Nordic graduate schools

Rector Hans Gudmundsson‘s lecture on graduate schools at the International Graduiertenkollegs Conference, Berlin, 17 June 2002.
Rector Hans Gudmundsson‘s lecture on graduate schools at the International Graduiertenkollegs Conference, Berlin, 17 June 2002.

NorFA, the Nordic Academy for Advanced Study, is a Nordic institution within the Nordic Council of Ministers, situated in Oslo and governed by a Board of five representatives appointed by the Ministers for Education and Research in the Nordic countries.

NorFA was established in 1990 with the vision that the Nordic Countries be a common area for research training. Today, NorFA supports several forms of cooperation for research training across borders in the Nordic and neighboring countries, specifically the Baltic countries and the North Western Russia. NorFA’s schemes include networking, research training courses, visiting professors and mobility grants. NorFA-grants support only the direct costs of cooperation, no salaries, equipment and other research costs. NorFA-grants are in principle seed money to stimulate and promote contacts for increased competitiveness of the Nordic research training environments.

Networking and research training courses are the main activities of our portfolio. At present there are 56 NorFA networks, each with a five years granting period. Tvelve new network grants are given each year. NorFA networks are in all fields of research encompassing around 500 research groups and 3000 individual of whom around 50% are research students. Round 40 research training courses are funded every year. A NorFA network is a flexible structure and can be adjusted to the needs of the groups and fields involved. Some of NorFA’s networks function somewhat similar to a graduate school and some link national graduate schools across borders. A normal network is, however, too loose a structure to be considered a graduate school on its own.

NorFA operates on two fronts, as a granting organisation and as an “academy” also providing support to the development of research training in the Nordic countries. This involves cooperation with national research councils, university associations, governmental institutions, ministries and other actors on the scene. NorFA provides information, initiates analysis, provides fora for discussions and exchange of ideas aiming at creating synergy and stimulate interaction between national actors.

The national systems of research training in the Nordic countries have been subjects to reforms and changes in the past decade towards a programmed education of a PhD type with an emphasis on course programs, internationalisation and mobility. There are differences and there are similarities between the national systems such as in length, structure and entry requirements. However, the level of the PhD degrees is equivalent, objectives and aims are very much alike and there is therefore a sound basis for cooperation across borders on all levels. All the Nordic countries aim at increasing number of students, shorter and more efficient process and an enhanced quality of the PhD degree. New concepts have been developed for increased competitiveness such as Centres of Excellence and “Graduate Schools”. The CoE concept has been introduced in all countries and a graduate school concept has been in focus although differences can be noted between countries. In Finland and Sweden a networking model involving a group of universities is frequently used while in Denmark a localised concept has been more in use. In Norway and Iceland the concept of graduate schools has not yet been introduced. There is an ongoing development for excellece in research and research training in all the Nordic countries, where among other ideas are being considered for an enhanced Nordic area for research an innovation in close relation to the European initiatives.

On the Nordic scene the new concepts of CoE:s and graduate schools are now being introduced as a new model for cooperation across borders to further strengthen the “regional” competitiveness. A pilot programme on Nordic Centres of Excellence, NcoE, has been initiated in the field of natural sciences / ecosystems. The aim is to identify and support 3-4 NCoE:s for a period of five years starting late 2002. The programme is financed in cooperation by the national research councils and the Nordic Council of Ministers. NorFA offers specifically to support the creation of a graduate school linked to one or more of the chosen centres, thus placing in focus the research training role of such a centre.

NorFA has also decided to go ahead with a pilot programme on Nordic Graduate Schools in the field of humanities and social sciences. Ideas will be called for among the research training milieus. After a two step evaluation and development process, up to five Nordic Graduate Schools will be funded for a period of five years, starting in late 2003. The programme is planned and carried out in close cooperation with the national research councils.

The NorFA graduate school concept is primarily one of a networking character, involving institutions in at least three Nordic countries. The funding involved is not aimed at covering normal salaries or student grants but the direct costs of the cooperation, such as meetings, workshops, courses, mobility for students and supervisors and administration costs including a (part time) honorary for an appointed director. The basic financing will be the national or other financing of the participating institutions and the enlisted students and the institutions will take the responsibility for their own teachers and students. The school must be able to create an identity among its participants and be of a reasonable size in terms of students and supervisors. Its programme must be of excellent quality ensured by an executive steering group with an overall responsibility for the school, the programme, course plans etc. Such a school should have a considerable international dimension.

Cooperation across borders for increased competitiveness is one of the keys to success in creating a European Research Area. Networking is a major component in linking national initiatives for an added value. The graduate school concept closely linked to a CoE concept, where Finland, Germany and Netherlands have been leading in Europe can be one of frameworks to operate across borders. NorFA’s pilot programme may give some clues to the feasibility of semi-formally linking national graduate programmes where a networking model might be the way to bypass the formal differences between the countries.
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