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Primary industry institutes a key to sustainability

The Research Council of Norway’s evaluation of the primary industry institutes shows that they operate in areas of high and increasing importance, nationally and internationally, but that they can contribute even more to national economic restructuring and the development of more sustainable primary industries.

The evaluation committee also proposes the introduction of a new basic funding system for the institutes.

A nine-member Nordic expert committee chaired by Lars Peder Brekk, Director-General of the Brønnøysund Register Centre, conducted the evaluation for the Research Council. The Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU) served as secretariat.

The Research Council has now evaluated all four categories of the Norwegian institute sector, with the primary industry arena as the final focus. The following seven institutes were evaluated:

  • Centre for Rural Research (CRR)
  • Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO)
  • Nofima AS
  • SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture (now part of SINTEF Ocean)
  • Norwegian Veterinary Institute
  • Institute of Marine Research
  • National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES) (now merged with the Institute of Marine Research)

The committee’s recommendations are targeted towards the research institutes themselves, the authorities and the Research Council.

The main report (in Norwegian with English summary) can be downloaded at right on this page. All reports from the evaluation are available on the evaluation’s information page (in Norwegian).

Primary industry institutes are a mainstay of Norwegian natural resources management

One overall challenge is to ensure access to safe and nutritious food for a growing population while pursuing sustainable management of the natural resources. Another important objective is to exploit the opportunities of the bioeconomy. In the view of the committee the primary industry institutes constitute a strength for Norway in these areas, but there is potential to make better use of the expertise and infrastructure of these institutes.

Lars Peder Brekk chaired the committee. (Photo: Brønnøysundregistrene)  “We think more of the institutes should incorporate the UN Sustainable Development Goals into their strategies to a greater degree,” says Lars Peder Brekk, the committee chair. “We also think the funding ministries should coordinate their overall objectives for the institutes better through their general management and funding of the institutes.”

“We would also like to see more strategic management in the institutes themselves. All institutes should have boards, and each board must periodically draw up a strategic development plan for the institute. The board should have representatives from the authorities, the research community, business and industry and other stakeholders, such as international representatives with insight into research,” says Mr Brekk.

Important actors that should contribute more to recruitment and internationalisation

In Norway, research institutes are dominant actors in marine research, food research, agriculture and veterinary medicine. According to the committee, this central role entails certain responsibilities. The institutes must provide knowledge to address long-term needs and the future restructuring of the Norwegian economy as pertains to the primary industries. They must also contribute to policies for business development and public administration in the fields of agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture and resource management.

The institutes should maintain their present level of scientific publication, which is good. However, the institutes should become more involved in the education of Ph.D. and Master’s degree candidates within their respective fields. The committee also believes the institutes should take a stronger leadership role in Norwegian participation in international programmes, especially Horizon 2020.

The evaluation committee emphasised that the institutes need to design good procedures for quality assurance of professional advice and clear internal guidelines for how input is to be conveyed.

Academic independence and cooperation across boundaries

The evaluation advises the Research Council to take the initiative to reassess the present overall arena structure for the primary industry institutes.

Christen Krogh. (Photo: Forskningsrådet) “But the committee also notes that the institutes are robust organisations and there is no need for more organisational changes, especially after the most recent mergers,” says Christen Krogh, Director of the Department for Research Institute Policy and Public-Private Research Coordination at the Research Council.

“The evaluation shows that the institutes have strong professional ties with groups outside their institute arena, and that the knowledge needed to address societal challenges often extends across ministerial and sectoral boundaries. Collaborating with actors in other fields may also make it easier to succeed in the competition for research funding, both nationally and internationally.” 

Changing the basic funding scheme

The committee has reviewed and evaluated alternative models for allocating basic funding to the primary industry institutes.

“The committee recommends that the Research Council and the authorities discontinue the current basic funding scheme and replace it with a simpler and more flexible system consisting of two main parts,” the department director says.

“They believe that a stable and, for several of the institutes, larger basic allocation should be fixed or, when relevant, adjusted using broader criteria than today. In addition, the Research Council is advised to introduce a new and different strategic element into the scheme. Its purpose would be to fund specific strategic initiatives and needs, and it should be adjustable according to qualitative assessment criteria.”

Christen Krogh adds: “We will examine all of the recommendations from the evaluation in greater detail. The follow-up will begin right after summer.”

Written by:
Therese Farstad. Translation: Walter Gibbs/Carol B. Eckmann.
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