Recording and summary: Where do we go from here? Swedish research funding for collaborative research in LMICs after U-forsk

April 19, 2024

Recording and summary from SweDev and GlobeLife seminar on the consequences of the cuts in research funding for global development on 16 April 2024.

Photo: Unsplash / Sincerely Media

On 16 April, GlobeLife and SweDev convened a seminar on the consequences of the cuts in research funding for global development and how we can work to ensure that research for global development remains vibrant going forward.  The heavy reductions in funding over the last 15 months have put research for global development in a new funding landscape and consequences of the reductions are becoming increasingly visible. Thus, the question discussed at the seminar was “Where do we go from here?”.

The seminar consisted of two sessions: a panel discussion with prominent speakers from academia, policy, and politics on the current funding situation, and a wider discussion on solutions and ways forwards. Preliminary findings from the SweDev survey on the impact of funding cuts were also presented during the seminar.

Panel discussion on the current situation

The seminar opened with a panel of 6 representatives from academia, policy, and politics: Katarina Bjelke (Director-General of the Swedish Science Council/Vetenskapsrådet), Martin Hellström (Principal of Mälardalens University), Per-Ola Mattsson (Director, Department of International Development Cooperation, Ministry for Foreign Affairs), Raymond Ndikumana (Deputy Vice Chancellor for Strategic Planning and Administration, University of Rwanda), Ingrid Petersson (Special Investigator for the State Inquiry into the Organization for Government Research Funding) and Olle Thorell (Member of Parliament, Social Democratic Party). The session was chaired by SweDev’s Jesper Sundewall.

The panellists shared their views and insights around the question “In light of the changes in funding and the government’s new aid policy, what are your thoughts regarding consequences and the future for research for global development?”. The conversation was lively, including in the chat and through questions from participants, and the panellists provided insightful comments and important context for discussion.

Key themes that emerged from the discussion were the process and background to the funding cuts, the political context of the decision to cut funding, the remaining funding structures and where development research can fit into calls from other funders. Further, the impacts of cuts for the role of Sweden globally and the consequences for Low-and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) were discussed, including the crucial role that development research cooperation plays for building research capacity in the countries that Swedish researchers partner with.

You can find the full recording here and at the bottom of this page.

Findings from SweDev survey on the consequences of funding cuts

Halfway through the panel discussion, SweDev’s Janet Vähämaki presented an overview of the results of the SweDev survey on the consequences of funding cuts for development research. The results show that cuts in research funding have affected respondents’ ability to continue their research and the kind of research they do. Almost half of respondents (48%) have made changes to their research, most frequently shifting to ‘safe’ topics more likely to attract funding and more relevant to the Global North. For example, researchers focus less on ‘poverty’, ‘inequality’, or ‘water access’, and instead more on ‘climate change’, ‘AI’, and topics more relevant to the Swedish context such as migration. Further, about two-thirds of respondents (65%) say their work was either discontinued or significantly altered. Particularly impacted are long-term projects, collaborative research with colleagues in other countries, and networks that have been built up over time.

The impacts of the cuts for the Global South are, according to the respondents, overwhelmingly (93%) negative – both in the short and long term. However, the majority (86% of respondents) have so far been able to sustain contacts with research partners in developing countries, though 67% say that their incentives to include researchers from the Global South were negatively affected. It is important to note that consequences are still unfolding as multiple respondents highlight that they still have on-going project grants for development research. The results are based on responses from 199 people, 185 from academia and 14 people working with development practice.

The presentation of results can be found here. The full report is available here.

Ways forward for the development research community

The second half of the seminar, chaired by Globelife’s Jaran Eriksen, opened with a presentation by Stefan Swartling Peterson on different perspectives on the history of U-forsk; for example how developing the cholera vaccine was a result of this funding. Stefan argued that we need new ways of working multisectorally, beyond disciplines and new ways of organizing the funding system – new money and new funding mechanisms are needed to train the next generation of leaders.

Thereafter discussions were held in groups about ways forward for development research, how to secure and advocate for funding. A range of personal and collective ways of action around three main themes were discussed in breakout rooms and then shared with the larger group.

The first ‘way forward’ revolved around necessary changes to funding strategies to better accommodate development research among funders. Comments were made about the need to advocate that evaluation panels need to have relevant expertise to assess development research proposals and making explicit in funding calls that development and interdisciplinary research is eligible for funding. Furthermore, it was mentioned that the development research community needs to continue lobbying for explicit resources for development research in the forthcoming research bill. It was further suggested to focus more on EU funding and advocate for support to build up networks to support those applications and to shift to philanthropic and more business-oriented funders. Closer engagement with civil society on the importance of funding for development research for capacity building was also suggested.

The second key avenue forward discussed was improved communication of success stories and examples of how research with partners from LMICs has resulted in improvements for Sweden to the public as well as decision-makers. A need to come together to advocate for the benefits of development research also for Sweden, and for example through seminars like this one and further joint activities, was echoed across the discussions. At the same time, there were frustrations among the participants about the move towards the benefits of development research for Sweden in the debate recently, rather than the benefits for the most vulnerable populations globally.

Finally, there was discussion about the role of universities in creating stability through more permanent and tenure track positions and using part of their core budget to support development research, highlighting the need for further discussion with university leadership.

If you are interested in further action around the funding cuts and potentially joining an advocacy group, please send an email to .

Watch the full recording here.