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Basic characteristics of CoEs

Innovation is a crucial driver of productivity and economic prosperity, and scientific research is a key component of innovation. Therefore, understanding how scientific research is carried out, managed and funded is fundamental for science policy. REIs and CoEs represent a novel way of funding and managing research activities, as they explicitly aim to foster excellence in research and produce large effects on society and economies. The following section analyses the ways in which CoEs differ in their objectives with respect to other research centres, the way funding is allocated, researchers co-operate, fields of science are intertwined and resources as well as human capital are managed.

Research objectives

CoEs are entities with research objectives that differ in nature from those of other research institutions. They were asked how their research differs from that undertaken in other institutional settings. Replies stressed the higher quality of the research (as opposed to that of other research centres), which must meet international standards of excellence and innovation (92% of CoEs). Another important difference perceived as being intrinsic to CoEs’ activities is the promotion of co-operative research across disciplines (87% of the CoE sample) in order to produce innovative outcomes by involving different scientific paradigms, methodologies and sets of knowledge in the research effort. Some 84% of respondents mentioned that CoEs are more oriented towards international co-operation, again a means of sharing knowledge and innovating by drawing on a variety of scientific paradigms and scientific personnel with different backgrounds. No significant differences between CoEsLB and CoEsSB are observed with regard to their main research objectives (Figure 3.1).

Figure 3.1. Specificity of CoEs research

Source: OECD/RIHR Survey to Centres of Excellence, 2012.

Some respondents described other distinguishing features of CoE research in the free text field. A number mentioned that the CoE enabled them to collaborate successfully on Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) research activities, while others noted that the orientation and intensity of their research had changed (e.g. more risky and/or interdisciplinary research, better exploitation of results). As mentioned, REIs fund excellence in research through longer (than usual) funding schemes. In confirmation, one CoE mentioned that it focuses on basic research and that the industrial exploitation of its research results were not expected in the next five to ten years, a time lag that can be difficult to justify in other research settings. Another respondent mentioned that it was important not to overemphasise international standards of excellence when analysing CoEs because a lot of research in the humanities field is closely linked to national issues.

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