Room for improvement in engineering sciences
Three international panels were commissioned by the Research Council of Norway to carry out an evaluation of research in the engineering sciences in Norway. Overall, research in these disciplines is of good quality, and is of high relevance to society, but there are too few Norwegian research groups among the world leaders in the field. The panels recommend expanded basic research activity, increased commercialisation and more international cooperation.
The evaluation encompassed 64 research entities. The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) is the largest of these, comprising 30 entities, followed by the independent research foundation, SINTEF (including the Norwegian Marine Technology Research Institute (MARINTEK)) with 15. All of these are located in the Trondheim academic community, which thus plays a pivotal role in Norwegian engineering science.
The engineering science groups have been evaluated according to criteria along two axes: one for scientific quality and productivity and one for relevance and impact. Engineering science in Norway is slightly above the international average for scientific quality. With respect to impact and relevance of its research, Norway is clearly above the international average.
Two NTNU groups, the Structural Impact Laboratory (SIMLab) and the Marine Structures Laboratory, received top ratings in both categories, and are viewed as having a world-leading position in their field.
Excelling in marine technology and climate and fossil-fuel research
"We are pleased to see that the cooperation between engineering research and industry in Norway is so successful," states Anders Hanneborg, Executive Director of the Division for Science at the Research Council. "Norway is a technology-driven society and the evaluation confirms that Norwegian institutions are conducting valuable, relevant research in this overall perspective."
"We score particularly well in the areas of marine technology and climate and energy research ' industrial areas of paramount importance for Norway," Mr Hanneborg states. "The panels also predicted that the quality of Norway's petroleum research would be very high. Although the research groups involved did well, their performance was expected to be even better," Anders Hanneborg adds.
Improvement needed in basic research and innovation
The panels see a need for improvement at both ends of the research spectrum. They recommend more "blue-sky" research, or top-quality research with less focus on imminent relevance to society, and point out that there is too little support for commercialisation and patenting activities, incentives for investors are inadequate, and there is not enough risk-based funding.
"There is clearly room for improvement in these areas," Mr Hanneborg acknowledges.
The panels point out that there is far less mobility among Norwegian researchers than is generally the case internationally. This reduces the Norwegian community's access to scientific information, diminishes its international cooperation and decreases its participation in EU projects.
In addition, Norwegian engineering researchers need to step up their participation in international expert panels and editorial boards. According to the panels, they need to make themselves more visible and publish more articles in the top-level international journals.
Ambiguous structure and recruitment create bottlenecks
Both the current evaluation and the one carried out ten years before identify recruitment as a major bottleneck in the advancement of this field of research. In addition, engineering science in Norway would benefit from more strategic leadership and long-term planning. More focus on planning and more clearly defined structures will also be advantageous when working with national and international external actors.
Follow-up in 2015 and 2016
Follow-up of the report will involve all entities that took part in the evaluation. Much of this follow-up is to be carried out locally by each institution. Follow-up of recommendations at the national level will be carried out in cooperation between the universities and university colleges, research institutes, the Research Council and the ministries.