The national research landscape
Considering the egalitarian norms and structures of Norwegian research, the CoE scheme represents something new. Its long-term, lump-sum funding model enables the building of strong research communities and creates opportunities to attract highly qualified scholars. The internationalisation of research is strengthened by sponsoring international projects, senior researchers in part-time positions, inviting guest researchers and providing funds for travelling to international conferences. Moreover the scheme has enhanced national and interdisciplinary collaboration both across fields and between subfields.
Another significant impact of the scheme is the increased national competition it has encouraged. The CoE scheme heightens ambitions and raises the bar in Norwegian research. In an otherwise egalitarian research landscape, it has legitimised the concentration of research resources for selected research groups and strengthened adherence to the academic norms of excellence.
This study has concentrated on an analysis of the experience of universities. There are, however, considerable differences in the CoE scheme’s impact on universities and research institutes. The evaluation of the CoE scheme (Langfeldt et al., 2010) revealed that the impact on organisational structures was relatively small in research institutes, which already had structures for organising temporary research efforts. However, it has had important impacts on the relationships between universities and institutes. It has given research institutes the opportunity to employ more PhD candidates. As these have to be enrolled in a university PhD programme, the CoE scheme has increased the interaction between the institutes and the universities involved. Moreover, the long-term, lump-sum funding model enables research institutes to match funding requirements in Framework Programme applications. This leads to more opportunities for international collaboration at research institutes with low block-grant funding.
The organisational aspect of the CoE-scheme
In addition to enhancing research excellence, the CoE scheme has an important organisational aspect. A temporary unit with specific organisational structures presents challenges for host universities and departments in terms of handling and institutionalising a relatively powerful research unit, positioned somewhat outside of traditional structures. At the same time, these traditional structures present challenges for centres, which have to find their place and create a new organisation in an environment that to some extent opposes initiatives like CoEs. After ten years of experience, it is possible to conclude that the centres have unravelled some of the tenacious structures of the university by showing the need for better administrative procedures and strategies to cater for and integrate the centres.