Quality debate during the conference (E)QUALITY 2009

The conference (E)QUALITY 2009 gathered 200 participants in Oslo March 23-24. Through extensive dialogue and debate the conference focused on the relation between gender equality and quality in research. What research is excellent and what has gender got to do with it?
 Quality debate during the conference (E)QUALITY 2009
How can quality be measured and strengthened, and what role does gender play in this? These are some of the many issues debated during the Nordic conference on research policy (E)QUALITY 2009, held in Oslo March 23-24 2009. Åsa Elvik, State Secretary for the Minister of Research and Higher Education Tora Åsland, welcomed the participants to the conference. A number of key researchers and management from Nordic research councils and research institutions contributed to making the two days of the conference both diverse and interesting.

Dr. Anneli Pauli, Deputy Director-General, DG Research in the European Commission, presented interesting discoveries regarding gender in academia at EU-level. Later in the conference, participants referred to a reduced focus on female researchers and equality in the 7th Framework Programme compared to what was seen in the 6th. Specific requirements to equality have been replaced by a more optional character in the current Framework Programme. Statistics from NIFU STEP presented by Agnete Vabø show that female researchers in Norway collaborate with colleagues abroad less than their male counterparts. This may, in turn, affect their future possibilities.

The issue of measuring quality generated many interesting discussions during the Panel Debate among the representatives of the Nordic Research Councils: Pirjo Hiidenmaa, Director of the Academy of Finland’s Culture and Society Research Unit, Pär Omling, Director General of The Swedish Research Council, Arvid Hallén, Director General of the Research Council of Norway, and the Director of NordForsk, Liisa Hakamies-Blomqvist. The terms excellence and quality were discussed as well as the different criteria for measuring quality. Should quantitative methods such as counting the number of publications dominate, or should qualitative elements such as originality also be included to the equation?

The traditional gender pattern still seems to influence the possibilities and priorities of many women. How can we arrange for research to be a more interesting career path for women? Liisa Hakamies-Blomqvist’s example of avoiding Mondays as the closing date for applications, on account of the role of women in the family weekend routines, is a very concrete example of the importance of simple efforts. Increasing the share of women in committees for evaluating applications may be another step in the right direction.

The historical perspective was captured by Prof. Mineke Bosch from the University of Groeningen, the Netherlands. Asking the question: “Excellence in women – is it fully recognised?” Bosch addressed issues such as the weight of tradition and the power to define quality. Prof. Curt Rice from the University of Tromsø emphasized a more strategic approach to leadership and working environment to interest more women in taking part in the research institutions, especially in leading positions.

The international composition of participants contributed to many different perspectives, as well as showing the many variations among the countries. The Nordic area is often portrayed as an equality paradise. There are, however, relatively few women in PhD-, Post doc. - and Professor Positions at many higher education institutions in the Nordic countries; a fact that proves the goal is not yet fully accomplished.

So what is the miracle cure to enhancing the share of women in research? Looking towards the good examples is an important step on the way to improvement. Outreach activities to children and youth can contribute to reaching the target group at an early age. Positive incentives for female researchers, Equality Officers working at higher education institutions and positive results obtained by mixed gender work groups are some of the many elements put forward as model examples. Many participants also emphasized money as an influential instrument in this regard. This demonstrates the key role of the research councils. Specific requirements in research calls may contribute extensively to the enhancement of the share of women in research.

The presentations from the conference will be available at the conference website

Text: Lisa H. Ekli
Photo: Prof. Gabriele Griffin and Prof. Mineke Bosch. Millemeterpress, Terje Heiestad.

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