Sweden scores high in innovation but action is needed

Tuesday, March 22, 2016, Swedish Entrepreneurship Forum and VINNOVA arranged a joint seminar when Andrew W. Wyckoff, Director for Science, Technology and Innovation at the OECD, visited Sweden to present the OECD report “The 2016 Sweden Review of Innovation Policy”. According to the report Sweden performs well but improvements are required, specifically in terms of governance and strategic management. In the panel discussion there was a discussion on the funding of universities, regional universities’ strategic capabilities and the links between research and innovation.

Watch the webcast of the seminar on Bambuser

Johan Eklund 2Johan Eklund 

At the onset of the seminar Johan Eklund, Managing Director Swedish Entrepreneurship Forum and professor JIBS, welcomed everybody to the seminar and declared how delighted he was about the report. He often has to look closely for policy recommendations but this report had several clear recommendations. He then gave the word to Charlotte Brogren, Director General Vinnova – Sweden’s innovation agency. The report is timely due to the fact that a new Swedish research and innovation bill will be released this fall, she determined. Sweden is a leading naton within in innovation, but that is no excuse to sit back. The outside world is changing quicker than ever and yesterday’s recipe for success may not be tomorrow’s, Brogren stated.

Charlotte BrogrenCharlotte Brogren 

Sweden doing well but improvements needed

After the introduction, Andrew W. Wyckoff, Director for Science, Technology and Innovation OECD, was invited up on stage to give his presentation of the report – OECD Reviews of Innovation Policy: Sweden 2016. Initially, he said that Sweden’s continuous evaluation of the innovation policy is a good approach. There is a value in always looking over your shoulder concerning innovation.

OECDs report put Sweden at the top of the class; however there are areas where improvements could be made. For example countries like the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Denmark have a bigger share of the top ten percent cited papers, Wyckoff showed.

– The importance of Europe coming together within research to compete with the US and China should not be underestimated, he said.

Andrew WyckoffAndrew Wyckoff 

Sweden’s focus should be in three areas:

  1. Strengthening university research.
  2. Linking research to innovation.
  3. Dealing with societal challenges, for example an aging population.

To achieve the first point there should be a significant increase in the general university funds or block funding for university research as well as establishing strategic research areas. Enhancement of the role of the research institutes in Sweden’s innovation system, RISE, and the establishment of strategic innovation agendas could prove an important part in linking research to innovation. Concerning the last point, Sweden should initiate a challenge-driven innovation programme addressing societal challenges. The country might also improve prioritisation and support for Swedish participation in European research and innovation activities.

Wyckoff also demonstrated an above average rate of university and public research, R&D and innovation firms and innovative entrepreneurship: Over all, this shows a country which is doing fairly well. Nevertheless, a few things could improve. One way is to encourage university management to introduce a real tenure track, as well as to be more flexible in hiring and dismissing and reassigning staff, this could strengthen university research. Universities should also be encouraged to specialize in research and to focus more on societal challenges, Wyckoff concluded.

Lack of governance and strategic leadership

Pontus BraunerhejlmPontus Braunerhjelm 

The seminars first commentator was Pontus Braunerhjelm, Research Director Swedish Entrepreneurship Forum and Professor KTH, who told the audience of a great increase in funding for universities. Still the results have not appeared in terms of peaks, he pointed out.  Government funding tied to performance could be a solution. Incentives to attract external funding for the universities might be another key. Right now almost 70 percent of a research project´s funding will be taken away in taxes, Braunerhjelm explained.

– Governance and strategic leadership, or the lack thereof, is a problem.

We need to look at the structures within the universities; there are parallel decision structures and a lack of transparency. There is a three layer structure one needs to go through just to hire a person. Lastly Braunerhjelm thought a clean-up at home was needed before Sweden tries to play a leading research role in Europe.

Gunilla NordlöfGunilla Nordlöf 

Next person to comment on the results from OECD was Gunilla Nordlöf, Director General, Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth. She was satisfied that Sweden is still scoring well in the OECD report and that we seem to have the capacity to grow further,she also noticed that there is still things to improve.

– We need to be strategic and we need to focus. Different governmental agencies need to have a shared view on funding.

Joakim AppelquistJoakim Appelqvist 

Following Nordlöf was Joakim Appelqvist, Director at Vinnova, who continued analysing the funding framework for R&D.

– We have a strong economy but need to improve to increase the attractiveness since competition for R&D funding is fierce.

He continued saying that governance of funding for universities could need an evaluation and that Vinnova should not stand in the way of such a review. We should not do block funding, it is apparently ineffective, despite more funding at the universities there is less per researcher.

Panel OECD 2Panel 

After the three commentators followed a panel discussion starting with Wycoff stating that Sweden is a very open and globalized country, an absorber and developer of ideas, there is a paradox that the universities are less so. Entrepreneurs and innovators work transdisciplinary and it clashes with the funding structure. The report didn’t start out as a report about governance of funding but that was where it ended up. This discussion might be a start to invigorate the process of changing the governance, Wyckoff said.

Panel OECD 1Panel

According to OECD few universities have the strategic ability, there might be time to rethink regional universities. The regional universities cannot have the same level of research as larger universities but they can be important nodes to connect the academics with entrepreneurs and the world of business.

The panel concluded with the most important conclusion: “Don’t be complacent. Nobody knows where it’s going”.

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