instead, specialize in certain niches, to increase its international visibility, even at the price of ‘ignorance’ in many important areas?

[The Case: MAX-lab]
MAX-lab is a Swedish national laboratory for synchrotron radiation research, located on
the northern university campus of Lund University. The operation of the facility is however the responsibility of the Swedish Research Council, which supplies an annual operational budget of about SEK 60 million.

How does a generally weak research policy system like Sweden’s handle an initiative of
extraordinary character, such as MAX-lab? [The report] attempts to answer that question by closely examining the history of MAX-lab in its context of national and local interests, expansion of scientific objectives and instrumental opportunities, change of user demands and institutional response, and the continuous struggle to make do with a limited resource envelope.

[The] material indicates that several of the issues that are confronting the Swedish
research system (growing internationalization, needs for prioritization, new relations with
the private sector, reorganization of universities, et cetera) are present in the case of

An edited version of the report will be published in the book:
McKelvey, M., and Holmén, H. (2008 forthcoming). European Universities Learning to
Compete: From Social Institutions to Knowledge Businesses. (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishers).

Download the report Why large research infrastructures can be built despite small investments? MAX-lab and the Swedish research infrastructure