The First NORIA Symposium: Finding a Path for Nordic Research

The birth of NordForsk coincides with a renewed interest in Nordic collaboration, based on the insight that the Nordic countries are too small to be successful alone. "We need to combine forces in order to be globally competitive", says NordForsk’s director Liisa Hakamies-Blomqvist.
On 22 September 2005 NordForsk hosted a symposium in Oslo for approximately 70 specially invited participants from research councils, universities, private funding agencies, research schools, and Nordic centres of excellence. The purpose of this Symposium was to receive input and discuss ideas for the promotion of Nordic research collaboration and to stimulate the development of NordForsk’s future tasks. The main issues up for discussion were:
• Nordic research collaboration. Current instruments.
• The roles of different institutions in Nordic research collaboration, such as NordForsk, the NOS committees, the national research councils and others.

In her introduction, NordForsk’s chair of board Lene Lange described the good political climate that enabled the establishment of NordForsk. The competence and experience accumulated during the NorFA era will be useful in planning NordForsk activities and great expectations are directed towards this new actor on the Nordic scene. NordForsk’s strategy will be finalised during 2005. New activities will start during 2006 and increase in volume in pact with available free funds.

NordForsk’s new director starting 17 October 2005, Liisa Hakamies-Blomqvist, analysed in her introduction the launching of NordForsk through the concept of ‘glocalisation’: increasing globalisation that weakens old national boundaries creates a corresponding need to redefine and strengthen local and regional identities. The birth of NordForsk coincides with a renewed interest in Nordic collaboration, based on the insight that the Nordic countries are too small to be successful alone on the global scene. We need to combine forces in order to be globally competitive.

Why Nordic cooperation in research?
The invited speakers included members of NordForsk staff, members of the NOS committees and researchers representing activities financed by NordForsk. All speakers touched upon the issue of Nordic cooperation in research. The Nordic countries are a strong R&D region: we share similar education systems, tradition, and culture. Other nations often look to our region for political-private partnership models. The Nordic countries also have a high success rate in the EU’s Frame Programmes. Nordic collaboration helps the research environments to meet the international competition more effectively and to obtain a critical mass.

The Nordic region also needs to increase its attraction potential in the global context which makes it important to have visible research environments. The Nordic Centres of Excellence are useful in this respect as they increase the visibility of Nordic research.

The vision of NordForsk is not to become an alternative channel to the national research councils but rather to establish both formal and informal contacts with these agencies and to finance Nordic activities that are in line with national priorities. In this vein, cooperation with the NOS committees and the Nordic universities will be strengthened as well as collaboration with the Nordic Innovation Centre for common activities and innovation policy toward the EU Frame Programmes.

The role of NordForsk in the European research arena can be, in close c-operation with NICe, to be a staircase for participating in initiatives of critical importance and a staircase for excellence. It can also be an engine for creating initiatives where the comparative advantage is northern. A European wide conference on the role and contribution of country-regions in building the European Research an Innovation Area is planned during second half of 2006. The conference will be arranged by NCM, NordForsk, NICe and the European Commission.

The importance of including the Baltic countries in all of NordForsk’s activities was strongly underlined by many speakers, as well as broadening the picture and build strategic alliances with the new growth economies such as Brazil, India and China. NordForsk could be the joint Nordic partner in bilateral projects in a global context.

Best practices and innovative initiatives
In large-scale activities such as the Nordic Centres of Excellence, the share of the NordForsk funding is small. Its effect however was reported by the researchers to be of importance. Nordic synergy effects were mentioned, as well as the possibility to finance PhD training in connection with the centres. In some areas, an optimal number of PhD students only can be achieved by joint Nordic activities.

Financing research is both long-term and risky work. If the research funding bodies are not willing to gamble, the society can miss out on important results. Therefore, a good mix of financing instruments with different levels of risk will be needed. It was pointed out by several speakers that in funding Nordic research, the overall emphasis should be on excellence. Some of the instruments used by NordForsks predecessor, NorFA, will continue to be used but there is also a need for new instruments. At best, the Nordic funding, albeit small, can be the silver lining of a research project, i.e., produce added value that is hard to finance through other channels. A wish was expressed that the NordForsk funding be seen as a merit by the universities, which should support the NordForsk groups economically and in terms of non-encumbrant administration.

“United Genius”
In order to promote NORIA, the central Nordic actors have to concentrate their efforts. NordForsk not only seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic financing agencies but is also interested in involving researchers more actively in the strategic planning of future activities. A new Nordic research collaboration could include coordinated calls for proposals, national calls for Nordic consortia, and a Nordic organisation of already existing national activities. An arena also is needed for research policy debate and cooperation providing expert input for decisions on the political level. The present NORIA symposium represented the first step to that direction.
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