Competition and concentration
Both in the “one-off’ and the long-term approach to REI programming, strong concentration of funds may create difficulties in the long run because it may eventually undermine competition. This is particularly true if, as Merton (1968, 1996) argued, the perception of current research performance is systematically distorted by prestige acquired in the past. Applied to REIs, this may imply that institutions that have received excellence status in the past have better chances of maintaining this status, a conjecture that would seem worthy of empirical scrutiny. A tendency to reward institutions that are already strong in terms of research capacity is inherent in the REI selection process, in that an appraisal of past merit is always important in review procedures.11
In most REIs, the danger of concentrating resources excessively on a few institutions is mitigated by the decision to fund centres instead of whole institutions. This allows for a broader distribution of funds across institutions and encourages (inter-institutional) collaborative structures. However, the influence of these factors is not obvious. On the one hand, most REIs do not limit how many centres an institution may host, so that concentration of centres and, therefore, large amounts of funds in one institution are not precluded a priori}2 On the other hand, collaborative research structures do not per se prevent the concentration of prestige and resources in one place (usually the host institution); much depends on how the collaboration is actually set up. It has been suggested (e.g. Kaiser, 2009), that to avoid excessive concentration of funds, the concept of excellence in HEIs should be diversified to include education profiles, knowledge transfer and regional orientation, so as not to “disqualify” institutions whose structure or profile does not match the specific objectives of research excellence in most REIs.