Centre scheme’s promise confirmed:
Centres of Excellence scheme a success
The Norwegian Centres of Excellence (SFF) scheme has been successful and has yielded long-term positive effects, according to a recently published evaluation report.
The Centres of Excellence scheme reaps particular praise for its enhancement of researcher recruitment, and has clearly led to more international collaboration. It has also helped to increase the level of national and interdisciplinary cooperation.
“One particularly positive aspect of the Centres of Excellence scheme is that it has had a lasting impact on the division of tasks between Norwegian universities,” says Anders Hanneborg, Executive Director of the Division for Science at the Research Council of Norway.
The evaluation was carried out by the Norwegian Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU STEP), on commission from the Research Council of Norway.
A new call for proposals under the Centres of Excellence (SFF) scheme will be issued in the spring of 2011.
Smart financial stratagem
The Research Council’s tactic of providing selected research groups with an extra beneficial funding framework over a ten-year period is one essential component of the scheme’s success, the evaluation concludes. The scheme has made it possible to foster dynamic research groups and recruit top-notch researchers. The centres have also done well at the international level, partly because they have had the resources to be able to fund international projects, hire in senior researchers from abroad, extend invitations to guest researchers and set more substantial travel budgets for their own staff than other research groups.
The evaluation also indicates that being recognised for their “excellence” is critical to the centres. According to the report, acquiring the status of a Centre of Excellence makes it easier to obtain additional funding from other funding sources and helps to attract highly qualified researchers and partners.
Cumulative value added
The Centres of Excellence scheme generates value added for the centres concerned and their host institutions in the form of both funding and researcher resources. Research Council allocations under the Centres of Excellence scheme account on average for only 20 per cent of the centres’ total income, whereas co-funding from the host institution accounts for 24 per cent. Other allocations from the Research Council are set at 17 per cent of total income, while funding from external sources equals close to 35 per cent.
The establishment of the Centres of Excellence has led to fiercer competition for resources within the host institutions, and there have been some reports that this has led to fewer opportunities for other research groups at these institutions. However, as the evaluation report indicates, in most cases the level of funding provided by the host institutions to the Centres of Excellence is lower than the normal basic allocations in the field.
Greater focus on management
The evaluation points out that the Centres of Excellence have generated significant value added for the research groups and the institutions involved.
The universities, for example, report that the Centres of Excellence have inspired more targeted strategic prioritisation and organisation of research activities. The scheme has also been accompanied by a stronger focus on research management, which is seen as another positive factor.
The evaluation concentrated primarily on the financial aspects of the Centres of Excellence scheme and the value added generated by the scheme. It is too early to reach any conclusions about the scientific impact of the centres. This issue is therefore not addressed in the current evaluation.
Supporting documentation for the evaluation was provided by the Research Council as well as representatives of the Centres of Excellence, managers at various levels in the host institutions and applicants that participated in the final round of the last call for proposals under the Centres of Excellence scheme.
The report also contains a list of recommendations as to how the Centres of Excellence scheme could be enhanced.
These include the following:
- The expected long-term impact of the centre should be included in the assessment criteria when the Centres of Excellence are being selected.
- There should be greater openness around the selection process.
- The Research Council should communicate more clearly what the framework conditions for the Centres of Excellence are, and what co-funding by the institutions entails in practice.
- The Centres of Excellence should assume national responsibility for improving the quality of research in their respective fields.
According to Mr Hanneborg, the Research Council will give careful consideration to all the recommendations and input contained in the evaluation before establishing the underlying principles for the next call for proposals under the Centres of Excellence scheme.
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