Arbetslivsinstitutet – the National Institute for Working Life (NIWL)



June 2010. Draft version to be developed…

For about five decades there have been one or more research institutes devoted to working life in Sweden. After several reorganizations they were all merged into the Arbetslivsinstitutet / NIWL in 1995.

In December 2006 the newly elected centre-right government announced their decision to close down the institute. The main arguments were that research should not be conducted at institutes but at universities, and that politicians should not take decisions about research. However, there are dozens of applied public research institutes that were not closed down e.g. those applied institutes working closely with management in various sectors of industry (Industriforskningsinstituten). And the government’s research policy and budget presented in 2008 implied a strong and clear political control of which areas universities should focus upon.

Apart from research, the NIWL had tasks like investigations asked for by the government, practical training for various professional groups  within work health, and information about research on working life to workplaces and also to the general public. This combination of tasks turned out to be difficult to manage and to explain to the pubic.

Also there had been a debate about the quality of the research (e.g op ed writers, includig the opinion pages of the major journal Dagens Nyheter, were critical), but most evaluations seemed to indicate that quality was on the same level as Swedish research in general.

Before and during the process of closing down the Arbetslivsinstitutet, evaluations and many opinion articles were written, both in Swedish and in English. Here is a small selection of articles supporting the institute, mostly in Swedish. Opinion articles by leading international researchers in LO-tidningen (the journal of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation) and in Ny teknik, a major Swedish weekly on new technology and society. There is a summary of some of the international support for the NIWL and protests against the closing down. In the autumn of 2009 FAS published an evaluation report on the current situation of research into working life in Sweden. (FAS is the Swedish council for working life and social research.) Some bibliometric analyses were carried out by Ulf Sandström, also discussed in an opinion article by Bo Rothstein.

The closing down meant that a major part of financing, institutions, activities and networks in Swedish working life research disappeared, was wiped out.  In order to create a new start for worklife research in Sweden a new association of researchers has been established, Forum för arbetslivsforskning (in Swedish).

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