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Funding and governance at the University of Oslo

The University of Oslo has faced a steep learning curve in terms of providing for the CoEs. Concerning financing, the university first decided to award each centre an annual lump sum of NOK 2 million. This strategy changed in 2012 when the first centres were in their final phase. In order to sustain some of their activity and to ensure the centres’ smooth transition into their departments, this lump sum allowance is now allocated to the faculty. The grant is permanent, i.e. it marks a general increase in the faculty budget. The faculty now has the authority to decide on the continuance of the centres. Making the faculty responsible for the grant is a new budget model; the practice is also being applied to the new generation of centres; they will not receive a direct grant, which will be allocated via the faculty.

Behind this new funding strategy was the concern that the centres tended to grow quite large. Strained faculty finances do not allow for a great deal of specialisation in selected research topics or a concentration of resources in a particular field. As the faculties and faculty administrations have different perceptions of the CoEs - some are enthusiasts, others are sceptical - they may choose practices for administrating the grants different from those preferred by the university.

The University of Oslo’s annual reporting to the RCN has illuminated challenges for co-ordinating their reporting systems in order to provide assistance for the reporting expected of the centres. In particular, different authorities seem to use different definitions of key terms; this complicates the reporting process. For example, the Ministry of Education, the RCN and the university all have different definitions of “a stay abroad”; reporting a researcher as having had a stay abroad involves reporting on the basis of three different definitions, which obviously generates an extra workload.

The CoRG is administered as part of a department and, like other parts of the department, relies on the department’s and the faculty’s administrative resources. The CoE grant constitutes 38% of its total funding (Table 8.3). External funding is moderate but higher than the average in its field of research. CoRG’s leader credits the CoE scheme for its increased success in Norwegian open-mode funding, which is very competitive. Applying for a CoE is thought to have professionalised application writing in the group. Together with the prestige associated with CoEs, this is seen as having led to their improved success rate regarding RCN project grants.

Table 8.3. CoRG’s income sources

CoRG’s sources of income

%

Grant from the REI directly

38

Funds from the host institution

36

Other public grants (mainly RCN)

26

Total

100

Centres use the CoE grant for various purposes, such as improving infrastructure, attracting guest researchers, conference travel and buying out of teaching duties. For CoRG, much of the grant has been used to hire senior international scholars and post-docs and buy out teaching duties. This last has had consequences for CoRG’s field of research. Buying centre staff out of teaching duties means that the department has to find replacements. This can be challenging, and the easiest option is often to rely on people already working in the department. Most departments have tight budgets. Thus, the buy-out money offers the host department some flexibility and autonomy and they prefer not to spend it on temporary teachers. The buy-out strategy also affects education, since CoRG’s research speciality is not covered well at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. To the authors’ knowledge, problems relating to buy-out of teaching duties concern only a minority of the CoEs.

 
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