CREST peer learning group moderated by CHE meets in Murcia, Spain to exchange ideas on the costing of research activities and new funding models
The “Costing of Research Activities - New Funding Models” was the topic of the fifth and final CREST Peer Learning Activity, held in Murcia, Spain on 6-8 September 2010. The event, moderated by the CHE, was the culmination of a series of interactive peer learning workshops that have taken place since February 2010 and was successful in stimulating rich discussions, debates, and mutual exchanges between participants.
The costing of research activities is a salient and especially pertinent issue in these times of economic difficulty. Countries such as Denmark emphasized that despite the current unstable economic forecast, their government has remained committed to maintaining the funding levels for research, echoing the European call to keep funding investment levels high in research and higher education in order to promote innovation and ensure a dynamic future for the ERA and the EHEA.
Details on calculating costs, how to determine levels of funding, different sources of funding, and the allocation of those funds were compared by participants, who included a varied mix of institutional and governmental experts from Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Malta, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and The Netherlands. Over the course of the two-day workshop combining the comparison of country cases and hands-on activities and brainstorming, important features of successful funding schemes were identified, such as the financial autonomy of universities, balance in the funding design model, the ability to identify priorities, and a strong management to provide support and ease the administrative burden of calculating costs. These and others were noted as important for an efficient and effective funding system. Though the principle of finding a “golden rule” for determining proportions of basic grants, competitive or performance funds and financial support for riskier research remains elusive, achieving balance through a mix of all kinds of funds was recognized as a recommended approach.
Country presentations also revealed the trend in Europe towards a full cost model, though the design details of such a model can vary across countries. The Norwegian model for calculating indirect costs in externally funded research projects, whereby costs are attributed to either education or research in advance and the estimated volume of costs is related to the organizational structure and time spent (in percentages) by personnel, stood apart as a worthy good practice and opened the floor for discussion on the complexities of accounting principles and the need for simplification of both calculations as well as processes.
A thematic report is being prepared in consultation with the CHE which will highlight the main outcomes and recommendations, as well as note good practices across the represented countries.
The final report for the entire CREST Peer Learning Activity is also in preparation and will be delivered for review and approval by the European Commission at the end of October. CREST, the European Union committee for scientific and technical research, is an advisory body assisting the European Commission and the Council of the European Union on research issues. In the context of the “open method of coordination”, representatives from governments and higher education institutions of different countries came to five different cities across Europe for an exchange of experiences and information on promoting excellent research in relation to: Reform of the Institutional Structure, World Class Excellence, Capacity Building, Early Career Researchers, and New Costing Activities.