Meld. St. 7 (2014-2015)

Long-term plan for research and higher education 2015–2024

To table of content

8 World-leading academic groups

8.1 Higher ambitions

World-leading research communities have global impact. They achieve research results that provide completely new insight. They train candidates who are sought-after worldwide. They create innovations that achieve broad application. There are academic groups and schools that have convinced politicians to organise entire economic communities in new ways. There are academic groups that have changed how we, as human beings, understand our presence in and the world around us. Other expert communities have developed new technologies so powerful that they have changed the lives of billions of people worldwide.

The Norwegian contribution to overall world research is less than one per cent. Therefore, one could question whether we should refrain from comparing ourselves with the best, and leave the resource-intensive, ground-breaking research and innovation to the larger countries. The answer is no. Investing in the world's best expertise is in Norway's best interest. We also have a moral responsibility to contribute to tackling global social challenges. The greatest challenges of our time can only be dealt with by investing in research that has a genuine impact on the world. Research that leads to technological breakthroughs. Research results that lead to a smarter way to organise society.

Norway is among the world's foremost nations in certain areas of research, such as marine research. If we are to continue our role as one of the world's most prominent seafood nations, we cannot just build on research conducted in other countries. We must contribute to this development and to the breakthroughs. However, there are many areas of research where Norwegian expertise does not make a substantial global difference on its own. Nevertheless, we need excellent expert communities in important areas so we can work together with the best, and bring home and exploit cutting-edge research results from leading centres of expertise in other countries.

If we pursue a defensive strategy, we risk falling behind as the best researchers and students will gravitate to exciting environments in other countries instead of coming to Norway. In other words, we run the risk of becoming a country that other countries are not interested in cooperating with. Only through participation at a high international level will Norway emerge as an attractive partner for researchers and talented students and, not least, for both national and global business and industry that use increasingly advanced technology to compete in global markets.

Cluster development, that is, cooperation between related companies and institutions, is important for strengthening our ability to innovate and compete. The maritime cluster in the Møre region is an example. In this cluster, students at all levels can benefit from a network, which in turn contributes to good interaction between education, research and innovation.

Evaluations and reports that review Norwegian research confirm that we have outstanding expert communities and that the quality in the Norwegian system is generally good. However, they also indicate that our ambitions are too low, and that we could do much better. Norway has too few expert communities that are actually among the best in the world. Norwegian researchers are cited less often than researchers from other Scandinavian countries. Norway has fewer researchers that publish in recognised publications such as Nature and Science, and fewer researchers among the world's top 10 per cent most cited researchers. Norwegian researchers do not make it to the top of the European Research Council (ERC) to the same extent as their Nordic colleagues. Norwegian universities have fewer publications per employee, although good progress has been made in recent years. For this reason, we must have higher ambitions.

We do not have the same opportunity to compare the quality of education between countries, yet different national evaluations reveal that higher priority must be assigned to quality development in Norwegian higher education.

8.2 Direction

The world's leading research is expensive, in most areas. Therefore, both large and smaller countries must target their efforts more carefully. To a greater degree than previously, we must concentrate on asserting ourselves in areas we are particularly good at, and where we have particularly good criteria in place.

Norway has made a substantial commitment to excellent quality in research and higher education. Through the last decades, we have put programmes in place that lift up outstanding individual researchers, excellent research centres, educational centres and young talents. These programmes have made it possible for experts such as climate researcher Eystein Jansen at the Bjerknes centre and brain researchers May-Britt and Edvard Moser at NTNU to build up some of the world's leading expert communities in Norway, to mention two examples. When the Government has decided to develop more world-leading expert environments, this includes an ambition to take the quality commitment a step further.

Research-based knowledge is crucial for maintaining positions and strengthening existing companies, and for laying the foundation for future trade and industry. The business community needs to recruit and cooperate with students and researchers with relevant expertise at the very forefront of international knowledge. The business community has many expert environments that are already world-class in their fields. The Government's commitment to these environments will largely be handled within the other priorities in the long-term plan.

If Norway is to assert itself alongside other countries we must compare ourselves with, we must have policy instruments in place that give the very best researchers the very best opportunities to create new knowledge, understanding and technology. We will further develop the quality instruments we already have, and we will also develop new policy instruments that cultivate high ambitions more clearly. A larger share of the public funding of institutions that conduct research and higher education shall target top-level quality.

The Government will accelerate its commitment to research and higher education that contributes to achieving more world-leading expertise in Norway. The Government wants to achieve the following:

  • that Norway has world-leading research communities that contribute to new understanding, better competitiveness and the ability to address the challenges facing society

  • that Norwegian research communities attract and develop the best talents

  • that the best researchers and students have world-class buildings and infrastructure

8.3 World-leading research communities for new understanding, better competitiveness and the ability to address social challenges

Today's society demands research-based knowledge in an ever-increasing number of areas. At the same time, this research must not have excessive focus on short-term needs, or be tied too strongly to specific challenges and solutions. Research that seeks out new understanding and research that seeks out solutions to practical problems must therefore be viewed in context.

Scientific breakthroughs cannot be planned. New know-how can arise in unexpected ways and in areas impossible to predict. Therefore, it is important to have a long-term commitment to developing expert communities that can become international leaders in their fields.

Creating policy instruments that stimulate quality and facilitate development of world-leading expert communities is possible, but it is up to the respective expert groups and institutions to encourage, and support, a high level of ambition among their employees and students. The institutions must lay the groundwork for a culture of quality that cultivates and looks after the best and brightest. This may entail that the institutions prioritise individual subject areas and researchers higher than others. For example, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim has a star development programme which is a systematic commitment to the elite among young researchers.

At the same time, this means that the institutions must sharpen and prioritise their efforts. Not even the largest universities and university colleges can be good at everything. For example, the University of Oslo has launched life science as a main commitment area.

Development of world-leading expert environments can also entail facilitating the emergence of new subject areas through more cross-disciplinary cooperation. Recruiting researchers who are already world leaders within their fields could constitute another policy instrument. This depends on the institutions having good recruitment practices, and can be viewed in context with the trial scheme for tenure track positions, cf. Recommendation 221 L (2013–2014) and Proposition 59 L (2013–2014) Changes in the Universities and University Colleges Act.

Both Norwegian and international discussions on high quality in research often highlight the open competitive arenas as key instruments for stimulating excellence in research. Such instruments ensure that the resources go to projects that are quality-assured through professional international assessments. The Government will continue to strengthen long-term basic research. Programmes such as the Research Council of Norway's FRIPO (Independent projects support) are well-suited to contribute to the development of expert communities into world leaders. The European Research Council, ERC, is another competitive arena where the quality of the project proposal is the most important criterion for receiving support. Grants awarded by the European Research Council are also of such a size and degree of prestige that they can help elevate expert communities to a world-class level. Such programmes must be designed to contribute to innovation and boldness, and to cultivate talented researchers. It is particularly important in this context that the policy instruments open doors for projects from technical disciplines or combinations of disciplines that may be untraditional, but that may contribute perspectives that foster innovation. It is also important that the project financing works together with more comprehensive commitments at the institutions so that the expert communities are not split by many, relatively small projects. This means that universities and university colleges must, to a greater extent than is currently the case, designate and prioritise their best and most promising researchers and expertise.

There is good documentation to the effect that competitive instruments such as the Norwegian Centre of Excellence (SFF), Centres of Excellence in Higher Education (SFU) and the Centre for Research-Driven Innovation (SFI) have had a good effect on quality. These programmes will continue to be important in the ongoing commitment to excellent environments, but there will be a need to further develop these programmes, e.g. to support the work to achieve more excellent professional environments that are also world leaders in their fields. Together with the Research Council of Norway, the Ministry of Education and Research will e.g. examine how the SFF scheme is organised, before the next round of announcements.

International cooperation is a prerequisite for carrying out top world research. The Government will continue its work to stimulate institution-based, long-term international collaboration. The opportunities we have through the Horizon 2020 European research and innovation programme will be exploited more fully. Therefore, the Government is raising appropriations to stimulus instruments for Norwegian participation in Horizon 2020, cf. the discussion in Chapter 2.

While the long-term plan assigns high priority to taking part in the EU's research collaboration, it is essential to reinforce cooperation with expert communities in important countries outside the EU. Prioritised countries include both established knowledge nations such as the US and Japan which have outstanding research communities in a number of prioritised areas; and countries like China, India and Brazil which together account for a substantial portion of world knowledge production. A systematic, long-term collaboration with outstanding expert communities in these countries is an important supplement to participation in Horizon 2020 in the work to promote development in several leading expert communities in Norway.

In addition to the open, competition-based programmes, the Government will also consider stimulus measures that reward environments that exhibit clear results, that succeed in obtaining funding from external schemes, and that are widely published and cited. This can be done both through national schemes, and within the respective institutions and institutes. This means that the institutions must give successful professional environments particularly good terms.

We need universities and university colleges that develop cross-sectoral expertise in order to succeed in creating values and addressing social challenges. The institutions must tear down barriers and cultivate cooperation between today's disciplines in such a way that these subjects are strengthened, not weakened. International cooperation and inter-disciplinary approaches are necessary in order to identify solutions that can address future social challenges, to bolster Norway's competitiveness and to contribute to development of social prosperity.

8.4 Norwegian research communities should attract and develop the best talents

One consequence of the high ambitions for strengthening competitiveness and addressing social challenges is that Norway must have similar high ambitions for training excellent experts and researchers that can contribute to Norway actually achieving these objectives. Therefore, the Government wants Norway to be one of the countries that the world's most talented students and researchers want to go to.

Norwegian industry clusters, such as Blue Maritime, are major global business forces. The Blue Maritime cluster has more than 200 member companies, and has gained the status of Global Centre of Expertise. The cluster builds and outfits some of the most advanced vessels in the world. Attracting talented people and developing the right expertise is important for the success of an industry cluster. While Blue Maritime is in the elite business division, they work closely with university colleges and universities on research and education. Blue Maritime has exhibited great involvement in developing new, resource-intensive studies adapted to the needs of the cluster.

Education programmes that are tied closely to clusters give the individual student a very good framework for professional development. If the cluster is in the international forefront, the education can also be in the forefront as long as the universities and university colleges make good use of this opportunity. The same applies to world-leading research communities at universities and university colleges, hospitals and research institutes. Here too, the objective is to exploit the research communities' strength and reputation to attract the best students and give them a top-notch framework for professional development. In order to stimulate this development, programmes that reward outstanding education will be developed.

The fact that Norwegian researchers, to an increasing degree, work with international research organisations and laboratories is also important for enhancing the quality of the research and developing promising research talents. One example is the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) or the particle accelerator at CERN, where Norwegian researchers can access the best equipment and have contact with the best researchers.

The Government proposes a targeted commitment to institutions and research communities that can document good quality, and thus have special advantages as regards reaching for the very top. One of the measures is a commitment to recruiting top-notch researchers. The institutions also have a responsibility for bringing their best experts forward.

European mobility programmes such as Erasmus+ and Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions shall be used. These programmes shall also be used in multiple fields. Norwegian research communities do not make sufficient use of the opportunities provided by these programmes to bring in international experts and talented students. The opportunities for Norwegian students and researchers to study and work abroad are also not sufficiently exploited.

8.5 Researchers and students must have access to top-quality buildings and infrastructure

Modern, practical buildings and the most outstanding research infrastructure are important for developing top-notch expert environments. They are also important in terms of being attractive partners for the business community. The equipment in itself provides the opportunity for breakthrough research. In addition, these places attract the foremost international expertise. Norway participates in the European infrastructure collaboration, in part to attract top international researchers, but also to give Norwegian experts access to the best equipment in Europe.

Educations that can offer students access to the best modern equipment can both be more relevant for employers, and for attracting the best talents. Programmes that enhance and improve modern equipment for students and researchers are therefore important for developing world-leading academic groups.

As described in Chapter 2.4, the Government has prioritised two construction projects that make particular contributions toward achieving the three paramount objectives of the long-term plan – to reinforce competitiveness and adaptability, to address the major social challenges and to develop outstanding research communities. One project is the life sciences, pharmacy and chemistry building at the University of Oslo, and the other is an upgrade of the Ocean Space Centre in Trondheim. These projects will also provide good conditions for developing world-leading academic communities within the long-term priorities enabling technologies and oceans.

The investment project at the University of Oslo will facilitate development of a world-leading research community within life science and enabling technologies through innovative and inter-disciplinary research. International interaction characterises this research, and considerable investments are being made in life science in most industrial nations. Modern life science and biotechnology will play a key role in addressing major challenges such as loss of natural diversity, access to clean energy, sustainable food production and improved health for the world's population.

Investments in the Ocean Space Centre will pave the way for Norway to remain a world leader in ocean space technology research and marine technology. The national research laboratories at the Ocean Space Centre in Trondheim are more than 30 years old, and the maintenance lag is substantial. The laboratories do not meet the functional requirements that are necessary to address the challenges of the future.

Go to front page