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“The aim is not just to patch up the legislation”

Education Minister Mats Persson says he shares the view that the Ethical Review Act requires major changes.

In November 2021, an opposition Member of Parliament called Mats Persson (L) asked the then Minister for Higher Education and Research, Matilda Ernkrans (S), if she intended to take any steps to evaluate the Ethical Review Act. The Minister replied that she was following developments in the area closely. Barely two years later, as Minister of Education, Persson was able to announce himself that the Government had decided to review the Act.

Mats Persson

Minister of Education (L)

Despite his stated commitment to the issue, however, he has not granted Universitetsläraren an interview on the matter, preferring to answer questions in writing and respond to the criticism expressed by the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions,SUHF.

”I share the view that major changes are needed”, writes the Minister, ”which is precisely why the review has been tasked with examining whether, for example, certain research can be exempted from the scope of application of the Ethical Review Act, and how ÖNEP’s obligation to pass cases on the Prosecution Authority charges should be changed”.

However, SUHF believes this is too narrow a remit and does not acknowledge the need to change the research ethics system fundamentally, diversify it and make the regulatory process more legally sound.

Illustration: Nils-Petter Ekwall

The Minister emphasises that, if necessary, the review will also ”propose other changes or measures it believes are justified”, both in terms of the scope of the law and the regulatory authority’s mandate. He believes that the aim is not just to ”patch up” the current legislation. At the same time, he describes this review as a ”first step” and that ”the urgency of this first part is one reason why the scope of the current review is limited”.

The review will take one year, and the new proposals will be presented on 30 September 2024.

When Mats Persson raised the issue of the Ethical Review Act with Matilda Ernkrans as a member of the parliamentary opposition, it was with reference to a case in Lund. The Ethics Review Appeals Board, ÖNEP, had concluded that the researcher in that case did not have ethical approval for their research, but Mats Persson himself said that it had been approved (see, 9 February 2022).

Does the minister lack confidence in ÖNEP’s assessment of breaches of the Ethical Review Act? ”I have confidence in ÖNEP. It applies the legislation that is in place today. On the other hand, I question whether the current Act is reasonable and proportionate, which I also said in my question”, writes Persson, and points out that as Minister he cannot comment on the individual case.

Universitetsläraren conforms strictly to journalistic principles and follows the media industry’s rules on publication and professional ethics. The magazine is free and independent of its owner, SULF – the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers.
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