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This final section raises some issues that seem crucial for the design of REIs. It offers an outlook on possible developments in the context of REIs as a funding instrument for research.

The status of REIs in research policy: between one-off initiatives and permanent programmes

REIs have become a part of many national funding systems (e.g. in the Scandinavian countries and the United States). In others, they will be discontinued after the present cycle (Germany-federal, Ireland) or were recently terminated (Korea, Denmark- Investment Capital for University Research (UNIK)). The answer to the question of whether an REI is better used as a temporary tool to boost the system or whether it should be institutionalised as part of the policy portfolio is not clear. If it is a temporary tool, this raises the issue of maintaining excellence once the funds channelled into the system through the REI have stopped flowing. If it is institutionalised, the question is whether constant competition for excellence status will improve system performance in the long term. Moreover, if new REI centres are selected, others must be dropped, with all the negative effects this may imply. If instead the successful centres remain largely the same across funding cycles, the question becomes whether the expensive process of competition and selection is appropriate, or whether privileged funding for some outstanding institutions or research centre should be organised more simply. Whether or not an REI should be maintained in the long term also depends on the scheme’s secondary goals. If, for example, the goal is to trigger structural reforms in HEIs (like Germany’s Excellence Initiative to some degree) or to renew and reorganise infrastructure in a strategic manner (as in the Irish Program for Research in Third-Level Institutions (PRTLI)), there may be little reason to perpetuate the competition once this process is set in train.

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