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Selection process

Although the individual award processes vary to some degree, a general pattern emerges from the descriptions given in the survey and official online sources. The organisation of the procedure is similar to the process for research project funding and quality assessment (Orr, 2004). Figure 2.6 sketches a generic procedure.

Figure 2.6. General organisation of REI funding procedures

Besides the two-stage selection model sketched in the figure, multi-phase selection models also exist: Germany’s Excellence Initiative, New Zealand’s CoRE, Korea’s WCU and Australia’s ARC Centres of Excellence initiative have all adopted a three-phase model.18 The Norwegian CRI scheme employs a five-phase model;19 its complexity is partly due to the fact that both academic and industrial stakeholders are involved and proposals are reviewed by representatives of both sides.

The different selection processes allow for varying degrees of interaction between selection panels and applicant institutions. Denmark’s UNIK, for example, has several feedback phases, in which applying universities can influence parts of the process, such as the choice of reviewer, and can comment on expert reviews.20 Normally, applicant institutions can only provide feedback in the second selection phase, if at all. Norway’s CoE and CRI allow applicant institutions to suggest possible external reviewers of their applications.21 In the Finnish CoE initiative, the final nominees engage in individual negotiations with the funding body about the actual levels of funding.

Almost all REIs include internationally recruited experts in peer reviews and selection panels. Because the ambition of REIs is to select research units with the potential to compete among the world’s best, international experts in the field seem well equipped to judge whether an applicant is likely to meet this goal. International recruitment of reviewers also reduces potential prejudice and bias, particularly in smaller countries.22 It is also useful when an REI is so big that a large share of domestic researchers is involved in applications.

The final decision-making panels usually include a larger share of national experts. This may be because this stage in the selection process requires not only expert scientific knowledge but also judgements about how well the application conforms to the REI’s strategic development plans. This requires a good understanding of the national science system, which domestic specialists are more likely to possess. New Zealand’s CoRE scheme, for example, has a three-stage selection process, the first two of which involve international reviewers; the final panel consists of eminent New Zealand researchers and officials, who are presumably able to judge proposals’ strategic focus against New Zealand’s future development needs, which is one of the REI’s selection criteria. Likewise, in the Estonian Development of Centres of Excellence in Research scheme, both national and international experts review the scientific value of the submitted proposals, but only national experts are involved in assessing how effectively the proposals contribute to the socioeconomic development and culture of Estonia and the European Union, one of the three main criteria.

To summarise, the selection procedures of REIs are complex, with a view to picking the best candidates. The careful consideration of proposals through several stages can be an important means of assuring the legitimacy of the resulting funding decisions.

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