SfoEpi received top grading from the government
SfoEpi gets continued support with increased means
Evaluation of the Strategic Research Area Initiative 2010-2014
The SRA funding scheme
The 2008 Government Bill ‘A Boost to Research and Innovation’ (prop. 2008/09:50) proposed support for 20
strategic research areas, the so-called strategic research area (SRA) initiative, that were defined by the
The Government decided to allocate research funding to the higher education institutions (HEI).
In total, 43 research environments at 11 host universities were funded with appr. 5270 MSEK during 2010-2014. The funds went directly to the universities, which host the SRA-environments. . The Government also commissioned the agencies to conduct annual reviews of the strategic research initiatives:These annual reviews have shown that 2010 was a start-up year where the research environments created their organisations and procedures, and where a major focus was put on recruiting researchers and staff. During 2011more and more research began and most of the research environments were well advanced in their recruitment procedures/strategies. By 2012, the environments had reached their full research funding and by the following year the focus was on research output. In 2013.
The Panel´s Assessment of Karolinska Institute (KI)
The Karolinska Institute (KI) applied for seven SRAs and received six. Furthermore, KI receives funding as coapplicant
from two other funded SRAs. In total, KI was allocated approximately 631 million Swedish Crowns by the government for the SRAs
(2010–2014). During 2014, the SRA funding corresponded to 8% of the basic funding for education and research given to KI from the government.
At the beginning of the SRA process, KI had already identified a strategy for improving research quality. This included an initiative to develop bibliometric monitoring of research outputs, identifying strong research areas and an emerging focus on translational medicine. The completion of current construction projects (Biomedicum and University Hospital at the Solna campus) in 2018 will see 60% of KI research staff at the Solna campus in new premises (1700 researchers) with a likely reorganisation of traditional departments. Consequently the SRA
initiative was generally aligned with KI planning. The Panel did not explore the means by which KI chose which SRA applications to submit or how the university leadership was involved in this process. The operating SRAs are virtual centres embedded in departments for administration purposes. Each SRA operates with a governing board that meets regularly with the KI Board of Research and the Deans office.
Strategic management and use of the SRA funding – Excellent
It was clear that many of the SRA actions, e.g. around prioritisation of SRA funds, faculty renewal, innovation, and teaching, are responding well to overall KI strategic priorities and support. Hence, it is evident that KI set a clear strategic framework within which the SRAs operate with a large degree of autonomy.
The primary strategy for the use of SRA funds has been to focus on recruitment of world class junior faculty (though this has not been followed by all SRAs). Recruitment is (quite rightly) seen as an investment rather than just a cost. Areas for recruitment, and potential target candidates, are identified by the SRA leadership, with the final recruitment decisions resting with KI management (departments, faculty, President or Vice Chancellor, depending upon level). All recruitments are done through open international competition. Positions are not linked to specific departments and the successful candidates can often choose his/her location. Links to clinical practice are encouraged, driven by current KI strategy. SRA funds have been used to develop attractive start-up packages to attract good candidates (several examples were provided). It is worth mentioning that, in anticipation of continuing rather limited university core funding, current (published) KI strategy is to reduce the overall number of professors (through retirements) in order to provide better support to faculty staff and allow recruitment of junior researchers at the highest level.
Innovation is recognized as important at a high level within the organisation and the institute is addressing
this through the appointment of a deputy Vice Chancellor for Innovation. KI also supports 3 innovation officers to work directly with the SRAs, but acknowledged that there is room for improvement in this particular area. Highlights in this area are direct links to the health care system, recent spin-out companies (related to regenerative cardiology) and the joint research center set up with AstraZeneca to explore regenerative medicine treatments to treat heart failure. For the next 5 years the KI strategy is to continue to support the current SRAs, and they are expected to align with the overall KI strategy for 2014–2018. This includes the relationship and co-funding with partner universities. A full review of the SRA areas will be carried out after 10 years.Improving international collaboration is a goal for the future, supported by closer working with and between the 6 Swedish medical faculties where KI expect to take a leading (coordinating) role. KI is the first non-Danish university with a Novo Nordisk Postdoctoral programme; other international alliances will be announced soon.
University outcomes and excellence – Excellent/good
KI management indicated that all SRAs are (and were) seen as internationally competitive and new recruitments are seen as a means of strengthening this through adding new competences, new technology expertise and through the expansion of collaboration networks. The current quality of the SRAs was not uniformly supported by the expert reviewers and Panel, but overall the quality of the KI SRAs was impressive. KI has provided leadership training for department heads and recognises the need to provide this for
group/centre leaders in the future. In identifying best practice across the SRA, KI highlighted the work in regenerative cardiology; emphasising the commercial alliances that had grown out of this work, including direct collaborations with AstraZeneca and the cross university doctoral initiatives with Oxford, Copenhagen and others. Not all faculty at KI teach, but it is acknowledged that this is an important opportunity and will be increasingly required as a part of the KI strategy as it moves forwards. The SRAs are intentionally focused on post-graduate teaching but at least one SRA has had, and continues to have, a significant influence on undergraduate teaching through the recent reorganisation of the KI medical curriculum.
Added value of the SRA funding instrument – Excellent
SRA funding is generally a small component of funding in KI strategic areas, but very important as it is the only grant4 that can be used strategically for given research areas (i.e. not tied to specific projects or problems). Priorities for the future of SRA funding are to continue to develop and support a tenure track system, infrastructure, and national and international collaboration.
The Evaluation of EpiKI/SfoEpi
Added value: Excellent/good
This is a strong SRA, rated very highly by reviewers. It has a strong bibliometric performance and strong engagement with the business sector, where the high quality cohort data opens opportunities for innovation in clinical epidemiology. SRA funds have been focused on faculty renewal, but there has been strong infrastructure support for this SRA from KI e.g. in the form of biobanking and the LifeGene Project. Although challenging to initiate, this SRA has a very significant impact on the education of medical students, responsible for the scientific development component of undergraduate education and the Master’s examinations as well as graduate courses. The future strategy is to continue the successful approach to data, with a focus on recruitment
and education, including an initiative for an advanced research school in epidemiology and a research education program in clinical epidemiology for clinicians