Covid-19 limited Swedish data collection, report says

UKÄ warns restrictions on visits and opening hours have hampered study and record keeping

The coronavirus pandemic has significantly affected the ability of Swedish researchers to do their work, as many have struggled to obtain new data, according to a report.

An interim report from UKÄ, the Swedish higher education authority, showed that data collection could not always be carried out as planned. This despite the fact that Sweden’s social distancing and lockdown regulations to curb the spread of the virus were less stringent than in most other European countries.

The report brings together information from various studies on data collection in the context of the pandemic. One study, including a survey of researchers based in Sweden, found that many respondents said data collection had become more difficult, although for different reasons.

Closures and Restrictions

Researchers in the humanities and social sciences have suffered from library closures and lack of access to archives, while researchers in medical and health sciences have been held back by restrictions on patient visits.

For all researchers, it was more difficult to conduct studies and experiments in the field, according to the report. International collaboration has also been hampered due to travel restrictions, he said.

As Covid-19 spread across Sweden, the country did not initially close all universities, restaurants, shops and offices like many other countries did. However, Sweden issued general advice for people to restrict contact and banned large gatherings.

On January 26, Sweden extended its rules as the virus spread rapidly in the country over Christmas.

Many Swedish researchers said that during the height of the pandemic, they had less time for research because distance learning and the resulting technical issues took up most of their day. Nearly half of the researchers surveyed said they had not spent all of their funds due to these issues.

Another study that fed into the report looked at how the coronavirus was affecting the operations of Sweden’s research infrastructure. He concluded that most infrastructure, such as labs, databases and libraries, continued to operate, with computing infrastructure remaining available to analyze large amounts of data.

However, the study found that the full potential of these different types of infrastructure had not been deployed during the pandemic. The report proposes a better national strategy to coordinate research infrastructure during a pandemic, to better collect and use clinical data for research purposes.

Impact on recruitment

A third study included by UKÄ in the report showed that the impact of the pandemic on recruitment was less severe than expected, at least in the short term. The report only covered the year 2020, the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic. He said the long-term impact of travel restrictions on the recruitment of researchers in Sweden deserved further study.

The report echoed those sentiments in its conclusions, saying the longer-term effects of the pandemic on Swedish research activity need to be studied in more detail. Currently, Swedish higher education institutions operate well under these circumstances, UKÄ concluded.

UKÄ has been commissioned by the Swedish government to study how political decisions made because of the coronavirus have affected universities and research activities in the country. The report is the second in a series that will explore the state of Swedish higher education and research, and its performance throughout the pandemic.

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