RIO Country Report Sweden 2014

The RIO Country Reports, co-authored by JRC policy analysts and independent experts, give an update on the performance of the national research and innovation systems, and examine policies to address key R&I challenges, assessing their effectiveness. They serve as a tool to inform EU and national policy-makers, and support policy learning in Member States (MS).

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The annual RIO Country Report analyses and assesses the development and performance of the Swedish national research and innovation system and related policies in the perspective of EU strategy and goals.

The report highlights recent national policy and system developments occurring and assesses the match between national policy priorities and the structural challenges of the research and innovation system. It addresses among others:

  • The progress of Sweden towards achieving the Innovation Union, focusing on areas where action is needed.
  • Progress in responding to the ERA actions, particularly in light of the ERA progress report findings published in September 2014.
  • Country specific R&D and innovation recommendations as indicated in COM(2014) 400 final '2014 European Semester: Country specific recommendations, Building Growth' adopted by the Commission on 2 June 2014 and endorsed by the Council on 27 June 2014.
  • Progress in tackling research and innovation system challenges beyond those outlined above.
  • Areas highlighted by the Commission's Communication on 'Research and innovation as sources of renewed growth' (COM(2014) 339 final) and its accompanying Staff Working Document 'State of the Innovation Union, taking stock 2010-2014' (SWD(2014 181 final).

The RIO Country Report 2014 builds on the experience of the ERAWATCH project. The ERAWATCH Country Reports from previous years are also available for download on this page. 

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RIO Country Report 2014_Sweden.pdf
(1.5 MB - PDF)
National economic and political context

A new red-green coalition government was elected in Sweden in 2014. The government is committed to improving the framework conditions for innovation. Particular emphasis is given to increasing jobs among youth and to improving quality in the Swedish primary and secondary school system. A new Innovation Policy Council chaired by the prime minister was appointed in the spring of 2015.

ERA priority 2: Optimal transnational co-operation and competition

In the last three years Sweden has intensified its efforts at internationalisation of the higher education and research sectors. All Swedish research funders have some type of project funding for mobility and there are a number of COFUND projects.

Sweden engages in transnational cooperation in the context of the EU, Nordic collaborations and internationally. In each of these settings, there are several initiatives.

National R&I strategies and policies

The National Innovation Strategy and the Research Bill produced in 2012 remain the point of departure for research and innovation strategies and policies. The research bill outlined the main priorities for the Swedish research system up to 2016 and recommended a total budget increase of €420m over four years. The national innovation strategy recommended among other things increased focus on physical and digital infrastructure for communication.

National Reform Programmes 2013 and 2014

Sweden is currently putting into place measures to address the issues related to improving quality in the school system as suggested in the National Reform Programmes 2013 and 2014.

ERA priority 3: An open labour market for researchers

The most important development with respect to the labour market for researchers is the increasing efforts on the part of universities to provide career support. The most prevalent approach to this is clarifying career structure and making the requirements for moving from one career stage to the other transparent. Swedish universities have autonomy over this issue, rules and other arrangements are made in collaboration with academic labour unions.


The most important developments in the sector with regards to progress towards the realisation of the ERA have been the emphasis on internationalisation, the increasing focus on career support at universities and the efforts to promote university autonomy.

Open, transparent and merit-based recruitment of researchers:

According to the university charter, Swedish universities are obliged to post vacancies publicly. Recently, universities have been charged with addressing long standing problems in their recruitment procedures. The arrangements for recruiting women and international candidates have been given particular attention in this regard.

Access to and portability of grants:

In 2013, the Swedish Research Council announced two calls which explicitly included an element of portability. This was the Council Award for Professors and the Grant for Excellent Young Researchers. The Council has allotted a total of €38 m over a period of six years to the call for young researchers and €45m for Professors. The Swedish Research Council also participates in the Money Follows Researcher agreement initiated by EUROHORCs (European Heads of Research Councils).


EURAXESS did not figure directly in discussions about researcher mobility in the latest research bill. One reason for this may be that mobility is mainstreamed in national research funding.

Doctoral Training:

Doctoral work is an integral part of the Swedish public R&D effort and consumes a significant share of the governmental R&D appropriations to the academic sector. Doctoral students are university employees and received full social benefits. The university charter provides guidelines for the rights and responsibilities of doctoral students but responsibility for doctoral training and related issues associated with quality are the direct responsibility of universities.

HR strategy for researchers (HRS4R) incorporating the Charter and Code:

There are no coordinated efforts on national level (government or agencies) to enable the implementation of the HR Strategy for Researchers. Personnel policies are regulated by universities in collaboration with unions. 

Education and training systems:

Sweden is working continuously with promoting excellence in teaching and improving the quality of undergraduate and graduate programmes. A number of longstanding initiatives exist, the most prominent of which is the STINT funded Teaching Sabbaticals (formerly known as Excellence in Teaching). In addition, the National Board of Higher Education performs regular evaluations of undergraduate and graduate programs.

Policy developments related to Council Country Specific Recommendations

Sweden is making progress on the recommendations from the council. Particular emphasis is being placed on school reform and youth unemployment.

ERA priority 5: Optimal circulation and access to scientific knowledge

e-Infrastructures and researchers electronic identity:

The initiatives on EU level to build up research infrastructures for facilitating the dissemination of data and results (e.g. European Social Survey, CESSDA, SHARE) are supported by the Swedish government who take active part as members in these initiatives and thus secure the access for Swedish researchers to them. In 2015, the Swedish basic science research council in collaboration with FORTE and FORMAS have introduced a common e platform for research applications called PRISMA. These platforms are connected to ORCID and SWAMID.

Open Access to publications and data:

The most important initiative in this regard was the Swedish Research Council’s latest report on the guidelines for open access to publications and data. The policy is intended to come on line from 2025. The main provision of the bill is that all research funded by public money should be published immediately in open access (gold access) and have a creative commons license.

Framework conditions

According to the Innovation Union Scoreboard (IUS), Sweden is the second leading European country next to Germany in terms of innovation performance and still ranks first in terms of R&D intensity. The competitiveness of Sweden’s industry is largely based on its strong R&D and broad innovation effort. The business sector’s R&D expenditures represent 2.9% of net sales in manufacturing and 0.6% in services.

Considerable progress has been achieved in terms of knowledge transfer and open innovation and there are a number of important initiatives in place. Emphasis has been placed on correcting two long standing weaknesses: availability of risk capital and improving framework conditions for SMEs. The new government also promises to investigate how to improve coordination between public and private venture capital initiatives.

Science-based entrepreneurship

An important framework condition for science based entrepreneurship in Sweden is the fact that Swedish researchers enjoy the right to own the intellectual property arising from their research. Swedish universities have an array of infrastructure for knowledge transfer and science based entrepreneurship. The promotion of science based entrepreneurship and the facilitation of infrastructure for achieving this is a strategic priority at VINNOVA. One of the more significant initiatives in this regard is the university and university college strategic outreach programme (Knowledge Triangle Development) which was initiated in 2013 by VINNOVA. The total amount of funding distributed for the 2013 call was about €9.4m.

Funding trends

The 2012 research bill set the funding trends for RI for the period up to 2016. It also proposed a number of changes, the most important of which were the instruction to develop a national research evaluation system which would determine the allocation of block funding to HEIs. This system is now under consideration and it is expected that a pilot will be run in 2016.

Funding flows:

Total expenditure on R&D in 2013 was unchanged relative to 2012 and amounted to €3.7 billion, i.e. 3.8% of the total government budget. The two major developments related to funding in 2013 were that (i) HEIs received about 50% of the total government budget for research and (ii) while firms with > 200 employees continue to account for the majority of corporate research, there is evidence of increasing R&D investment by SMEs.

Project vs. institutional allocation of public funding:

Since 1990s, the larger share of funding for public research (>51%) is allocated to project funding. The 2012 Research Bill recommitted to this strategy. Basic research accounts for a small share of this funding according to the Swedish Research Council (2012).

R&I funding:

Two important new funding priorities were introduced in 2014. One was the decision to allocate resources to increase quality in research in the humanities and social sciences. The other was the renewed efforts to improve framework conditions for innovation by promoting social innovation and prioritising transport.

Smart Specialisation

After the reorganisation of the regions described in Country Report 2013, the focus on smart specialisation is clearer. VINNOVA’s VINNVÄXT programme is the biggest funder and promoter of this programme. Projects are funded for up to ten years and funding can be as high as €1m per year. Additionally, Sweden is participating in a number of INTERREGIO projects, which are in part funded by the EU Structural Funds.

Knowledge markets

The existence of the professor’s privilege means that there is little utility in creating centralised arrangements for dealing with intellectual property. Instead Sweden has chosen a decentralised approach in which the emphasis has been on ensuring that there is widespread knowledge of intellectual property support services. All universities and university colleges have some type of infrastructure for promoting knowledge transfer.

Evaluations, consultations, foresight exercises

A number of most important evaluations for the research and innovation policy area were completed in 2014. These are:

  1. the Swedish Agency for Growth Policy Analysis’ evaluation of progress towards the goals outlined in the National Innovation Strategy which was published in June 2014;
  2. Swedish Research Council’s model for national research evaluation, FOKUS;
  3. Karlström and Svedberg’s evaluation of the Institute Excellence Centre Programme;
  4. The Swedish Research Council’s report on funding for research infrastructure;
  5. The Swedish Research Council’s report on Guidelines for Open Access; and
  6. the Swedish Agency for Growth Policy Analysis evaluation of ALMI’s support for small and medium sized enterprises
Knowledge transfer and open innovation

Sweden has a long history of initiatives for promoting knowledge transfer and open innovation which may be said to date back to the competence centres (1995-2008). Two important new initiatives are the Strategic Knowledge Enhancement (Strategisk Kunskapförstärkning) and the Expert Competence for Innovation: Stage One funded by the Knowledge Foundation.

Performance of the National Research and Innovation system

Sweden ranks sixth in Europe on the basis of the 2010 Community Innovation Survey. The latest survey of innovation activities in Swedish enterprises during the period 2010-2012 showed that about 53% of the enterprises were active in innovation. The share of innovation-active enterprises was 60% in the survey with the reference period 2008-2010 and 54% in the survey with the reference period 2006-2008.

The level of BERD in Sweden is higher than the EU28 average but not at the level that it has been previously. Public expenditure on R&D has however been increasing steadily and is now just over 1% of GDP as compared to the EU28 average which is 0.6%. 39.8% of Swedish service exports are knowledge intensive as compared to the EU28average which is 45.3%. 12.7% of scientific publications produced by Swedish researchers are among the top 10% most cited publications worldwide.

Structural challenges of the national R&I system

The following structural challenges were highlighted: ensuring that Swedish (academic) research becomes globally competitive in coming decades; improving university-industry collaboration particularly with respect to commercialisation of research results from the university sector and improving the quality of priority setting in public research and increasing excellence.

Meeting structural challenges

The most important initiatives taken in 2013 and 2014 for addressing the structural challenges are the introduction of financial instruments aimed at increasing investment such as the investor tax and investment saving account. A number of important initiatives such as the National Evaluation System, FOKUS, the new e-infrastructure for research (PRISMA) and the report on Open Access are underway. These are all aimed at meeting the structural challenge of achieving global excellence in R&D.

Innovation framework for SMEs

Traditionally Sweden has been weak on framework conditions for SMEs. This situation is changing and there has been a gradual improvement. VINNOVA, ALMI, the Energy Agency and the Knowledge Foundation are among the most significant actors promoting SME initiatives. Efforts are also being made to revise the insolvency regulations and to reduce the costs of employment insurance for SMEs.

Venture capital markets

The low availability of venture capital for early stage investment has been a long standing weakness for Sweden. Efforts continue to be made to address this situation. The venture capital market is growing and there are several public initiatives but private venture capital is still relatively short in supply. Two new initiatives may improve this situation. One is the introduction of a tax deduction for investment in non-indexed companies in January 2014. The other is the new financial instrument Investeringssparkonto.

Innovative public procurement

A number of revisions to the rules for tenders have been introduced in 2013 and 2014 to improve Innovative Public Procurement, the most significant of which is that the limit for contracts that are excluded from the tender process has been increased to €54,000 and in the defence sector this ceiling has been raised to €100,000. Procurement is clearly a priority issue and declining capacity is a concern.

The country in the European R&I landscape

The Swedish RI system is quite stable and the mechanisms for governance are transparent. The 2012 Research Bill and the National Innovation Strategy (2012) are the points of departure for the RI funding trends and priorities may observe in Swedish research and innovation policy. A new research bill is expected in 2017 and a new innovation strategy in 2021.

In 2013, gross domestic expenditure on research and development (GERD) amounted to 3.21% of GDP (ESA 2010 adjusted), compared to an estimated average of 2.02 % for EU-28.

Main features of the R&I system

Sweden has historically been among those countries which invest a large share of GDP in R&D annually. The long-term trend shows a decline in R&D intensity, with the figure on total R&D investments as a share of GDP dropping from 4.18% in 2001 to 3.41% in 2012 and to 3.21% in 2013. This development is opposite to most EU countries, where corresponding figures have increased over the same period.

Structure of the national research and innovation system and its governance

The Swedish R&I system is characterised by high diversity in its funding arrangements and low diversity in the performing organisations. Firms account for at least two thirds of the research funded. The public sector research effort is divided among three main types of research performers: universities and university colleges, research institutes and last but not least public authorities that perform in house research. The university and university college system is the largest part of the public research performing sector. Almost two thirds of publicly financed research in Sweden is done at 36 universities and university colleges.

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