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Mediterranean institutes may escape cuts

The Swedish government is considering whether to backtrack on the funding cuts it proposed for three of its Mediterranean research centres.

Popular protests and a petition signed by more than 13,000 people have forced the coalition government, led by the social-democratic SAP party, to rethink the planned cuts at Swedish institutes in Rome, Athens and Istanbul, Research Europe has learned.

The original budget proposal for 2015, presented on 23 October, said that 12 million Swedish kronor (€1.3m) would be taken away from the institutes in 2016, followed by a further kr10m in 2017. The money was instead to be used for the construction of the European Spallation Source in Lund, or for health and clinical research, according to the proposal.

The institutes collectively receive kr22m a year from the Swedish government for their basic upkeep. Carin Ifvarsson Fischer, chairwoman of the Swedish Institute in Rome and the Villa San Michele foundation, says the institutes would have to be shut down in 2017 if the cuts went ahead. “Without basic funding from the government, private funding [for research grants] wouldn’t be there,” she says.

The three institutes are used as a meeting place for international researchers, and work conducted there includes classical archaeology, art history, languages, humanities, cultural studies and the social sciences.

“Swedish Mediterranean research cannot cope without these institutes,” says Ida Östenberg, a reader in ancient history at the University of Gothenburg. She adds that the institutes are important for international research collaboration, and that they are “like a UN for cultural and academic activity”.

Helene Hellmark Knutsson, Sweden’s research minister, responded to the criticism by saying that “the government may not have had all the facts on the table” when the proposal was made. She is now planning to launch a review of the potential consequences of withdrawing funding for the institutions. “If it’s not possible to find alternative funding, the government is prepared to reconsider the proposal,” she said.

The parliament is to vote on the budget in December, although it is possible for the government to make amendments to the text beforehand. Östenberg hopes that the government will withdraw the proposed cuts before the budget reaches the parliament. “They’ve backed down halfway, and we’re now trying to push on to have them take the full step back,” she says.

This article also appeared in Research Europe