Bloggfćrslur mánađarins, ágúst 2008

Rannis - Research Fund announcement

I just criticized Rannis in the comments of the previous post but Rannis should be given credit when it does things correctly.  The announcement for applications to the Icelandic Research Funds contains this paragraph:

"Allar umsóknir og umsóknagögn skulu vera á ensku, svo ađ mögulegt sé ađ senda umsóknir í mat erlendis. Undanţágur eru veittar frá ţessari meginreglu ef birtingar á viđkomandi frćđasviđi einskorđast viđ íslenska útgáfu. Í ţeim tilvikum skal umsćkjandi fá leiđbeiningar hjá starfsmönnum Rannís. Allar umsóknir um öndvegisstyrki skulu vera á ensku, enda eru öndvegisverkefni ávallt metin af erlendum sérfrćđingum."

To the best my knowledge this is the first time applications must be submitted in English and the first suggestion that Rannis is moving towards having foreign scholars review applications.  I think this is a tremendously important step.  Iceland has a small research community, which meant that applications were more often than not reviewed by non-specialists in the applicant's subfield.   Then there was, of course, the problem of everyone knowing the other two people that might review their application - meaning that the anonymity of the referee was pretty much guaranteed not to exist.  Great news!

Markáćtlun 2009–2015

As most readers of this blog know already, the 10 proposals that will get to submit full applications for the Markáćtlun 2009–2015 (centres of excellence and research clusters) were selected on June 24, seeáćtlun%20fréttatiltkynning%201juli08%202utg_879420156.pdf for the list. 

Let me start by congratulating the colleagues who won the first round of the lottery, some of whom are within my own school and whose research standing definitely deserves the funding that the establishment of a centre of excellence might give them. 

When the decision was made, I was busy with some summer-term teaching and helping put the finishing touches to the organization of ICALP 2008 and its 12 satellite events. I was therefore unable to comment on the decision on this blog. (This was probably for the best since I was not overly happy at that time Devil.) I was also quite sure that others would post comments on the selection on this blog as well as on others. It now seems that I was wrong; so, even if this is by now a "cold case" (to paraphrase the title of a TV series), it might be worthwhile for me to pen down a couple of considerations as "community service".

Let me start by saying that it would be useful to compare what went on here in Iceland with the structures and methods for the establishment of centres of excellence elsewhere in the Nordic countries. To my mind, an outstanding example of best practice is given by the Danish National Research Foundation (DNRF,, which has been active in supporting centres of excellence since 1991 and has recently started high-profile visiting professor programmes. (I may be wrong, but I believe that this is the oldest such institution in the Nordic countries.) Anna Ingólfsdóttir and I were lucky to be members of one DNRF centre, which was funded from 1994 till 2006 and turned Denmark into a hotbed for research and doctoral education in theoretical computer science.

The short strategy statement for DNRF ( describes in a nutshell what a foundation promoting centres of excellence should focus on:

Denmark needs excellent researchers and research leaders who can inspire the Danish research environments with regards to succeeding in the international research community. The Foundation's Centre Leaders belong to the vanguard within their respective fields and have the necessary international clout to play this part. 

The Foundation supports the elite within Danish research. The strategy of the Foundation is to invest in long-term research endeavours, mainly Centres of Excellence that run for 5-10 year periods.

The Foundation has employed this strategy since the beginning of the 1990's and it has been very successful: The Centres of Excellence have given Danish research an invaluable boost and the Foundation Centre of Excellence model is emulated many places – not least by the European Research Council, ERC.

In its work at lifting Danish research, the Board focuses on a variety of intermediate aims, among others to find and promote outstanding young researchers, and to further the internationalisation of the Danish research environments.

The complete strategy document (in Danish) has more detail and is available at's%20strategi.pdf for those who want to peruse it.  

Here is an excerpt that highlights what they do right (at least IMHO), and what might have been overlooked here (the emphasis is mine):
Fondens formĺl er, jf. lovgrundlaget, at styrke Danmarks forskningsmćssige udviklingsevne ved at finansiere enestĺende grundforskning pĺ internationalt niveau.

    - střtter eliten i dansk grundforskning med langsigtede satsninger ved dannelse af centres of excellence
    - opfanger vćkstlagene i dansk forskning med vćgt pĺ ambitiřse og grćnseoverskridende
    - střtter forskningsprogrammer med multidisciplinćr tilgang til lřsning af komplekse problemer
    - fremmer internationalisering af danske forskningsmiljřer
    - skaber grupperinger af hřj international kvalitet, der kan tjene som grundlag for internationale

    - gřr grundforskning synlig og anerkendt

Fonden har for de kommende ĺr valgt at vćgte fřlgende dimensioner i sit arbejde:
    a) Fokus pĺ grundforskning med hřjt ambitionsniveau og risikovillighed, bl.a. som grundlag for
        stćrke forskeruddannelser
    b) Internationalisering af danske forskningsmiljřer
    c) Internationalt samarbejde baseret pĺ bilaterale aftaler med stćrke forskningsnationer
    d) Intensiveret samspil med andre nationale offentlige rĺd, institutioner, fonde eller virksomheder
    e) Kvalitetssikring i bedřmmelsesprocessen
    f) Synliggřrelse og formidling


Ad e) Kvalitetssikring i bedřmmelsesprocessen

Fondens kvalitetskrav er primćrt defineret ud fra kvalitetskriterier som problemvalg, metode og ansřger(e)s meritter (cv og publikationsliste). Sekundćre kriterier inddrages, nĺr den videnskabelige kvalitet er bedřmt. Sĺdanne kriterier er organisatoriske og ledelsesmćssige aspekter, miljřskabende dimensioner samt řkonomiske, formidlings- og uddannelsesmćssige aspekter foruden bredere samfundsmćssig relevans.

Det er fondens opfattelse, at videnskabelig excellence mĺlt med international mĺlestok fortsat vil vćre grundlćggende for sikring af god og trovćrdig ny vidensproduktion. .......

Fonden anvender i udstrakt grad internationalt peer review ved evaluering af ansřgninger. Peer review har sine svagheder – men er fortsat den mindst dĺrlige metode. Fonden vil i de kommende ĺr aktivt fřlge og deltage i den internationale debat om, hvordan peer reviews kan styrkes.

As the above text makes clear, the selection criteria are scientific, rely on peer-review and measure the quality of the applications/applicants by using the standards of the international scientific community. Internationalization of the local research environment is also an important keyword. This is what Rannis is doing when handing out research grants, and I sincerely hope that this is what was done and will be done for the substantially larger amounts of funding that will be handed out to centres of excellence. I believe that anything else ought to be considered simply unacceptable by society at large. 
I wish good luck to the colleagues who are busy preparing the full applications for centres of excellence that they will have to deliver in two months' time. To those who are wondering what level of scientific activity they will have to exhibit in order to justify the funding they might receive, let me point out the third annual report of ICE-TCS. Our centre has no specific centre-building funding, but it operates at a standard that I am sure the new richly-funded centres of excellence will want to emulate. (Several ICALP 2008 participants asked us what we will do when the funding for ICE-TCS runs out. They were taken aback by our answer to the effect that we operate without funding Smile.)
I wish the new centres the best of luck, and I am looking forward to seeing the scientific results of Iceland's investment in them. 


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