The multitude of good media mentions about Norwegian research of past weeks are corroborated by hard facts in this year’s Report on Science and Technology Indicators for Norway. The report makes it clear that most of the arrows are pointing in a positive direction: Norwegian researchers are publishing more articles, are being cited more frequently and are pursuing more doctoral degrees. In addition, Norway has several research groups that are world leaders in their areas.
“The award of the Nobel Prize in physiology to the Mosers and the NOK 2.1 billion increase in the budget for the Research Council of Norway in 2015 both represent key advances for Norwegian research. So does the long-term prioritisation plan for research and higher education recently launched,” stated Arvid Hallén, Director General of the Research Council of Norway, during the presentation of the Indicators Report 2014.
This year’s report is available here (Norwegian only).
Priorities, long-term thinking and binding target figures
Mr Hallén calls the long-term plan a milestone because it identifies priority research areas and sets out specific, binding escalation targets for research budget in years to come. As such, the plan establishes an overall structure for ensuring a long-term focus in Norwegian research policy.
“The importance of long-term thinking has already been illustrated by the climate policy agreement reached in the Storting in 2008. Targets and ambitions that are clearly defined are more likely to be achieved. The long-term plan provides greater predictability, making it easier for the Research Council to structure its initiatives to ensure that we can meet the high targets we have set,” the Director General adds.
Most researchers live in China
Each year the Research Council of Norway publishes the indicators report in collaboration with the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU) and Statistics Norway. The 2014 report shows that the US accounted for 29 per cent of the world’s overall R&D expenditure last year. China, which barely figured in the statistics just a few years ago, accounted for 19 per cent in 2013 and is now actually home to more researchers than any other country. Japan’s R&D expenditure accounted for 10 per cent.
The trend is very clear. The US and Europe’s share of global R&D expenditure is falling, while the share of a number of countries in Asia is on the rise. Other regions, including Africa, have stagnated according to the figures.
As for Norway, R&D expenditure accounted for 0.62 per cent of the global total last year. The country spent 1.6 per cent of its GDP on research and development, placing it 25th in the world ranking.
Quality and quantity
The indicators report also shows that Norwegian researchers have become more productive. In 2013, they published 12 000 scientific articles, an increase of 140 per cent over 12 years.
While quantity is one thing, quality is something else entirely. In other countries, pressure to publish has led researchers to produce articles that have a minimal impact factor. The goal of research is also to ensure that publications are cited and used, so it is good news that Norwegian researchers are being featured increasingly prominently in the citation indices.
The variation from one subject field to another is vast, but Norway is among the world leaders in disciplines such as clinical medicine, marine technology, petroleum technology, rheumatology, meteorology and atmospheric research (which also includes climate research).
Sixty per cent of Norwegian research articles have co-authors from other countries.
Need even greater internationalisation
Arvid Hallén sought to bring perspectives back down to earth after all the undivided positive attention lately. “It is essential that we become even more internationally oriented,” he stated during the panel debate following the presentation of the report. “We have some very strong groups that are pulling a lot of the weight, but we need more.”
Mr Hallén emphasised how important it is that the proposed 2015 national budget strengthens funding for incentives that will make it easier for Norwegian researchers to participate in EU projects and to apply for EU funding. At the same time, he applauded the internationalisation targets set out in the long-term plan.
“We need to create an even better framework for enabling Norwegian researchers and institutions to apply for EU funding,” said the Director General. “We will try to adapt our calls for proposals to be more similar to EU calls. This would make the application process for funding from abroad much simpler.”
Figures from the indicators report indicate that this is a good strategy. Norwegian researchers submit few applications to the EU’s framework programme, relatively speaking, but the proportion of these proposals that win funding is very high.
More and closer cooperation
Svein Richard Brandtzæg, President and CEO of Hydro, believes the framework is in place for researchers to succeed in reaching the ambitious goals that have been set, but pointed out that this will require even closer cooperation between industry, research institutes and universities.
“Yes, we need to get even more out of our research initiatives. Bringing researchers out into the business sector and at the same time integrating companies into research is one way to do it. This is one of the major challenges facing us,” Mr Hallén replied.