Your research isn’t good enough. It’s cited less than your neighbors’ research, less than those you like to compare yourself to. You apply for funding for your work and the feedback is fine, sometimes good — but almost never great. You don’t know how to lead scientists to breakthroughs; in fact, you don’t really lead them anywhere at all.
These are just some of the descriptions of Norwegian research communities given over a decade ago. Our performance was weaker than our Nordic colleagues and our achievements in the European Union’s scientific programs were modest compared to where we could be.
In light of this, the government decided to start a Center of Excellence program. CoEs would be given special working conditions, primarily in the form of excellent funding for 10 years. But they would also have strong leadership, a prominent position in the organization of their home universities, and the opportunity to raise not only the quality of the work in that center but to inspire the pursuit of excellence in other groups.
In 2003, 13 groups started Centers of Excellence, including one at my home university, which I had the privilege to lead for its first six years. The selection process was demanding both for the applicants and for the Research Council of Norway, who described the selection of these centers as resulting from the most comprehensive selection process ever undertaken in Norway. Eight more centers were added in 2008 and the RCN is in the final stages of selecting another eight or so who will start up in 2013.
The original 13 groups are about to reach the end of their CoE funding periods. Has it worked? Did those groups become internationally prominent? Did they have an impact on their universities? Did they contribute to changing the national research landscape?
Was the massive investment made in a relatively small number of researchers a wise strategic move on the part of the government or could that money have been better spent elsewhere?
How should we go forward? Should we continue creating new centers every five years, ad infinitum? Should we re-focus our quality-enhancing efforts through a different concept?
These are some of the questions we will discuss at the opening session of the CASTL Decennium conference, here in Tromsø, this Wednesday, starting at 11:00 a.m. If you’re in town and if you are curious about how politicians and policy makers view this program and its prospects for the future, join me for 90 minutes of discussion. If you aren’t in town, watch this space, and I’ll blog about it afterwards.
When: Wednesday, September 12, 11:00-12:30
Where: TEO H1 Aud 2
Who: Kristin Clemet, currently of Civita, and Minister of Higher Education and Research when the first centers were opened; Arvid Hallén, Director of the Research Council of Norway; Rolf Seljelid, Founder of Norway’s “Toppforsker” program, which preceded the CoE program; and me, both in my capacity as Director of UiT’s first CoE and with an institutional perspective from my current position as Pro Rector for R&D.
Come to get valuable insights regarding the directions Norwegian research funding is taking. Join the debate!
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