Norwegian Centre of Excellence – SFF-V – Phase 2

Planned

This call may be subject to revision until six weeks before the application submission deadline. It will be possible to create and submit grant applications from that date and up to the submission deadline. If the call is revised, we will provide notification here.

If you have any questions, see ‘Questions and answers about the call for proposals for SFF-V’ (coming soon).

Purpose

The SFF scheme gives Norway’s best researchers the opportunity to organise their research activities in centres that seek to achieve ambitious scientific objectives through collaboration and with long-term basic funding.

The research conducted at the centres must be innovative and have major potential to generate ground-breaking results that advance the international research frontier.

The centres must work with ambitious ideas and complex problems that require coordinated, long-term research activities within or across disciplines to achieve their objectives.

The call is open to grant applications within all disciplines and research areas.

Important dates

11 Jun 2021

Invitation to Phase 2

16 Jun 2021

Information meeting about Phase 2

More information will follow.

04 Aug 2021

Date call is made active

18 Aug 2021

Information meeting about the application form

More information will follow.

15 Sep 2021

Application submission deadline

31 Jul 2022

Summer 2022

Decision on funding awards.

01 Sep 2022

Earliest permitted project start

01 Dec 2022

Latest permitted project start

30 Nov 2032

Latest permitted project completion

Important dates

About the call for proposals

This call comprises the second phase of a two-phase application process to select the fifth generation of the Centres of Excellence (SFF-V). Phase 2 is reserved for prequalified applicants selected from the Phase 1 assessment process.

The application must describe the same research as the application for Phase 1, but in a more detailed project description.The application for Phase 1 will not be read or assessed in Phase 2. An exemption applies if there is doubt that the application is the same as was assessed in Phase 1, in which case the referee panel and scientific committee in Phase 2 may be given access to the grant applications for Phase 1 to consider whether the requirement has been met.

In connection with their planning activities, applicants should acquaint themselves with the Research Council’s contract and the attachment containing the specific "Requirements and guidelines for SFF centres". See here for a preliminary version (coming soon).

If the centre is awarded SFF funding, the contract is to be signed by the centre’s host institution and the Research Council.

The Norwegian-language call for proposals is the legally binding version. In the application review process, however, only the English-language assessment criteria will be used, and it is the English-language assessment criteria that are legally binding.

Who is eligible to apply?

Phase 2 is reserved for prequalified applicants selected from the Phase 1 assessment process.

Only approved Norwegian research organisations may serve as the Project Owner. See the list of approved Norwegian research organisations.

In the context of the SFF scheme, the Project Owner is also referred to as the ‘host institution’.

Who can participate in the project?

Requirements relating to the Project Owner

The host institution is to be listed as the Project Owner in the grant application form.

Important points from ‘Requirements and guidelines for SFF’ that the host institution should take note of:

  • The Project Owner’s organisation must facilitate co-localisation of the centre and make suitable premises available. 
  • The Project Owner’s organisation must contribute administrative services to the running of the centre.
  • The Project Owner’s organisation must adopt guidelines for SFFs in their organisation to ensure that the centres and their activities are supported by the host institution’s management. 

Requirements relating to project managers

  • The project manager named in the application must be the same as in the Phase 1 application.
  • The project manager named in the application must be the person designated as centre director upon project start-up.
  • If the application for Phase 1 had two centre directors, the same two persons must be named as centre directors for the same time periods as described for Phase 1.
  • You must have an approved doctorate or achieved professor/associate professor qualifications before the date of the application submission deadline. For the purposes of this call, you are also qualified if you hold or have held a position as forsker 1 (research professor), forsker 2 (senior researcher) or seniorforsker (senior researcher) in the institute sector.
  • You must be employed by the Project Owner(host institution) at project start-up.
  • You can only be centre director for one application.
  • You can participate in other grant applications, but may not serve as centre director.
  • An SFF centre may have only one centre director at a time. A centre may nevertheless have two individuals who alternate in filling the role of centre director. This may be done by changing directors once during the centre’s period of operation, or by alternating back and forth multiple times.
  • If the centre director is not employed by the host institution at the time of the application deadline, you must submit a signed letter from the centre director (see the template ‘SFF-V Confirmation Centre director’ at the end of this call) where she/he confirms acceptance of a minimum of an 80 per cent position at the host institution and as a centre director, and that he/she will be physically present at the host institution for a major part of the time each year.

Requirements relating to partners

An SFF centre is not required to have partners.

Only approved Norwegian research organisations and similar research organisations in other countries are eligible to be formal partners.

The centre is intended to further develop a leading research environment in Norway, and financial support to international research organisations is therefore to be limited. If the proposed centre will incorporate financial support to international institutions, the project description must explain how this funding will benefit the development of the Norwegian research environment.

If the proposed centre is awarded funding, a collaboration agreement between the host institution and each collaborating partner must be signed at the institutional level before the SFF contract between the Research Council and the host institution can be signed.

As a rule, the centre is to consist of research groups co-located at the centre’s premises at the host institution. Principal investigators/group leaders employed by a collaborating partner must be present in person at the host institution on a regular basis.

Requirements relating to principal investigators/group leaders

The requirements apply to the principal investigators/group leaders whose CVs are submitted:

  • The CVs submitted must belong to the same persons as for Phase 1.
  • Principal investigators/group leaders must be employed by the Project Owner/host institution or one of the collaborating partners at project start-up.
  • If a principal investigator/group leader is not employed in Norway at the time of application, a signed confirmation from the principal investigator/group leader (see the template ‘SFF-V confirmation group leader’ at the end of this call) must be submitted stating that she/he will be employed in at least a 20 per cent of a full-time position by the centre, and be based at the host institution for at least four weeks in total each year.

In Phase 1, you were informed that you could submit no more than seven CVs. In Phase 2 you must submit the same CVs as in Phase 1. If the centre only had one centre director, a CV could be submitted for no more than six principal investigators/group leaders. If the centre had two centre directors, a CV could be submitted for no more than five principal investigators/group leaders.

A principal investigator/group leader may participate in several applications for Phase 2 if he/she also participated in the same applications for Phase 1.

What can you seek funding for?

The Research Council makes a distinction between the centre’s

  • basic funding – to be entered in the grant application form
  • supplementary funding – to be entered in a mandatory attachment to the grant application form (see the template ‘SFF-V 10-year budget’).

The centre’s basic funding

Basic funding typically consists of the SFF grant from the Research Council, own financing from the host institution and any collaborating partners, and other funding that has already been secured. 

The Research Council does not require a contribution of own financing for basic funding. However, an SFF centre has scientific objectives and a level of complexity that will normally require a substantially higher level of funding than the Research Council’s grant. It is therefore recommended that the Project Owner/host institution) and the centre’s collaborating partners contribute to the basic funding amount. In addition, already secured contributions from other parties, such as foundations and private and public organisations, may be included in the basic funding.

The basic funding must finance activities that support the centre’s objectives. This may include payroll and indirect costs (including costs related to visiting researchers in Norway and research stays abroad), costs for use of research infrastructure, travel and meeting expenses and other operating expenses. You will find detailed and important information about what to enter in the project budget on our website.

Please note: The budget tables in the grant application form do not have enough room for all 10 years. Therefore, only the first 72 months, 2022–2028, are to be entered.

The basic funding amounts for the entire 10-year period are to be entered in the attachment ‘SFF-V 10-year budget.xlsx’ along with the amounts of supplementary funding. A maximum of 60 per cent of the Research Council’s SFF contribution for the 10-year period can be budgeted for the period prior to the mid-term evaluation, i.e. the first 72 months.

Supplementary funding

Supplementary funding consists of all other anticipated income, including income from new competition-based projects that support the centre's research objectives.

The Research Council expects the host institution and any collaborating partners to obtain and include new competition-based research projects that support the centre’s research objectives. Existing projects with funding that runs into the centre’s period of operation may also be included in the supplementary funding. The optimal amount of supplementary funding will vary from centre to centre and from field to field, and the applicant will be asked to state a realistic financial target for this funding in the attachment to the grant application form. The extent to which the centre achieves the stated target for supplementary funding will be monitored through annual progress reports, the mid-term evaluation and the centre’s final report.

Conditions for funding

The Research Council will not award support that constitutes state aid under this call. This means that the Research Council funding is only to go to the non-economic activity of the research organisations as defined by the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA)’s guidelines on state aid for research, development and innovation. The Research Council requires a clear separation of accounts for the research organisation’s economic and non-economic activities.

The grant application should present a plan for the ten-year centre period. The mid-term evaluation may conclude that funding will be terminated after six years or continued for the full ten-year period.

The Research Council’s requirements relating to the allocation and disbursement of funding for the first year and any pledges and payments for subsequent years are set out in the General Terms and Conditions for R&D Projects.

Archiving of research data

The Project Owner is responsible for selecting which archiving solution(s) to use for storing research data generated during the project. The Project Owner must specify the planned solution(s) in connection with the revised grant proposal.

Relevant thematic areas for this call

Grant proposals will be accepted for projects within all disciplines and research areas.

Ground-breaking research

Practical information

Requirements for this application type

Grant applications may be created starting six weeks before the application deadline and are to be submitted via ‘My RCN Web’. You may revise and resubmit your grant application multiple times up to the application submission deadline. We recommend that you submit your application as soon as you have filled in the application form and included all mandatory attachments. After the deadline, it is the most recently submitted version of the grant application that will be processed.

Grant applications that do not satisfy the following requirements will be rejected:

  • S The grant application has been invited to proceed to Phase 2 of the process.
  •  
  •  The centre director and principal investigators/group leaders whose CVs are submitted must be the same as in Phase 1.
  • The application and all attachments must be submitted in English.
  • All mandatory attachments must be included.
  • Requirements relating to the project manager must be satisfied.
  • Requirements relating to the Project Owner must be satisfied.

Attachments

Use the designated templates found at the end of this call. Links contained in the submitted attachments will not be included in the application review process.

Mandatory attachments

  • A project description, 1 front page + maximum 15-page project description (optionally including some references) + 1 page reserved for references. This is to be uploaded as a single attachment of maximum 17 pages. 
  • CV(s) for the project manager/centre director(s) (maximum 2 pages) + 10-year track record (maximum 2 pages). This is to be uploaded as a single attachment of maximum 4 pages.
  • CV (maximum 2 pages) + 10-year track record (maximum 2 pages) or CV (maximum 2 pages) + early achievements track record (maximum 2 pages) for minimum 2 to maximum 6 principal investigators/group leaders. If there are 2 centre directors, maximum 5 CVs for principal investigators/group leaders can be uploaded. This is to be uploaded as a single attachment of maximum 4 pages per principal investigator/group leader.
  • A funding plan that specifies the centre’s total funding, both basic funding and supplementary funding, for 10 years. Use the Excel template ‘SFF-V 10-year budget’ and upload under ‘Attachments/Other items’ in the application form.
  • If the centre director is not employed by the host institution at the time of the application deadline, you must submit a signed confirmation from the centre director for Phase 2. Use the template ‘SFF-V Confirmation centre director’ and upload under ‘Attachments/Other items’ in the application form.
  • If a principal investigator/group leader (for whom a CV is submitted) is not employed in Norway at the time of the application deadline, you must submit an updated signed confirmation from the principal investigator/group leader for Phase 2. Use the template ‘SFF-V Confirmation Group Leader’ and upload under ‘Attachments/Other items’ in the application form.
  • If the centre has a non-Norwegian collaborating partner, the following must be submitted, updated for Phase 2: A signed letter of intent from the rector/director of the international research institution, stating that it intends to sign a collaboration agreement with the host institution should the centre be awarded funding. Upload the attachment under ‘Attachments/Confirmation from partners’. No attachments should be uploaded under ‘Partner information’.

Optional attachment

  • A proposal for up to three impartial international experts (name, title and affiliation). For interdisciplinary grant applications, applicants are encouraged to propose interdisciplinary experts or experts in all disciplines relevant to the grant application. The Research Council is not under any obligation to use the proposed referees, but may use them as needed.

CVs + track records that exceed 4 pages combined will not be included in the application review process.

Attachments other than the mandatory and optional attachments specified above will not be included in the application review process.

Assessment criteria

Grant applications will be assessed on the basis of the following criteria:

Excellence

Novelty
The extent to which:
• the proposed research addresses important research challenges that will have great impact on international research themes and/or research methods.
• the objectives are ambitious and beyond the state-of-the-art (e.g. novel concepts and approaches, development of novel methodology or development between or across disciplines).
• the proposed research has the potential to achieve ground-breaking results.

Solidity
The extent to which:
• the outlined scientific approach is feasible.
• the proposed research methodologies are appropriate to achieve the scientific goals of the centre.
• the combination of scientific elements put forward in the proposal is crucial to address the scope and complexity of the research question.
• appropriate consideration has been given to ethical issues, safety issues and gender dimensions in the research content (Phase 2 only).

Impact

The extent to which:
• the centre will contribute to the development of an internationally leading research environment in Norway.
• the centre will create an environment that will attract and train research talents beyond what could be attained in the individual research groups (Phase 2 only).

The quality and scope of communication and engagement activities with different target audiences (Phase 2 only).

Implementation

Centre director and group leaders
Centre director
The extent to which:
• the centre director has demonstrated the ability to conduct ground-breaking research.
• the centre director has the required scientific expertise and capacity to successfully lead the centre.
• the centre director has demonstrated sound leadership in the training and advancement of young scientist.

Group leaders, for which CVs are submitted
The extent to which:
• the group leaders have demonstrated the ability to conduct ground-breaking research.
• the group leaders have the required scientific expertise and capacity to successfully execute the project.

• Does at least one of the group leaders, in addition to the centre director, have an accomplished track record?

Centre organisation
The extent to which:
• the proposal goes beyond what the individual group leaders could achieve alone.
• the group successfully demonstrates in the proposal that it brings together the elements – such as skills, knowledge, experience, expertise, disciplines, methods, approaches, teams – necessary to address the proposed research question (Phase 2 only).
• the management structures and governance are appropriate (Phase 2 only).
• the physical organisation of the centre is optimal for the scientific collaboration and a fertile student environment (Phase 2 only).

If the group consisting of the centre director and the group leaders is characterised by gender imbalance, are the plans to support development of research talents of the under-represented gender towards qualification for senior-level positions appropriate (Phase 2 only)?

The scientific committee will rank a grant application with a woman centre director highest when grant applications are otherwise considered equally good according to the assessment criteria (moderate gender quota).

Administrative procedures

Application assessment process for SFF-V, Phase 1

The scientific committee for Phase 1

Grant applications submitted under Phase 1 will be assessed by a scientific committee comprised of three subcommittees. The consolidated scientific committee recommends which applicants should be invited to advance to Phase 2. 

The members of the scientific committee will not have specialist expertise in the thematic area of each grant application, but are to have extensive research experience at a high international level as well as experience of leading large-scale research activities. None of the members may be employed in a permanent position in Norway. Each subcommittee will have approximately 11 members, and the consolidated scientific committee will comprise approximately 33 members.

The names of the members will be published on the SFF scheme webpages as soon as all members have been appointed, and before the application submission deadline.

Three subcommittees

The scientific committee for Phase 1 will comprise three subcommittees:

  • Humanities and Social Sciences;
  • Life Sciences;
  • Natural Sciences and Technology.

The meetings of each of the three subcommittees will be virtual meetings that are held simultaneously. Each grant application will primarily be discussed in one or two subcommittees. The committee members are to read the grant applications prior to the meeting. An assessor will be assigned for each grant application along with at least three additional committee members who are to deliver a written assessment in relation to each of the assessment criteria. At the meeting, each grant application will be discussed, and a brief joint assessment from the subcommittee will be prepared.

The subcommittees assign a mark for each assessment criteria as well as a discretionary overall mark. The committee is to rank grant applications with a woman centre director highest when all other factors relating to the assessment criteria are essentially equal (moderate gender quotas).

Each subcommittee will draw up a list of grant applications that it recommends for advancement to Phase 2.

Assessment process for interdisciplinary applications in Phase 1

On page 1 of the project description, centre directors must specify which of the three subcommittees they wish to have assess their grant application. Each subcommittee is comprised of members from a wide range of fields and will therefore also assess some interdisciplinary grant applications. Other interdisciplinary proposals may extend across multiple subcommittees, and in these cases, the centre director may select two subcommittees for the review process, specifying one as the primary subcommittee. In these cases, each subcommittee will focus on the research that falls within its area of expertise. If one of the subcommittees finds the grant application to be 'very good', an interdisciplinary panel will be set up with 4–6 subcommittee members who have each been responsible for providing a written assessment of that grant application. The interdisciplinary panel’s joint assessment will be returned to the primary subcommittee, which will take this assessment into consideration when drawing up its list of grant applications to recommend for advancement to Phase 2.

Meetings of the scientific committee for Phase 1

Once all the grant applications have been discussed in subcommittees and interdisciplinary panels, and the subcommittees have drawn up their lists of recommendations, the subcommittees will all come together for a joint meeting. This consolidated scientific committee will propose a final list of applicants to be invited to advance to Phase 2. The consolidated scientific committee has the discretion to select a somewhat higher number of grant applications from one subcommittee than from another, depending on the number of applications under the subcommittees and the discussions regarding quality. It is also the responsibility of the consolidated scientific committee to ensure that very good applications that have been reviewed by two subcommittees receive the necessary attention in the joint discussions.

Approximately three times as many grant applications as can be funded may be invited to submit a full application in Phase 2. The consolidated scientific committee will approve a list of applicants that in their opinion should be invited to advance to Phase 2.

Final decision in Phase 1

The Executive Board of the Research Council will determine whether to approve the application assessment process for Phase 1. If the process is approved, the Board will make the final decisions regarding which applicants from the scientific committee’s list are to be invited to advance to Phase 2. The impartiality of the Board members will be verified in advance. It may be necessary to appoint substitute members to the Board.

Feedback to applicants after Phase 1

The brief joint assessment prepared for each grant application in the subcommittees will be sent as feedback to all applicants, along with the marks for each criterion and the overall mark. Applicants not invited to participate in Phase 2 will not receive any additional scientific explanation of why their grant application was rejected.

Application assessment process for SFF-V, Phase 2

First, each grant application in Phase 2 will be assessed by a referee panel

Three individual experts (peer reviewers) with specialist expertise will assess each grant application, but the number of experts may be increased if the Research Council administration deems this necessary. None of the members may be employed in a permanent position in Norway. InPphase 2, applicants may suggest additional experts to use in the review process, and the Research Council may choose to use one of these.

Each of the three experts is first to prepare his/her individual assessment of the grant application. They will then form a referee panel that communicates electronically and produce an overall panel assessment of the grant application, including assigning marks. If one or more panel members has a dissenting opinion regarding one or more of the criteria, this must be clearly stated in the overall panel assessment. In the event of a dissenting opinion, the grant application will not be assigned a single mark that is an average of all the marks, but instead the range of marks will be presented.

Applicants will be sent the referee panel’s preliminary assessment and mark(s) and will have the opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings of a scientific nature in the panel’s assessment. These comments will then be returned to the panel, which may choose whether to take the comments into account in its final assessment.

Please note that the referee panel assigning the assessments and marks has only reviewed a single grant application and has therefore been unable to compare it with the other proposals.

The names of the referees will be published on our website when Phase 2 of the application assessment process is concluded.

Scientific committee for Phase 2

The scientific committee for Phase 2 will comprise nine members with backgrounds in a broad range of research fields at a high international level and experience in leading large-scale research activities. None of the members may be employed in a permanent position in Norway, and none will have been involved in the Phase 1 scientific committee or the referee panels. There will be three members from the humanities and social sciences community, three from the life sciences community, and three from the natural sciences and technology community.

The members’ names will be published on our website as soon as all members have been appointed.

Meeting of the scientific committee for Phase 2

In Phase 2, the scientific committee will assess the submitted grant applications in relation to each other. The referee panels conducting the assessments and assigning marks have only reviewed a single grant application and have therefore been unable to compare the level of the applications against each other. It is therefore possible that the scientific committee ranks applications with high marks from the referee panel below applications that received lower marks.

The scientific committee will review the grant applications, the referee panels’ assessments and the applicants' comments. The committee’s task is to compare and rank the grant applications. The committee will conduct interviews with all of the centre directors in Phase 2. The interviews will last 20 minutes per proposal and seek to obtain answers to the committee’s questions about the proposal. In addition, the interview will focus on how well the centre director is suited for the task of leading the proposed centre. The committee is not to give consideration to scientific discipline when ranking the grant applications. Nevertheless, the composition of the committee will likely result in a fairly even distribution of highly ranked applications from the humanities and social sciences, life sciences, and natural sciences and technology.

The committee is to rank grant applications with a woman centre director highest when all other factors relating to the assessment criteria are essentially equal (moderate gender quotas).

The committee will draw up a list of grant applications recommended for SFF centre status and funding.

Final decision in Phase 2

The Executive Board of the Research Council will determine whether to approve the application assessment process for Phase 2. If the process is approved, the Board will make the final decisions regarding funding of centres based on the ranked list from the scientific committee for Phase 2. The Executive Board will decide how many centres are to be granted SFF status. The impartiality of the Board members must be verified in advance, and substitute members may need to be appointed.

Feedback to applicants after Phase 2

The feedback to the applicants in Phase 2 will consist of the final assessment from the referee panel and a brief statement from the scientific committee for Phase 2.

The funding decisions are expected to be announced in summer 2022.