These are the main conclusions from an evaluation conducted by the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU) for the Research Council of Norway.
“The evaluation shows that the FRIPRO funding scheme achieves its main objective of promoting research of high scientific quality in an effective manner,” says Anders Hanneborg, Executive Director of the Division for Science at the Research Council. "The evaluation also gives us good tools for further developing the scheme."
The percentage of applications from women researchers increased from 2005 to 2010, and the award percentage for women rose more than the percentage for men. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Supports the most outstanding researchers
The majority of the FRIPRO applicants asked state that their FRIPRO projects are more targeted towards basic research, maintain a higher level of scientific merit and produce more new scientific results than their other research projects.
The report also shows that the researchers receiving funding under the FRIPRO scheme are extremely well qualified, with high publication rates and large international networks. Researchers who receive FRIPRO grants are more likely to co-author publications than other researchers and they report more often that their projects have led to wide-ranging, long-term international cooperation.
Many well-qualified applicants to the FRIPRO funding scheme do not receive funding due to the limited financial framework. Both the applicants who receive funding and those who do not are cited more often on average internationally.
Significant for career development and gender balance
A large percentage of the applicants say that the FRIPRO scheme has been beneficial for their research careers. It is seen as a mark of quality when researchers and their projects receive good assessments in the FRIPRO application process. A positive assessment increases the likelihood of successfully obtaining other funding. For example, several research institutions have established their own financial incentives for FRIPRO applicants and provide funding to projects that were given very good assessments but were not selected to receive FRIPRO grants.
The report also shows that the practice of moderate gender quotas under the FRIPRO scheme has been effective. The percentage of applications from women researchers increased from 2005 to 2010, and the award percentage for women rose more than the percentage for men.
Different objectives give rise to dilemma
The evaluation notes that there is an inherent conflict between the role of the FRIPRO scheme as the only funding instrument for independent basic research that is open for all subject areas and the scheme's role as a targeted instrument designed to fund a small number of particularly outstanding projects.
“There is a need for an in-depth discussion of how we should handle this dilemma. In addition to what we are achieving today, would it also be possible to provide greater support to the boldest projects, to younger researchers and to cross-disciplinary research activity? There are many important questions that we would like to have an open debate about,” says Hanneborg.
“We also must take seriously the applicants’ desire for even greater transparency and better communication related to the decision-making processes employed under the scheme, as stated in the report,” says Hanneborg.
Data collection from a broad base
The evaluation of the FRIPRO scheme is based on a questionnaire sent to some 1 500 individuals who applied to the scheme in the period from 2005 to 2007. Both applicants who received funding and those who did not were included in the survey. The response rate was 55 per cent.
The evaluation also used bibliographic data from databases of scientific journals as well as interviews with key individuals at research institutions and the Research Council.
Plans to further develop the scheme
The evaluation will be discussed at a meeting of the research board of the Division for Science in early May, and will be crucial in the process of further developing the FRIPRO scheme.
As part of this process, the Research Council is inviting interested parties to an open debate in Bergen on 10 May 2012 about the future of the FRIPRO funding scheme.