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Investment in research bears fruit - Abridged version of the report of the Executive Board

The Research Council’s competitive funding arenas generate results.

Read the Annual Report of the Executive Board (Norwegian only).


Norway is investing in research

In 2016, public allocations to research comprised more than one per cent of Norway’s gross domestic product. The Research Council also received its largest budget increase to date – over NOK 1 billion.

These allocations showed that the Government views research and development as the key to the restructuring of the Norwegian economy, and as critical for solving the major challenges facing society.

This is occurring while Norwegian research is in a period of growth. Publication rates are higher, collaboration both nationally and internationally is expanding, and there is more research being conducted in trade and industry. In addition, Norway has built up multiple world-class research environments and has achieved greater success in the international competition for funding under the EU framework programme, Horizon 2020.

In the research year 2016, progress has been made within all five target areas established for the Research Council in its new performance management system.

Target Area 1 – Greater scientific merit

Success in promoting scientific development, scientific breakthroughs and more world-class research in Norway requires a greater focus on scientific merit. High scientific merit also plays an essential role in enabling research to solve the major societal challenges. As a general rule, funding from the Research Council is targeted toward the projects with the highest scientific merit. Analyses also show that it is the best researchers who are receiving funding throughout the entire range of Research Council schemes and that funding is concentrated around these researchers.

Achieving higher quality in research is contingent on encouraging the greatest talents to pursue a career in research and providing research environments with access to modern, advanced research infrastructure. In 2016, more than NOK 1.5 billion was awarded to 33 new infrastructure projects, primarily within the priority areas of the Government’s Long-term plan for research and higher education. The Research Council also provided funding for 1 383 full-time equivalent doctoral research fellowships and 102 young research talents. In 2016, the Council implemented even more measures to increase the scientific quality of research. Examples of this are funding for particularly outstanding research groups (the TOPPFORSK grants), mobilising researchers to seek funding under the European Research Council (ERC), establishing new programme models and reviewing the system of scientific assessment and ranking of project proposals.

Target Area 2 – Greater value creation within trade and industry

The Government increased its allocations to industry-oriented funding instruments considerably in 2016. For the Research Council this led to the launch of a special initiative on restructuring measures in petroleum-related industries as well as increased investment in restructuring in the maritime sector and the development of ocean technology. In addition, the Research Council increased its focus on commercialisation, in part through the new STUD-ENT scheme to encourage entrepreneurship among students. Use of the Programme for Project-oriented Technology Development in the Petroleum Sector (DEMO 2000) was also expanded. These measures, combined with activities to promote industry-oriented research in companies via the SkatteFUNN R&D tax incentive scheme, regional initiatives, industry-oriented programmes, the Industrial Ph.D. scheme and a focus on digital transformation, all comprise part of the Council’s overall effort to encourage greater value creation and restructuring within trade and industry through research and innovation. This has resulted in more applicants for the industry-oriented instruments and a growing number of new companies in the portfolio (40 per cent), indicating that the companies consider research-based innovation to be an important restructuring measure.

An evaluation of funding schemes for trade and industry conducted by Statistics Norway in 2016 concluded that the Research Council’s funding instruments are well-suited to the users’ needs and have a noticeable impact. The Research Council’s new strategy for an innovative business sector emphasises that there will be a greater need in the future for research investment and use of R&D in companies. Further development of the knowledge base within the research community will be needed to achieve greater impact and better use of public funding.

Target Area 3 – Address major societal challenges

There are high expectations regarding how research and innovation can be used to address major societal challenges. Areas prioritised in the Long-term plan for research and higher education include: seas and oceans; climate, environment and clean energy; public sectors renewal, better and more effective welfare, health and care services. As a whole, the Research Council in 2016 has strengthened its ability to address major societal and business-related challenges. The underlying strategic foundation has been further refined in the revision of Norway’s technology strategy for the petroleum sector (OG21), the new MARITIM 21 strategy, and knowledge-based input to the Government strategies on oceans and the bioeconomy as well as the low emissions initiative. The review of the structure of funding instruments for the health and care field has resulted in three large-scale health initiatives. Other important initiatives include the establishment of the new Programme for Research and Innovation in the Municipal Sector (FORKOMMUNE) and a new administrative unit at the Research Council for renewal and innovation in the public sector. The PILOT-E measure creates a better framework for linking research to application in the energy field. The measure is a cooperative effort with Innovation Norway and Enova.

Activities under the Programme on Global Health and Vaccination Research (GLOBVAC) have been significant in 2016 as well. There is a documented positive effect for both the new Ebola vaccine and the vaccine against Rotavirus. The relevance of research on tax havens, capital flight and development, funded under the research programme Norway – A Global Partner (NORGLOBAL), became evident in connection with the leak of the “Panama Papers”. This also applies to the effort to increase the accessibility and utilisation of personal data for health research, and several important initiatives have now been implemented.

Target Area 4 – A well-functioning research system

The EU mobilisation measures are essentially in place, and the Norwegian share of EU contribution is stable. The most recent calculations this autumn showed a figure of 1.87 per cent, indicating that the target of a 2 per cent share of EU contribution from Horizon 2020 is realistic. Trade and industry takes active part in Horizon 2020, and projects in this segment comprise one-third of the Norwegian share of EU contribution. Norwegian research groups are doing well in many areas, but have a low level of success in the ERC. Therefore, special measures to develop grant applications to the ERC have been established under a dedicated funding scheme.

Effective use of national research infrastructure is critical for a well-functioning research system. The allocations in 2016 have enhanced the potential for expanded cooperation and adequate exploitation of national research infrastructure, and they tie Norwegian research groups into international cooperation. Funding for eight new Centres for Environment-friendly Energy Research (FME) and the announcement of a new funding round for the Centres of Excellence (SFF) scheme promote greater concentration of resources and establish important new knowledge hubs in Norwegian research. The evaluation of the 14 Centres for Research-based Innovation (SFI) that was completed in 2015 showed that as many as 900 research fellows have been affiliated with the centres. In this way, the centres have been the focal point for research-based innovation that they were meant to be.

Target Area 5 – Sound advice

Access to sound advice has increasingly become a pivotal component of the ability to target research policy and research initiatives. The Research Council has continued its ongoing efforts in 2016 as well. Three new strategies have been drawn up: the revised innovation policy, the policy for researcher recruitment and the policy for integrated health research and innovation at the Research Council. In addition, input has been given on several of the Government’s strategic initiatives in various areas of society and trade and industry, and the Research Council has served as the secretariat for the new strategy for the maritime sector (MARITIM21).

A number of meeting places have been organised where researchers, branches of industry and various stakeholders in society can meet to update their knowledge and discuss research needs and research policy. The knowledge base has been greatly expanded through new analyses, e.g. in climate, environmental and polar research. The Research Council has also developed a new monitoring tool that provides a complete overview of all health and care research (Health&Care21 monitor).

Sound advice and dialogue based on a reliable, extensive knowledge base will become even more important in the years to come. This is the case not least because research and research policy will become increasingly important in political debate and decision-making.


The Research Council has worked actively to reduce costs and enhance efficiency over many years, in part through digitalisation. In 2016, expenditures for administrative costs declined. This is due primarily to postponing new hiring and exercising caution in light of future efficiency requirements. In 2016, more attention has been placed on the need for further cost reductions and enhanced efficiency. A simpler administrative structure for research programmes and funding instruments, a more comprehensive system for scientific assessment and ranking, greater standardisation and simplification of application types and better task distribution in application and reporting activities will play a key role in rationalising and enhancing the quality of the Council’s activities. This will be further supported by efforts to increase the efficiency of analysis and advisory functions, in part through digitalisation and new IT tools. Changes related to the Council’s meeting place function will ensure better utilisation of resources as well.

Director General Arvid Hallén’s second term concluded in November 2016. The Executive Board has appointed John-Arne Røttingen to take over the role as head of the Research Council. Dr Røttingen comes from a leadership position at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, and has extensive experience from research, research policy and international cooperation.

Assessment of the Executive Board

The overall assessment of the Executive Board for 2016 is that all five objectives set for the Research Council have been achieved to a satisfactory level. There has been increased activity within all the target areas, both through increased allocations over the national budget and through more research activity in the research environments as a result of the allocations. The analysis of the management information given in the five target areas also indicates that the impact of the efforts has been satisfactory. However, there is potential to improve performance in all target areas. The Executive Board is also of the opinion that the Research Council’s efforts have contributed to adequate follow-up of the Government’s Long-term plan for research and higher education.

The challenges of tomorrow are complex, cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary, and dealing with them will require an organisational form that can accommodate integration and diversity. In the view of the Executive Board, the Research Council is well-equipped for this task. 

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