The Design and Implementation Process of the UNIK Initiative

The tension between the aim to increase the strategic capacity of the universities on the one hand and the political wish to allocate a larger share of the research funding through competitive channels on the other has been a long-standing issue in the Danish research policy debate. However, as outlined above, the discussion has received increased attention in continuation of the University Act of 2003 which aimed to strengthen the central steering- and priority-setting capacity of the universities and as a result of the changes in the funding system.

The specific agenda-setting phase leading to the UNIK initiative was initiated when the Danish Academy of the Technical sciences (ATv) presented a proposal to a new funding mechanism in June 2005. The proposal had three main aims: to strengthen the ability of university management to make strategic prioritisations of the research activities within the institutions; to allocate funding between the universities exclusively based on quality criteria (disregarding thematic and regional considerations); and to strengthen the collaboration and division oflabour between the universities (ATV, 2005, p. 32). These aims were to be achieved by allocating funding directly to university management rather than to individual researchers. ATV proposed that the funding should be allocated for at least five years but with the possibility of continuation for an additional five years.

The proposal was subsequently picked up by the government and channelled into the work of the newly established Globalisation Council. The Council had 26 permanent members: 21 high-level representatives and 5 key ministers, including the Prime Minister (chairman) and the Minister for Economic and Business Affairs (deputy chairman). The Globalisation Council held 14 meetings of which four were directly concerned with the university sector. The main meeting concerning the governance and funding of public research took place in December 2005. In one of the background reports to this meeting, prepared by the ‘Secretariat of the Minister committee for Denmark in the global economy’, a proposal with clear similarities with the ATV model was outlined (Danish Government 2005b). Under the headline: ‘A new model for competition between universities’ the report stated that:

‘Today, virtually all research funds that are distributed according to an open competitive process are awarded to individual researchers and research groups. As a consequence, research risks becoming dispersed and disconnected from the universities’ strategy for their research. Therefore, a proportion of the funds available in the future should be allocated in competition between universities. Each university’s management should be required to take part in a competitive bidding process in which they submit proposals for large-scale, long-term research projects. The proposals should be evaluated on the basis of their quality and relevance’.

This formulation from the background report went straight into the final Globalisation Strategy.

The subsequent agenda-setting phase and the first steps of the policy design phase are an example of the rather strong Danish tradition of consensual decision-making within the HE area, with involvement of many stakeholders, including political parties, and intense exchanges of opinions.

In continuation of the Globalisation Strategy, the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation was tasked with transforming the overall description of the UNIK initiative into an operative funding mechanism. With inspiration from the ATV model, the ministry started negotiating with central stakeholders. One of the most important of these, The Confederation of the Danish Universities, agreed with the need for a new funding model in order to strengthen the strategic capacity of the universities, but it was not in favour of the model outlined in the Globalisation Strategy. The Confederation was instead proposing two alternative models. The first model suggested to use the so-called Development Contracts as a tool for allocating funding based on the strategies of the universities. The second model suggested to establish a more permanent pool of funding available for the universities to strategic priority setting (Rektorkollegiet, 2006a, b). The Confederation of the Danish Universities was, however, not able to convince the Ministry to change the overall outline of the initiative. The Ministry also consulted DNRF, The Danish Council of Independent Research (DFF) and the Coordination Committee for Research in the design process of the initiative. These councils and foundations were in particular involved in developing the evaluation criteria and the appointments of an international expert group (Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation (2007b).

A final model was presented during the summer of 2007. The model was more detailed than the formulation in the Globalisation Strategy, but did not significantly differ from the principles outlined before. It did, however, differ from the initial ATV model in a few important respects. First, the ambition of strengthening collaboration between Danish institutions was no longer present. Second, the duration of the initiative was limited to five years. The political agreements establishing the UNIK initiative were promulgated in the subsequent Danish Finance Act for the year 2007. The act stated that UNIK funding could be awarded to basic as well as applied research and to all thematic research areas. The funding should award excellent, dynamic and closely coordinated research frameworks that involve interrelated research activities or sub-themes in a prospective field of research.

A call for proposals was announced on 15 October 2007 with a deadline for applications by the Danish universities of 1 April 2008. In order to secure reasonable success rates and to force university management to make strategic selections among the potential projects of each institution, a maximum number of proposals to be submitted were dictated from the ministry and were based on the size of each individual university. Altogether, the 8 universities were allowed to submit 31 proposals. After the deadline, 28 proposals had been submitted by the Danish universities. An expert panel subsequently appointed four reviewers for each proposal. The expert panel consisted of 11 international professors with no direct relations to the Danish universities and came to play a central role in the implementation of the initiative - not only regarding the allocation of the funding, but also throughout the project period.

The 28 proposals were then reviewed and prioritised before three rounds of consultations were carried out with the applicants (OECD, 2014). While it was initially signalled by the ministry that five to eight large projects would be funded, it turned out that only four projects at three different universities were selected and would receive a grant to establish a CoE. The successful proposals came from the three most research intensive Danish universities and resulted in two UNIK centres at Copenhagen University, one at Aarhus University and one at the Technical University of Denmark. The universities received approximately DKK 120 million for each of the four centres to cover funding from 2009 to 2014. A conditional grant agreement was signed in January 2009. Once allocated, the funding could be used as freely as basic funding as long as it was spent in accordance with the overall project plan (Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation, 2007a).

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >