Each year the Geological Survey of Sweden (SGU) invites research applications on issues that are of importance and relevance for the Geological Survey and for Geosciences in Sweden. Submitted research proposals are evaluated by external reviewers and by members of the research advisory council and are also ranked in respect to relevance internally at SGU. Those projects that receive high ranking by the reviewers and which are judged as highly relevant by SGU are usually funded.
Given that many of the project applications specifically address Swedish geoscience topics (e.g., ore geology, hydrogeology, bedrock geology, Quaternary geology, palaeontology, marine geoscience) and that projects/fieldwork need to be related to and conducted in Sweden, the financial support from SGU is crucial to maintain high-level geoscience research in Sweden.
Over the last 20 years or so, SGU’s research budget for funding of external research projects has been more or less stable at around 5-6 million Swedish Kronor. A budget of 100,000-300,000 SEK per project was widely sufficient twenty years ago and thus allowed SGU to finance many interesting two or three year projects. However, today projects, which include much more expensive salaries and higher overhead costs, may have minimum budgets of >500,000 SEK, and moreover run over three to four years. Yet, the research budget of SGU has not increased and still is 5.7 million SEK/year. Higher costs and research projects that span over several years thus mean that less money is available for new projects. About 50% of the budget (ca. 2.6 million SEK) is tied up for earlier approved projects and the remaining money is reserved for new projects, according information on SGU’s home page.
During the past six years I have been a member of SGU’s research advisory board. Although it seemed that less and less research money had been made available for new projects during each successive year, making the work of the reviewers and of the research advisory group a pretty frustrating task, this year’s round was the most frustrating exercise I had ever experienced.
Six group members from all over Sweden had gathered in Uppsala to evaluate and rank 25 new research proposals. The total budget available for new projects for next year was however only 1.7 million SEK. Given that each project needs a certain minimum funding to being able to start, it can easily be calculated how many projects can at all be financed in the end.
I do not really understand SGU’s policy. First of all, I do not understand why the research budget has not increased during the past decade, given that salaries and overhead costs have increased (an issue raised by the advisory council each year). Secondly, it is unclear to me why research projects should be funded for 3-4 years, instead of for 1-2 years, which would make it easier for new projects to start. Thirdly, I do not understand how SGU can invite researchers to submit research proposals (which take time to write) when so little money can be distributed? And lastly, why should the members of the research advisory board take their time to read and evaluate research proposals, and to meet in Uppsala for a whole long day, when there is hardly any research money to distribute?
I think that SGU needs to evaluate its strategy in respect to research projects thoroughly. The present situation is frustrating, not only for us who evaluate projects, but mostly for those, whose research depends on funding from SGU.