The funding period for the first 13 Norwegian Centres of Excellence (SFF) is drawing to a close. Now the Research Council is calling for proposals for new SFF centres. Detail
In this round the Research Council is announcing funding for about the same number of new SFF centres as those now being concluded. Gro Helgesen, Special Adviser at the Research Council, administers the SFF scheme. "Quality will be the deciding factor in how many centres the funding will be distributed among," she says. "We are eager to see how many proposals are submitted, and whether there are enough research groups that maintain a sufficiently high standard."
The application deadline is 8 June 2011. If all goes as planned, the selection process will be completed in September 2012, and the new centres will start up in 2013.
What happens to the existing centres?
The host institutions are responsible for deciding the future of the existing centres when their SFF funding and status cease. "The institutions must decide for themselves what is best for the individual centre," says Ms Helgesen, adding that nobody is served by dissolving solid research groups and that the investments made in the centres must be safeguarded.
The Executive Board of the Research Council has indicated clearly that the centres to be granted SFF status must demonstrate a clear focus on scientific renewal. Thus, the funding announcement is not targeted towards prolonging the lifetime of established centres, although no institutions or research constellations will be prevented from submitting proposals.
Changes in procedure
This time the Research Council has changed some procedures prior to the selection process.
"Instead of a single, multidisciplinary committee, we will now use three separate scientific committees in the prequalification round," Ms Helgesen explains. "Proposals in the humanities and social sciences, natural sciences and technology, and the biosciences will be assessed separately."
"Moreover, this time we will ask the three referees who assess the grant proposals to cooperate on a virtual panel and prepare a joint statement. We will also allow applicants to comment on the referees' statements so that a limited dialogue is possible between the applicants and the referees. In the final round we will also conduct interviews with the potential SFF centre directors as part of the assessment process."
The 2010 evaluation of the SFF scheme shows that launching the centres has enabled the institutions to develop strong research communities and recruit highly qualified researchers. The allocations from the Research Council have triggered a substantial amount of funding from other sources. As a result, support from the Research Council comprises on average only 20 per cent of the budgets of the individual centres.
"In the start-up phase it appeared that the centres might end up as exclusive research groups working in relative isolation. That has not been the case. On the whole, the centres have become well integrated into the institutions and they have had a lot of contact with students. The centres have also helped to boost researcher recruitment at the institutions in general," Ms Helgesen says.
In 2009, 24 per cent of the researchers at the SFF centres came from countries outside of Norway.
The RCN wants to increase the proportion of women among the key researchers at the Norwegian Centres of Excellence.
Seeking a greater proportion of women
"In the second funding round in 2005, we implemented measures to increase the proportion of women among the key researchers at the centres and to raise awareness about the recruitment of women in fields with a relatively few number of female research recruits. These measures will be continued under the third funding announcement," Ms Helgesen concludes.
The Norwegian Centres of Excellence (SFF) scheme
- The Centres of Excellence (SFF) scheme is the Research Council's foremost funding instrument for promoting quality in Norwegian research.
- Establishing centres with generous, long-term financing gives the institutions an opportunity to restructure their research community and develop new collaborative relationships to enhance their position on the international research front. Important secondary objectives of the scheme are to strengthen researcher recruitment and expand international cooperation.
- A host institution is responsible for the activities at each centre. The host institution may choose to affiliate itself with partner institutions or companies through binding consortium agreements.
- The maximum period of SFF funding and status is 10 years.
- Thirteen SFF centres were established at the end of 2002/beginning of 2003. Mid-term evaluations of the centres were conducted in 2005, and all 13 of them had their funding extended for a second five-year period.
- A second funding announcement was issued in 2005, and eight new centres were established in 2007. Midterm evaluations of these centres will be conducted in 2011.
Gro E. M. Helgesen
Director General and Stuff
Tel.: +47 22 03 71 56
Fax: +47 22 03 72 50
Mobil: +47 93 20 07 85