How should universities' basic funds be allocated in future?

On 2 May, the Ministry of Higher Education and Science held a large gathering for specialist representatives in bibliometric indicators. Flemming Skov from the Department of Bioscience and Sabine Ravnskov from the Department of Agroecology attended the meeting and present here the four proposals from the expert committee for models to allocate basic funding.

2019.05.13 | Sabine Ravnskov og Flemming Skov

Graphics: Ministry of Higher Education and Science

Over the past ten years, the university's basic funding has been allocated by applying the bibliometric indicator, among other things. In 2019, 13% of the funding was distributed according to this system, which is based on the number of articles published by individual universities in selected journals. In June 2018, the Ministry of Higher Education and Science appointed an expert group to evaluate the current system and propose how it could be improved in order to future-proof the quality of research at Danish universities.

We took part in the bibliometric indicator meeting on 2 May at which the proposals from the expert committees were presented, and the pros and cons of the models were discussed by specialist group members within the various main areas. We believe that this is an important debate, and we would therefore like to share some of the information we received at the meeting.

Generally, the expert committee concluded that Danish research is doing very well internationally, but that in a long-term perspective there is a need for an allocation model based less on quantity and based more on the quality of research. Danish universities should therefore enhance recruitment and talent development and increase the impact of research. The expert committee submitted four specific proposals for models to allocate basic funds:

Proposal 1: An adjusted version of the current indicator-based system
This builds on the current bibliometric system by addressing some of the known weaknesses, among other things by including citations and ability to attract external funding as indicators.

Proposal 2: A system based on development contracts with universities
In this proposal, the universities will be required to enter into development contracts with the Ministry of Higher Education and Science, and they will be assessed on the basis of how they manage recruitment and talent development, for example conduct peer-review-based evaluations, and support research integrity.

Proposal 3: Performance element based on peer review
In this proposal, like in the UK and Sweden, universities' research will be evaluated at 5-7-year intervals by committees of international peers.

Proposal 4: A combination of development contracts and indicators
This proposal combines the indicator-based system in proposal 1 with proposal 2 on development contracts in order to balance the advantages and disadvantages of the two proposals.

The bibliometric indicator meeting found advantages and disadvantages in models 1, 2 and 4, while there was a general consensus that model 3 was a poor solution, as experience from the UK shows that it is very costly and can have unintended negative effects. Of course, the politicians will decide which model is to be applied in allocation of basic funding, but the expert committee's report will be sent to university management teams for consultation, and we researchers, whose research it is all about, will perhaps be able to help in the debate.

Flemming Skov, Department of Bioscience, and Sabine Ravnskov, Department of Agroecology.

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