2017 Education and Research Analysis

Research Aid Revisited – a Historically Grounded Analysis of Future Prospects and Policy Options

David Nilsson, Sverker Sörlin

Research aid was institutionalised in the 1970s as part of Sweden’s growing ambitions on the international development aid scene. This ambition was driven by several motives, such as international solidarity but also economic and foreign policy motives, and can be understood as part of a movement to find, and strengthen, Sweden’s geopolitical niche in the Cold War landscape.

The report’s analysis examines the historical path as well as current tendencies of the Swedish government’s support to development research and research capacity building in low-income countries, or simply “research aid”. It also presents some ideas for future policy options.

The report was one out of two reports presented during the seminar Swedish
Research Aid.


  • The analysis exposes some contradictions in the early Swedish research aid.
  • The problem at hand is not any longer, at least not only, about poor countries “catching up” with the rich countries.
  • A new model for international research collaboration is needed which goes far beyond the current scope and volume of research aid.
  • Building capacity in the global South will for the foreseeable future continue to be an important task.

The authors suggests that it is high time for a revitalised and bold discussion regarding Sweden’s future role in knowledge development in the global South, which could take its point of departure in the following propositions:

  • Challenges and problems are shared.
  • Global challenges are local.
  • Wealth is becoming a greater problem than poverty.
  • Research agendas should be formed in dialogue.
  • The knowledge base is widening.
  • Institutions remain essential.
  • Change of scale is required.
  • Research aid should be linked closer to knowledge and research policy at large.

Sverker Sörlin, Professor, Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment, KTH

David Nilsson, Researcher, Division For History of Science, Technology and Environment, and Director, WaterCentre@KTH