Summary of the results

This chapter presents the results of the responses to the OECD/RIHR Survey on Centres of Excellence. The exploratory analysis carried out on the basis of this sample shows that CoEs’ research differs from that undertaken in other institutional settings. Replies stressed the higher quality of the research, which must meet international standards of excellence. The ability to build interdisciplinary networks is also an important characteristic of CoEs. The results show that the means employed are mostly joint research activities and the creation of large research teams with scientific personnel from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines.

Research is the most important activity to which REIs funds are allocated. Postdoctoral and doctoral programmes are also important activities carried out by CoEs. Other activities supported include training, public awareness of science, mobility programmes, boosting links with industry and capacity building in developing countries.

CoEs report an average annual budget of USD 2.6 million a year in PPP and employ research teams with around 84 researchers on average. The data show that CoEs are usually young (7 years old on average) and that their existence is closely linked to the REI that supports their research objectives and provides the funding required to achieve excellence in research.

The chapter systematically compares CoEs endowed with large research budgets (above USD 1 million a year) with those of smaller size (whose annual funding is less than USD 1 million). CoEsLB receive larger amounts of funding for research (around USD 3.2 million a year), whereas CoEsSB seem to benefit more from the support of host institutions, especially through the use of the host’s physical infrastructure or partial relief from administrative tasks or teaching obligations.

The CoEs for which information was received focus mainly on technical sciences; less than one-quarter of respondents had social sciences and humanities as their primary research field. The results highlight a marked difference in the average funding: CoEs in the technical sciences receive substantially larger research budgets than CoEs in the social sciences and humanities.

The results show marked differences in the objectives and strategies of CoEs with large and small budgets. CoEsLB engage significantly in co-operation with other research bodies, either departments of the same host institution or external centres, while CoEsSB, probably owing to the limitations imposed by smaller budgets, do so to a lesser extent. Overall, CoEs have substantial links with the private sector; these are particularly strong for CoEsLB that focus on technical sciences.

CoEs also put a considerable amount of effort into trying to attract and hire international researchers and thus create networks of excellence. Larger CoEs and those that focus on technical sciences employ the largest number of foreign researchers in their centres.

CoE researchers also have higher status than researchers affiliated only with the host institution. Researchers associated with a CoE have easier access to funds and career opportunities (e.g. tenure track positions) as well as privileged access to the host institution’s physical infrastructures. In return, the host institution benefits from the establishment of a CoE, which raises the host’s overall visibility and considerably strengthens its identity.

The management structure of the CoE relies on both top-down and bottom-up decision making strategies. The latter are more frequent in CoEsSB; being relatively smaller than CoEsLB, they are more able to involve all the bodies representing various members of the CoE.

REIs that support CoEs provide longer funding cycles than other forms of funding in order to achieve ambitious research goals. CoEs are generally able to manage research funds with some degree of freedom within the constraints imposed by the funding agency. Larger CoEs with longer funding cycles are, on average, granted more flexibility in the use of research funds.

CoEs are usually accountable to an external panel of reviewers who supervise their performance periodically. A smaller (while still consistent) fraction use metrics-based indicators to assess their overall performance. This latter method is more common in the technical sciences but less frequent in the social sciences and humanities owing to the measurement problems associated with building suitable output indicators in this area.

Overall, CoEs participating in the OECD/RIHR Survey on Centres of Excellence had a very positive view of the strategic importance of REIs, notably as regards their role in facilitating the opening of new lines of research and innovation that would not otherwise be pursued and thus in increasing the diversity of the research they undertake. Similarly, host institutions are likely to benefit from the research carried out by CoEs in terms of increased international visibility.

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