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FCT contributes to OECD report on Research Excellence


TheResearch Excellence Initiatives reflect the efforts of various governments to promote efficiency and innovation by replacing institutional funding with more competitive forms of funding. They are a response to the growing competition for ideas, human capital, and funds. 

The Research Excellence Initiatives instruments are designed to foster top-level research in higher education institutions and public R&D centers by providing large-scale, long-term funding to selected research centers. These instruments combine institutional and research project funding and have become widespread, particularly over the past decade, in more than two-thirds of OECD countries. The report Promoting Research Excellence: New Approaches to Fundingpublished this month by the OECD, presents and discusses some of the benefits of Research Excellence Initiatives, based on the preliminary results of three surveys conducted in several OECD countries, and also presents potential risks and recommendations.

The Centers of Excellence, selected under the Research Excellence Initiatives, have long-term resources at their disposal, enabling them to carry out ambitious, multidisciplinary research programs supported by state-of-the-art equipment and infrastructure. These Centers therefore play a crucial role not only in creating new lines of research, but also in strengthening human capital and generally developing a country's R&D capacity and visibility. 

Research Excellence Initiatives also allow for greater mobility of researchers, enabling the Centres of Excellence to recruit the best researchers from home and abroad. The activities of these Centers often expand to other departments and centers of the host institution, but this may increase the risk of divisions between departments or research centers. Another potential risk, discussed in the report, is the concentration of resources in a few Centers of Excellence, which may, in the long run, harm the competitiveness of the Research Excellence Initiatives by encouraging financial reinforcement to already established institutions. The report recommends, therefore, that impact studies be carried out to quantify the effects of Research Excellence Initiatives on R&D systems, society, and the well-being of citizens.

In Portugal, research centers receive competitive multi-year funding, based on the results of international peer reviews. The chapter on Excellence in Research in Portugal, prepared by FCT, focuses on the R&D Units and Associate Laboratories classified as Excellent in the last evaluation exercise. The Centers of Excellence in Portugal encompass the areas of Engineering and Technology, Medical Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences and Humanities. There is a greater number of researchers in the first three areas indicated.

The Centers perform most of the activities traditionally associated with research centers: advanced training, research, technology transfer, and spin-offs. Significantly autonomous from their host academic institutions in terms of research lines and resource management, the Centers establish with their host institutions a mutually beneficial relationship. On one hand they contribute to increase the visibility of the host universities, which, in turn, provide them with faculty collaborations and access to graduate students and researchers.