The links between hosts and centres of excellence and the issue of sustainability
The application for REIs funding relies on the interplay of several actors but is generally driven internally by the host institution management structure or the researchers in specific departments. When the application for REI funding succeeds, host institutions use a combination of tools and strategies to support the activities of the hosted CoE. They provide, for instance, substantial backing to CoEs through direct financial channels (start-up funding, coverage of running costs) and through the provision of physical infrastructures for research. In some cases, this is a condition for applying for REI funding.
Host institutions and CoEs establish strong links that might go beyond the REI’s financing period. In some cases, these lead to the integration of the CoEs into the host structures when the host proposes labour contracts to CoE staff that extend beyond the lifespan of the REI. This long-term integration of CoEs into the host’s infrastructures can present financial challenges for the host institutions when the REI programme ends.
The risks associated with establishing costly structures that cannot be easily dissolved at the end of the REI’s grant period are usually tackled by raising additional third-party or institutional funds. The visibility of CoEs research activities spills over to their hosts and puts them in a better negotiating position with the main funding body to deal with the long-run sustainability issues associated to the integration of CoEs. Important sources of external funding include competitive project funding and private investment.
If the decision of supporting (and hosting) the research activities of a CoE might have resources implications for the host institution, it also represents a strategic choice given that the increased visibility afforded by hosting a CoE brings more attention from the media, it increases the chances to attract talented researchers and it offers easier access to funding in research-performance based competitions.