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Norwegian humanities research is thriving

The full scope of Norwegian humanities research has been evaluated for the first time in over 30 years. This is also the first time that the societal impact of the discipline and the interplay between research and teaching have been included in an evaluation of this type.

The evaluation was commissioned by the Research Council of Norway.

Over the past two years, 54 international peers organised into eight field panels have evaluated 2 300 researchers and 97 research groups in 36 organisations. The evaluation panels have provided a set of recommendations to the Government, the Research Council of Norway and the institutions themselves on how to target their future efforts. See the list of recommendations in the box below.

Scored high on scientific quality and relevance to society

Norwegian humanities research is well resourced and holds a high international standard in a number of areas. Developments have been positive in the past decade, particularly in terms of publication volume, scientific quality, research productivity, internationalisation, doctoral education and the and the performance of collaborative research groups. The evaluation states that there are research groups of high international calibre in all areas and that some of these are internationally leading.

“The evaluation report, together with the Government white paper on the humanities in Norway presented earlier this year, will be an important compass for Norwegian humanities research in the years ahead,” says Chief Executive of the Research Council, John-Arne Røttingen.

The evaluation report will be an important compass for Norwegian humanities research in the years ahead, says John-Arne Røttingen. “The report recommends, among other things, that the Research Council targets its resources better and encourages greater collaboration between researchers across institutions in Norway. Although there are extensive interdisciplinary research activities in the humanities there is still room for improvement. The Research Council should work together with the authorities to find ways to facilitate this.”

“The list of examples of the concrete societal impacts of humanities research demonstrates the strength and importance of the disciplines. There is wide-ranging collaboration between public and private institutions. However, the evaluation report points out that there is potential for further development here as well. We at the Research Council will do our part to ensure that this positive trend continues, and we will incorporate humanities research into even more of our funding announcements,” concludes Dr Røttingen.

 

Good publication output overall, but more is needed

On the whole, productivity among humanities researchers is good, with higher average publication points per academic staff than for the other disciplines in Norway. There was a 7.8 per cent increase in publication points between 2011 and 2015, with the greatest growth in the fields of aesthetic studies, media studies, and Nordic and comparative literature.

Nevertheless, 26 per cent of researchers had no publication points at all. This is likely due to the fact that several of the institutions included in the evaluation have only recently established research activities, and that many of the subjects have a heavy teaching burden. Only one third of the non-publishing research staff are PhD students.

The Norwegian Government and the individual institutions should develop stronger strategies and priorities for humanities research, says Professor Shearer West. (Photo: University of Sheffield) Viewing national issues in a wider context

“In a number of instances, humanities research focuses on Norwegian issues and contexts. This is reasonable and understandable in some areas such as Norwegian language, literature and history,” says the chair of the principal evaluation committee, Professor Shearer West of the University of Sheffield.

“However, we believe there is much to be gained from considering how topics, questions and problems investigated in Norwegian case studies can be linked to larger, comparable international phenomena.”

“Our most important recommendation is that both the Norwegian Government and the individual institutions should develop stronger strategies and priorities for humanities research, recognising the strengths and weaknesses of the system and the limitations in terms of resources,” concludes Professor West.

The effort to follow up the evaluation will begin in the autumn. A large follow-up meeting will be held on 20 September.

All of the evaluation reports are available for download. A link to the principal report may also be found at right.

Recommendations

To the institutions

  • Both the Norwegian Government and individual institutions need to develop stronger strategies and priorities for Humanities research, recognising the strengths and weaknesses of the system and the limitations in terms of resources.
  • If university colleges are expected to produce high-quality research, there is a need to recruit more staff with PhDs and provide an appropriate time allocation to enable staff to conduct research of the requisite quality, so that staff are not trapped forever in the lower tier of research performance owing to a limited allocation of research time.
  • There are too many researchers in Norway with very low or zero publication points. When considering the allocation of limited resources, it is important to recognise that poor performance should not be rewarded. 
  • There is a need for researchers to target more internationally leading journals and peer-reviewed book publications, rather than lower-tier journals.
  • Nearly all institutions reviewed could improve their international strategies, by considering the potential of inviting international scholars to Norway, publishing in higher-quality international journals, providing staff with opportunities for mobility and for applying for more EU research grants.
  • Both institutions and the RCN could benefit from considering the lessons to be learned from successful research groups and to share that good practice. Groups could provide more consistent opportunities for early-career researchers to work with senior professors on more focused projects.
  • Institutions could benefit from paying more attention to succession planning and the generational mix of their staffing profile.
  • The Government and institutions should work to reverse the worrying decline in the proportion of women postdocs in the Humanities, and to manage the pipeline of talent to continue to improve the proportion of women professors.
  • If institutions wish to strengthen research in Modern Languages and Literatures, they will need to look at the structure of teaching programmes.​

To the Research Council of Norway

  • Both institutions and the RCN could benefit from considering the lessons to be learned from successful research groups and to share that good practice. Groups could provide more consistent opportunities for early-career researchers to work with senior professors on more focused projects.
  • Given the varying profiles of the big universities and university colleges, the panels felt that it was unrealistic to enforce the same policies for all.
  • The panels were favourably impressed with the range and depth of societal impacts from the Humanities. However, the RCN could work with the Humanities and other fields to help researchers to understand both the potential for greater societal impact and how to gather evidence of impact.
  • There is a need for the Government and the RCN to target resources and to incentivise greater collaboration among scholars in different institutions in Norway. This will be a matter for Norwegian priorities, but the panel suggested some potential examples: international graduate schools; trans-disciplinary programmes for digitalisation and its impacts; IT infrastructure for computational approaches, such as in corpus linguistics. Consideration should be given to the advantages of national doctoral training programmes in particular fields where there are small numbers of students at individual institutions.

To the Government

  • Both the Norwegian Government and individual institutions need to develop stronger strategies and priorities for Humanities research, recognising the strengths and weaknesses of the system and the limitations in terms of resources.
  • Given the varying profiles of the big universities and university colleges, the panels felt that it was unrealistic to enforce the same policies for all.
  • The Norwegian Government should consider the value Humanities research can contribute to national priorities when identifying and defining priorities.
  • The Humanities play a significant role in understanding both minority languages and cultures and engaging with those communities. The Norwegian Government could consider how to capitalise on this more strongly. This is an increasingly central area, both for public policy and civil society, and the Norwegian Government may want to consider supporting research on topics in, for example, Sámi culture or the Arctic region.
  • The Government and institutions should work to reverse the worrying decline in the proportion of women postdocs in the Humanities, and to manage the pipeline of talent to continue to improve the proportion of women professors.
  • If Government wishes to enhance skills in Modern Languages and Literatures, the cost of delivering teaching programmes should be recognised.
  • There is a need for the Government and the RCN to target resources and to incentivise greater collaboration among scholars in different institutions in Norway. This will be a matter for Norwegian priorities, but the panel suggested some potential examples: international graduate schools; trans-disciplinary programmes for digitalisation and its impacts; IT infrastructure for computational approaches, such as in corpus linguistics. Consideration should be given to the advantages of national doctoral training programmes in particular fields where there are small numbers of students at individual institutions.

 

 

Written by:
Therese Farstad. Translation: Victoria Coleman/Carol B. Eckmann.
Published:
27.06.2017
Last updated:
03.07.2017