SFF centre leaders support conclusions of the international evaluation committee

Centre leaders support the conclusions and recommendations of the recently published report “Evaluation of the Norwegian Centres of Excellence (SFF) Funding Scheme”. 

Image may contain: Text, Sky, Ocean, Font, Water resources.

In a letter to Khrono, current and previous leaders of centres of excellence express full support for the recommendations of the international committee that recently evaluated the Norwegian centre of excellence funding scheme. Director of the Hylleraas Trygve Helgaker coauthored the letter and is one of 41 centre leaders who signed it. The ten recommendations of the international evaluation committee are:

  • To continue the SFF programme for excellent, transformative and groundbreaking research as a 10-year programme for all research fields and preserve the criteria of excellence used hitherto to achieve groundbreaking curiosity-driven research.

  • To continue to acknowledge the impact of the SFFs as a role-model for the Norwegian research landscape in the pursuit of excellence in Norwegian research.

  • Risk-taking is crucial to foster the best research and should be supported by a true bottom-up process with focus also on the most advanced research methods and concepts, international and interdisciplinary collaboration and mobility to attract the very best researchers from abroad to Norway.

  • Diversity, including gender aspects, should be strengthened. It will be particularly important to identify and prepare a younger generation of future centre leaders.

  • The mid-term evaluation could be postponed until after 5-6 years to minimise the incentive to carry out mainstream research with a focus on rapid results and publications at the beginning of a centre’s life. The rules and objectives of the mid-term evaluations should be clear, transparent and used to phase-out dysfunctional or underperforming centres.

  • Universities should share ‘best practice’ in managing SFFs to achieve the best results for centres, the departments’ hosting centres and the institution as a whole. Flexibility in handling the centres is important, especially for interdisciplinary centres and centres anchored in more than one department. To ensure fairness, coordination among the universities on how to support researchers in the application process is considered crucial. 

  • The competences of world-class centres with scientific knowledge of importance to the whole world should be retained. Therefore, a strategy for the final exit after 10 years should be considered. A solution for ‘the most excellent of the excellent’ should be considered with funding from outside the traditional SFF scheme to avoid cannibalising the next SFF generations. Tenure track, embedment in universities after exit and flexible solutions could also be considered. 

  • The RCN section that manages the SFF programme is small and efficient, and praised by all of the centres and universities. Panels established to assist procedures must be trustworthy and comprise eminent international scientists. Strengthening the SFF scheme with an international committee of eminent scientists should be considered to assist the RCN in further developing the scheme. This committee could oversee the evaluations, secure the best use of peer review in round two and act as a strong advocate for the programme. An internal ‘champion’ on the committee could be the director of the RCN. The regular follow-up meetings with centres could be strengthened by inviting this new committee to the meetings. The SFF programme could share best practice with similar excellence programmes in the Nordic countries and the rest of the world.

  • All RCN funding programmes should be open to researchers within the SFFs.

  • Academic freedom in all respects should be continued for the SFFs, including freedom of choice in relation to research subjects, aims, hypotheses, methods, approaches and an unconditional freedom of choice for where to publish. 

Published June 5, 2020 9:18 AM - Last modified June 5, 2020 9:20 AM