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Responsibilities and division of labour at the University of Oslo

Considering the egalitarian structure of the Norwegian research system, the CoE scheme represents a chance for the university and its research groups to strengthen their research capacities. Informants claim that the CoEs have increased the visibility of the University of Oslo and thus the number and quality of applicants, among both students and employees.

The CoE scheme focuses on forefront research and the main output variable is international scientific publications. CoEs at the University of Oslo all conduct basic research, but several also carry out applied research and experimental development, depending upon the characteristics of the academic field. CoRG is administered by one department and handled like any other research unit. In terms of research, it is relatively specialised and the affiliated researchers devote all of their research time to the centre. They are not involved in consultancy or technology transfer. There are few points of interaction between the centre and other researchers in the department. Most seminars are open but there is a clear demarcation between those in the centre and those outside the centre, which is primarily maintained by the latter. The department and the centre have taken measures to diminish the conflicts between the centre and the other researchers, but so far these have had little effect. The low degree of synergy is particularly detrimental for the outsiders, who could have profited in terms of research quality and networks by interacting with the centre. A contributing factor is the fact that the centre is not physically co-located with the department. This decreases interaction, but helps to develop the centre’s identity and visibility. All informants agree that the centre has increased the visibility of the academic field internationally, as demonstrated by the increased number and quality of applicants for positions in the department, among other things.

CoRG collaborates with internationally renowned researchers and groups. The sudden increase in funding has, according to some informants, led to a situation in which the CoE demands little from their collaborating partners. For instance, partners are not required to contribute to teaching, which is a loss for the department. Still, few problems are reported. As the centre’s partners are mainly non-Norwegian, this entails additional challenges; local researchers undertake all administrative tasks, while their international partners can concentrate fully on their research.

At the organisational level, experience with the CoE scheme has contributed to the professionalisation of the faculty and the university, particularly for handling large temporary research units. There has been a remarkable change from the first to the third generation of CoEs. It is now generally considered that the best organisational form is for the centres to be well integrated in the host department.

Establishing a new organisational structure is resource-intensive, especially because the CoEs are time-limited units. In some cases, they may engage in “symbolic compliance” by establishing temporary structures more to satisfy the formal terms of the CoE scheme than to contribute to better research performance.

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