The consequences of the coronavirus pandemic on research

The Swedish Higher Education Authority’s survey of researchers has captured both positive and negative comments on how the pandemic has impacted research. Many also responded that they have not noticed any significant changes. One finding that stands out is that data collection for research has become considerably more difficult for a majority of respondents. The time spent remote teaching has also taken time away from research for nearly a third of respondents. A majority report that the lack of physical meetings has led to lower motivation and diminished creativity. The pandemic has caused a fourth of the researchers to make many or very many changes to their research.

UKÄ’s survey of researchers shows that the coronavirus pandemic has not had particularly significant consequences for the research of certain respondents and that it has even led to positive changes. For many others, the pandemic has had a very negative impact on their research. These varying findings are seen in the responses for several of the questions since the percentage of positive responses overall is about the same as the negative responses. The open-ended responses also provide a varied picture – some things have worked well and others have worked poorly. With this in mind, UKÄ would like to highlight several areas that require extra attention and that can be the basis for additional in-depth studies or measures.

One result that sticks out is that many say that data collection has become more difficult or not possible to conduct as planned. This is a widespread problem for respondents within different fields of research. Within the humanities and fine arts and the social sciences, for example, archives and libraries were not available to the desired degree and studies could not be conducted because of closures. With the medical and health sciences, for example, it has not been possible to conducted experiments because of restrictions on patient visits. Within the natural sciences, for example, it has become more difficult to conduct field trips and field experiments because of travel restrictions.

The study also shows that research has suffered from teaching taking more time in connection with the transition to remote teaching. For a third of respondents, teaching has taken time from research, which has meant they have either spent less worktime on research or have worked overtime to be able to invest as much work time on research as before the pandemic. Of the studied employment categories, senior lecturers have been hardest hit.

The use of external research funding has decreased for nearly half. This can be a consequence of the inability to conduct data collection as planned or because research is pushed aside because of the transition to remote teaching.

Many feel that remote work during the pandemic has impacted research negatively. There is widespread concern that the lack of physical meetings will have negative consequences on research through reduced productivity and quality. This is primarily because social interactions are important for the motivation and creativity of many respondents. The survey shows that short, informal meetings allow thoughts and ideas to be tested and that it is not possible to replace these with online meetings. Many also point to home settings not being conducive work environments, for example because family members have been home or the home is not a good workplace from a purely ergonomic perspective.

The task at hand also influences how well remote research works. Some indicate that it works well to remotely write articles or grant applications. But it is worse if you are in a data collection phase.
Overall, respondents are relatively satisfied with online meetings and online seminars. They were least satisfied with online conferences. An interesting finding is that women are more positive to online meetings than men.

Even though the focus of this survey is not on doctoral students and doctoral programmes, there are signs of negative consequences on doctoral education. Many doctoral supervisors indicate that remote work during the pandemic has impacted supervision negatively. A majority of doctoral supervisors also indicate that studies for doctoral students are taking longer than planned.

Just under 25 per cent have had to make many or very many changes to their research. For example, this could result from transitioning to COVID-19 research or adapting their research because of problems with data collection.

This survey was conducted during the ongoing pandemic. Only the future can show the degree to which the observed changes are permanent and what their long-term consequences on research will be. UKÄ will continue following up the consequences of the pandemic on research within the framework of the pandemic government assignment and in its regular collection and analysis of statistics.