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Perceived effects of REIs and CoEs

The survey also examined HIs’ perception of the effects (if any) of REIs on their research activities. The results show an overall positive opinion of the effects of the REI funding (Figure 4.11). Around 89% of HIs reported that the REI had a strong impact on the development of new kinds of research activities and that it would have been difficult to finance some of these through other research funding schemes (88% of respondents). However, in 65% of cases, HIs also declared that the REI provided an alternative source of funding for research that would have been funded anyway through institutional or project funding because of the fundamental importance of the research.

Figure 4.11. Perception of the effects of REIs

Source: OECD/RIHR Survey to Host Institutions, 2012.

Both the tangible and intangible output of scientific research can spill over to different sectors, research fields and areas of knowledge (Benhabib and Spiegel, 2005; Coe and Helpman, 1995; Coe et al., 2009; and Keller, 2004). Similarly, hosting a CoE can lead to spillovers to the various departments of the host institution, some of which may be able to gain from the expertise of skilled scientists employed elsewhere in the HI. The positive effects of REIs and CoEs are therefore not confined to the departments directly affected by the funding. The survey addressed this issue by measuring HIs’ perception of the effects of the hosted CoEs’ research activities on departments not directly involved. Approximately 69% reported that other departments in the institution benefited from the work carried out by the CoEs in terms of new co-operation but also, more intangibly, through a new sense of competition for excellence in research across the HI’s various departments created by the increase in the HI’s reputation. None of the respondents in the sample reported negative effects as a result of the establishment of CoEs and of the application to a REI programme. They considered that the relatively long timelines of CoEs were beneficial in launching projects that lead to long-term interdisciplinary collaborations (see Box 4.2).

German CoEs and HIs found that communication between departments increased and that they were able to build new bridges between disciplines (see Chapter 6). The notion that researchers need to communicate effectively across the borders of their own scientific discipline has also gained acceptance as a consequence of the co-operation activities triggered by the REI funding. Interviewees widely believe that departments and scientific disciplines have all gained by learning to talk and listen to each other.

Overall, HIs’ perception of the lasting effects of REIs is very positive (Figure 4.12). In the vast majority of cases respondents declared that the REI had enhanced national research competitiveness (95%) and helped to create links between national and international research (89%) as well as stronger links between existing national research institutions (80%). The links with industry were also positively affected by REI programmes.

In Japan, REI programmes helped to bring together first-class domestic and foreign teachers and students in order to blur disciplinary boundaries and gain industry participation in the research carried out by the CoEs (see Chapter 7). The ambitious objectives of the REI funding scheme is also reflected in the way this affected the German national research system. One of the aims of the German Excellence Initiative was, in fact, to rethink the notion of a university. In this respect, the openness to change with regard to university culture mattered as a factor of success in the Excellence Initiative that eventually helped, among other things, to break down the barriers between departments and the university management (see Chapter 6).

Figure 4.12. REI’s lasting effects on the national research system

Source: OECD/RIHR Survey to Host Institutions, 2012.

Box 4.2. Overall assessments of the intended and non-intended effects of REIs by host institutions

The survey of host institutions allowed respondents to describe their overall view of REIs. This included wider benefits and costs that had not originally been envisaged by the host. The majority of respondents gave positive assessments, though some downsides were expressed.

The first positive assessment of note was the effect of REIs on developing high-quality research. REIs were seen as a key instrument for opening new fields of innovative research that often would not have been funded by existing mechanisms. REIs were deemed highly important in bringing in research funding and this had knock-on effects - many institutions noted that hosting a CoE had stimulated additional third-party research funding from governments, business and other organisations. REI investment also helped, in many cases, to develop a critical mass within the host institution which allowed related research projects to continue, and in some cases led to investment in core facilities that left a longer legacy.

Most respondents mentioned research collaboration and improved reputational standing as major benefits. Host institutions noted increased co-operation with other research institutions, as well as lasting interdisciplinary co-operation and increased links with industrial research partners. They saw International collaboration and internationalisation of research as among the main benefits of REI participation - for many institutions, hosting a CoE led to many new formal and informal international partnerships. These collaboration benefits may stem in part from the reputational benefits of hosting an REI. Respondents identified a marked improvement in the profile of the institution as a key benefit. They also saw enhanced reputation resulting from the REI as a driver in attracting new researchers and students to the institution.

Another set of advantages noted by host institutions related to internal structures. Several responses noted that participation in REIs had affected the culture of the host institution. For instance, in some cases a new awareness of professional structures entered the institution more widely, and REIs were deemed to have resulted in increased competitiveness. Some respondents noted that the conduct of new, high-quality research within the institution also led to improved teaching and training of students and a beneficial effect on the careers of researchers.

On the negative side, the most common reference was to overhead and co-financing costs. The fact that overhead costs were not included in REI funding was cited as a drain on resources by some institutions. Administrative costs, such as those involved in the application, implementation and management of the CoE, were cited as burdensome in some cases. Otherwise, there were some concerns expressed as to the effects on a host institution of the termination of a CoE and the potential of a new CoE to create divisions within university departments or research institutions.

 
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