Jun 28 2013

CoEs impacting the Nordic research systems

A new study on schemes for Centres of Excellence (CoE) finds a broad set of impacts on the awarded research groups, as well as local impacts on their host institutions. They study includes 12 CoEs in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

The long-term flexible funding from the CoE schemes provides more leeway for different kinds of collaboration, new alliances and interdisciplinarity, and risk-taking more generally. In the majority of the studied cases, the centres have attracted much funding in addition to the centre grant. The additional funding enables extensive research activities and boosts the research fields; many centres have the size of regular departments with 50 to 150 researchers, including large numbers of PhDs and postdocs. The role of the centre leader seems particularly important in terms of entrepreneurial capacities and laying the ground for the cumulative advantages of the excellence status and long-term funding.

Added value for host institutions includes increased ambitions in the local research environment, and enhanced ability to recruit both highly competent researchers and students. On the negative side, some experience increased local competition for resources, space, personnel, and frictions generated by new organisational structures and scarce resources.

Policy issues needing further elaboration

A general challenge is how to design appropriate and effective CoE policies, taking into account the schemes’ systemic effects and their role and weight within the broader portfolio of policy instruments. The report identifies different perspectives and challenges pertaining to CoE policy, and suggests a dialogue approach to stimulate better understanding of the challenges of CoE schemes and their possible solutions. More direct dialogue between the funding agencies, the CoEs and their host institutions is recommended. The issues to be discussed include how to:

  • combine concentration of resources (elitism) and good general conditions for research
  • ensure balanced recruitment at the centres, avoiding unintended effects
  • maintain CoE competencies and activity after the CoE period and at the same time ensure host institutions’ autonomy and room for strategic thinking

NIFU Working Paper 10/2013

For more information, contact
Liv Langfeldt, Deputy Head of Research, Research and Innovation
(+47) 22 59 51 77