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Links with the host institution

Host institutions, even if rarely involved in CoEs’ budgetary decisions, do support the management and research activities of CoEs in a variety of other ways (Figure 3.17). Host institutions play a fundamental role in managing CoEs’ application to the REI for funding. They also furnish the CoEs with the physical infrastructure to conduct their research (laboratories, IT services, etc.). Around 82% of CoEs benefited from the host’s management support during the period of application to the REI. CoEsSB receive more support from the host in terms of the use of the host’s physical infrastructure than CoEsLB.

Figure 3.17. Support provided by host institutions

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

Even if the CoE is established at a host institution (and generally benefits from the host’s physical infrastructure), the status of researchers at the CoE is usually different from that of researchers employed directly by the host institution (Figure 3.18). The most widespread difference between the status of CoE researchers and that of the host’s personnel is that the former benefit from more concessions concerning, for instance, the provision of internal funds or laboratory assistants (around 40% of responding CoEs and up to 44% of CoEsLB). Similarly, CoEs can adopt different procedures (e.g. offer tenure track positions) to facilitate the employment of excellent researchers (32% of CoEs) or to attract an international and highly qualified workforce (26% of CoEs). Less frequent, even if enjoyed by almost 19% of responding CoEs, is the possibility of negotiating salaries more freely than in the host institution. This is the case for recruitment strategies at various German CoEs (see Chapter 6) where the funding flexibility allowed by the German REI programme made it possible to offer candidates professorships with very attractive packages in terms of research facilities and support staff.

The comments showed that while host institutions relieve members of the CoE from administrative tasks and/or teaching obligations, the practices vary across institutions. For example, in some cases only certain CoE personnel are eligible for a slight reduction in teaching obligations at the host institution, such as specially appointed researchers or the director of the CoE. Some CoE directors are also relieved from administrative tasks within the host institution. In other cases, researchers specifically hired by the CoE may be required to do a small amount of teaching (e.g. one semester course at Master’s level) or provide an occasional lecture to students in the host institution. However, in other cases, the faculty members are not relieved from teaching and they constitute the majority of researchers in the CoE. A number of CoEs noted that they have no teaching obligations.

The possibility of negotiating salaries and special recruitment strategies for top-level personnel is on average more frequent in CoEsLB (in 21% and 29% of cases, respectively) than in smaller CoEsSB (in 12% and 18% of cases). Overall, these exceptional measures are meant to allow the CoEs to reach their ambitious research objectives more rapidly and effectively. The Danish CoEs (see Chapter 5) are an exception, as the salaries of researchers at the CoE cannot be negotiated more freely than at the host institution and none of the researchers is relieved from regular administrative tasks or from normal teaching obligations.

The links between the host institution and the hosted CoEs are usually long-term and in a variety of cases they continue regardless of the availability or continuation of the REI programme. Around 63% of CoE research staff (and up to 73% in CoEsSB) will maintain their contract with the CoE even after the REI ends. Similarly, 48% of the administrative staff will also maintain their contract with the CoE (and up to 59% in CoEsSB). This highlights the importance of the research lines opened by the REI funding and of the knowledge and intangible assets accumulated by the research and administrative staff during the development of the research excellence projects.

Figure 3.18. Special conditions of employees at the CoE compared to the host institution

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

At the same time, strong links between host institutions and CoEs pose potential financial and administrative problems that are tackled in different ways across countries. Danish CoEs, for instance (see Chapter 5), put great emphasis on the control of potential financial risks associated with costly agreements or structures that cannot be cancelled or easily dissolved at the end of the grant period. This may lead to a decision to offer labour contracts beyond the lifespan of the CoE to only a limited number of employees. German, Norwegian or Japanese CoEs usually require (or expect) the CoEs to become selfsufficient at the end of the REI grant. In the German case, applicants have to prove the financial sustainability of their activities beyond the funding period (see Chapter 6). Similarly, Japanese and Norwegian CoEs are expected to generate enough additional funding to be self-sufficient after the termination of the CoE grant through enhanced access to additional third-party funding owing to the higher research status of both hosts and centres (see Chapters 7 and 8).

The benefits arising from REI funding accrue to both CoEs and hosts. Host institutions benefit substantially when sponsoring CoEs’ research activities. Up to 96% of responding CoEs considered that the host institution’s visibility in the CoE’s field of research had risen as a consequence of the CoE’s research (Figure 3.19). Around 76% also considered that the visibility and reputation of the host institution generally improved (regardless of the research field of the CoE) following the establishment of the CoE. The positive effects of the CoE in promoting the structural development of the host and in strengthening its foundations were similarly noted. Only a small fraction of CoEs considered that its establishment under the umbrella of the host institution caused tensions (resulting from the privileged status of the CoE’s researchers) with research units not involved in the CoE. Only slight differences are observed with respect to the perception of these issues by CoEs with different budget sizes (CoEsLB and CoEsSB).

Figure 3.19. Effects of a CoE on the host institution

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

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