Widespread interest in Nordic research cooperation

24.06.2014
A capacity audience packed Carlsberg Museum’s Glyptotek Hall as NordForsk presented Nordic research cooperation.

Quentin Cooper, the well-known BBC science journalist, was the host of NordForsk’s special event at the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) 2014. He introduced a collection of eminent speakers who presented research cooperation in the Nordic region. The first speaker was Bertel Haarder, former Danish Minister for Nordic Cooperation and a well-known figure in Nordic and Danish political circles.

No longer a fly-weight

Mr Haarder gave an account of the history of Nordic cooperation, stressing that it is time to forego a small-country mentality and acknowledge that the Nordic countries as a collective entity are no longer peripheral. The Nordic region has the EU’s largest air force, the world’s largest merchant fleet, a higher GDP than Russia, and the world’s happiest residents!

Mr Haarder used a colourful metaphor from the boxing world to say that the Nordic region has long “punched below its weight” but that the time has come for the Nordic region to “punch above its weight“. And in the context of increasing its international clout, nothing is more important for the Nordic region than the high-calibre research being carried out, thanks in part to the efforts of NordForsk.

After Mr Haarder’s words of inspiration, Director of NordForsk Gunnel Gustafsson spoke about the work of NordForsk and its future development. She emphasised that NordForsk is a platform that can facilitate and lay the foundation for cooperation between Nordic researchers and research environments, with a focus on research quality as well as researcher mobility. When selecting and evaluating its programmes and projects, NordForsk takes into account both the quality of research and the extent to which knowledge produced will benefit society.

Top-level Research Initiative

Anne Riiser, Head of Communications at NordForsk, gave participants a taste of the coming film about the Top-level Research Initiative (TRI) which will be used to convey the results of the large-scale research initiative.

Rolf Annerberg, Chair of the TRI Management Board, spoke enthusiastically about the importance of researcher mobility and how the initiative can promote it. Participants in the TRI have found themselves privy to new opportunities outside the Nordic region as well, not least within the EU. Dr Annerberg stressed that although results and evaluations of the initiative are starting to come in, it will still be some time before the final results and long-term effects are known. Quality research takes time and results do not materialise overnight. To ensure that research is followed up and has an impact on decision-making in society, it is essential to make the social sciences an integral part of research initiatives.

Nordic Centres of Excellence

Peter Stern of Faugert & Co Utvärdering presented results from his firm’s evaluation of the first two Nordic Centres of Excellence. Among other things he concluded that the initiative had promoted “critical mass”, i.e. the level of research carried out via the Nordic Centres of Excellence could not have been achieved by any Nordic country alone. The centres have led to expanded cooperation, enhanced competitiveness and wider interest in the Nordic region as a place to conduct research. The rest of the world now often perceives the Nordic region as a unified research region.

The evaluation and its recommendations to NordForsk are available in the report “Evaluation of two programmes using Nordic Centres of Excellence”.

Model for other regions?

An audience member asked whether other regions could successfully apply the same model of research cooperation as the Nordic countries. The speakers agreed that similar constellations in other regions were indeed possible – but that any such endeavour must be based on a solid foundation of trust between researchers and research environments.

Text: Eivind Sætre Photo: Terje Heiestad

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