REIs as a tool to boost competition and high-quality research
Competition for public financial resources calls for a sound and transparent selection process. At the same time, the broad and systematic enhancement of national research capabilities requires contributions from a variety of scientific disciplines. It is therefore of crucial importance that different research areas can participate in the REI selection process on equal terms. REIs usually rely on international panels of experts to judge the quality of research projects and applications for funding with “excellence” as a guiding principle. Concerns, however, have been sometimes raised about a possible bias towards the selection of projects in technical sciences or popular research areas.
REIs help to counterbalance political influence in the selection of research lines through transparent appraisal and selection procedures. This is especially important in view of the high-risk character of blue-sky scientific research and the need to pursue ambitious and innovative research goals.
The allocation of funds and the achievement of research goals is scrutinised through mid-term evaluations or annual progress reports. Evaluations are also used to assess whether a CoE’s funding should be continued at the end of the programme.
Fostering competition and structural change can sometimes create friction. Competitive research funding and concentration of resources mean that some groups may be disadvantaged in the short term. Although the overall perception of REIs is generally positive, other evidence suggests that REIs can also create “insider-outsider” conflicts in universities and departments.