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Distribution of decision-making responsibility regarding establishment of research infrastructure

The government white paper on research Climate for Research  defines a distribution of decision-making between the R&D institutions, the Research Council and the ministries with regard to the establishment of new research infrastructure.

The R&D institutions

The basic infrastructure at R&D institutions consists of the scientific equipment needed to conduct activities of adequate quality. Investments in and the establishment of such infrastructure should be covered by the institutions themselves, and funded through the basic allocation they receive. R&D institutions are considered to be in the best position to assess which basic equipment they need and to ensure that allocation procedures remain simple and efficient.

The Research Council will contribute to the institutions’ own investments by allowing all grants for R&D projects involving the use of infrastructure procured by the institution itself to be used to cover a relative percentage of the depreciation costs of this infrastructure. Research Council grants may also be used to cover operating costs for the project’s use of infrastructure, and towards “project-specific equipment”, defined as equipment that is necessary for the execution of the research project and that will not be of any additional use outside the scope of the project.

The Research Council

The Research Council is responsible for taking decisions regarding investment in research infrastructure of national importance (see the fact box). Funding channelled via the Research Council is intended to support the development of research areas of national priority and industries of national importance with a significant need for research infrastructure. The Research Council will help to coordinate investments when multiple research communities need a certain type of infrastructure but the costs are so high that cooperation is the best solution. The Research Council assesses grant applications for research infrastructure involving investment costs starting at NOK 2 million and up, and can grant a maximum of NOK 200 million in project funding to individual projects.

The establishment of research infrastructure involving external investments that exceed NOK 200 million is decided at the ministerial or government level. However, the Research Council may assess grant proposals seeking more than NOK 200 million as part of the review process for other grant proposals in order to make its recommendation to the relevant ministries. Institutions or consortia seeking to establish research facilities with investment costs over NOK 200 million are encouraged to contact the Research Council for submission and assessment of such proposals together with other applications. A positive recommendation may be provided for projects that have received high marks in relation to the assessment criteria stipulated by the Research Council. In exceptional cases, the Research Council, in consultation with the Ministry of Education and Research, may allocate funding for the planning phase of a project.

Since the National Financing Initiative for Research Infrastructure primarily targets the renewal of Norwegian research infrastructure, the Research Council has a restrictive policy concerning funding of operating costs of research infrastructures. Instead, the operating costs of research infrastructure are as far as possible to be covered by the projects that use it. Thus, the Research Council requires applicants seeking funding to establish research infrastructure to include plans for how to achieve sustainable operation of the infrastructure. User fees from the R&D projects using the infrastructure should ideally be an integral part of financing its operation. Expenses related to use of research infrastructure are therefore approved costs in all applications for research funding from the various Research Council programmes and funding schemes.

In special cases, support for operating costs for new or existing research infrastructure of national importance may be provided under the National Financing Initiative for Research Infrastructure. Infrastructures with particularly large operating costs may after a separate assessment process be allocated long-term funding for operation when ongoing projects, host institutions or other funders cannot reasonably be expected to cover the costs. Similar exceptions may apply under other conditions where funding from the user projects or the infrastructure owner institution(s) is clearly impractical.

The National Financing Initiative for Research Infrastructure will enable the Research Council to make research data accessible in secure systems and in such a way that they can form the basis for research cooperation both nationally and internationally, as well as ensure Norwegian participation in international data networks. Funding may be sought under the initiative for infrastructure contributing to data management and accessibility to research data, more specifically, for procurement and establishment of equipment and tools for collection of data for research, technical systems for quality assurance and preparation of data and technical systems for archiving data and promoting access for research activities.

The initiative does not provide funding for generation/collection of data, as this is provided by the ministries and their subordinate agencies, as well as under research projects funded by the Research Council and activities funded by the R&D institutions themselves.

Research infrastructure of national importance refers to:

Infrastructure that is of widespread national interest
The establishment of the infrastructure must be of major interest to Norway as a whole. The Research Council will incorporate considerations relating to national priorities.

Infrastructure that will be available in only one or a few locations in Norway, as a general rule
The Research Council encourages research institutions with common interests to implement task-sharing when appropriate and work together on grant applications.

Infrastructure that lays a foundation for internationally cutting-edge research
Allocations are intended to support the activities of research groups that are already at the international forefront or demonstrate good potential realistically speaking to achieve that position.

Infrastructure that will be made accessible to relevant researchers and industries
Access must be given to any groups outside the applicant institution that will need to utilise the infrastructure. Grant applications must include plans for user access.

Research Council funding for research infrastructure is available for grant applications within all subject fields and thematic areas. The Research Council is to use the grant allocation process to ensure scientific quality, conduct strategic assessments and emphasise national priorities. Specific thematic areas or disciplines may be weighted differently in funding announcements to enable the Research Council to channel investments into areas with high research activity and a significant need for equipment, and to follow up political and strategic guidelines.

The role of the ministries

Decisions regarding international research cooperation involving major, long-term commitments in the form of investments and membership dues are taken at the ministerial level. Funding for national research facilities involving investments that exceed NOK 200 million will also be dealt with at the ministerial or government level, in many cases after consultation with the Research Council. Allocations for such investments should ideally comprise an addition to the permanent budget item for research infrastructure in the national budget.

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