An update on the University’s profile areas

17 February 2023

In 2022, we worked hard to identify leading profile areas for the research Umeå University conducts, ahead of a national funding call that the previous Swedish Government initiated in its 2020 research bill. Today, however, there is a new government in place.

The new Government has not yet clearly stated whether it will continue to endorse the use of profile areas as a national resource-allocation model. As the Vice-Chancellor wrote in his recent blog, when he and other vice-chancellors of Swedish higher education institutions recently met the new Minister for Education, the Minister said he felt the idea of profile areas was interesting, but might be difficult to implement in practice.

Katrine Riklund, Pro-Vice-Chancellor

Photo: Mattias Pettersson

What we do know about the process, is that the original timeline Sweden's research funding bodies had set, has become moot: according to the old timeline, we should have by now already submitted the profile areas we would be highlighting in our application.

But I would not say that this means all our hard work as a University has been for nothing. From the start, the reason we looked into profile areas was not only to prepare ourselves for the planned funding call, it was also to finetune our research strategy, to enhance the quality of our work and put ourselves in a more competitive position.

In November, the profile areas working group officially submitted its shortlist to the University Management. The group consisted of researchers from all four faculties and the Umeå School of Education. It was led by the Vice-Chancellor's advisor Marianne Sommarin, with the aid of the Planning Office. As you will remember, the entire University first got to suggest profile areas. The working group then reviewed all submissions, based on the criteria listed in a report by Sweden's research funding bodies ("Quality-Based Allocation of Resources – Further Developed Proposal for a New Model", May 2022).

Last spring, we held interdisciplinary thematic discussions and conducted bibliometric analyses, while the working group worked to translate the 20-odd suggestions into strong profile areas. Three areas were considered sufficiently well-developed to be ready for inclusion in our application. The working group also pinpointed three additional areas, which were promising but required some elaboration. As we engaged in this work, new constellations took shape and were integrated into different profile areas, and perspectives were fruitfully exchanged – precisely what we need to strengthen our academic development. We discovered that it can be challenging to define interdisciplinary profile areas, especially on the intersection between the Faculty of Science and Technology/Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Arts and Humanities/Faculty of Social Sciences. But we learnt from those experiences and have come quite a long way since. Our attempt to define profile areas should not be a one-off experiment; we need to keep paving the way for more competitive interdisciplinary research and education.

Still, we do not currently know whether there will actually be a national call for quality-based allocation of government funding to these profile areas. But this uncertainty should not stop us from capitalising on our hard work. We will carry on, with the same enthusiasm and commitment that characterised our discussions these past few months, to cooperate more closely with each other and produce even more cutting-edge research here in Umeå. Because focusing on profile areas means investing in leading fields of research, which strengthens our scientific output and eventually also the courses and programmes we offer. At the faculty leadership level, we have begun to discuss how we will be carrying on these conversations internally. Because one thing is for sure: this is not the end.

As a university, we of course have to consider and base our actions on what the Government decides to focus on, whether that is profile areas, strategic research areas or something else. Our goal at Umeå University, however, is always the same: research and education of the highest quality.

Login to be able to read and write comments.