Last Friday we published a letter to the UiB newsletter, På Høyden, discussing the status of research at the University of Bergen, as compared to the other Norwegian universities. Our conclusion is that we are doing very well, although of course there are areas we wish to improve.
Here is an English translation of the article, and a presentation including all the relevant figures. The presentation is in Norwegian, but accompanied by the article hopefully you can figure it out – do leave a comment if you have questions! What do you think are the most important areas UiB should focus on in research?
University of Bergen: Research Trends
by Kuvvet Atakan, Vigdis Broch-Due, Gottfried Greve, Jill Walker Rettberg
Candidates for the UiB rector election in 2013
We welcome Aksnes, Hansen, Taxt and Giske’s recent article in På Høyden using statistics to compare UiB’s research activities to other those of other Norwegian universities. It is important to measure our results. But the numbers Aksnes et.al. used provide a distorted picture of reality. Instead of the stagnation they describe, we see the opposite: a positive development for UiB’s research both quantitatively and qualitatively. This does not mean that there is potential for improvement, and we want the next principal period to work to realize.
In their survey of Norwegian research, Forskningsbarometeret 2011, the Ministry of Education and Research argues that by some measures, UiB is Norway’s best university: «When UiB is second best in research and also fares well on several indicators for education, it may be asked whether UiB in sum is the best Norwegian university, as THE rankings for 2010 showed.» (Forskningsbarometeret 2011, page 95).
Aksnes et.al. come to an opposite conclusion to the Ministry because they are comparing apples and oranges. The three universities shown in Aksnes et.al.’s statistics, the University of Oslo, Bergen and NTNU, have different profiles and sizes. UiO is almost twice as large as UiB, and thus naturally enough has a larger research output than UiB as an institution. When you look at output in relation to employees, however, the picture is quite different, and UiB does very well. With its emphasis on technical vocational education, NTNU has a completely different research profile and a different funding basis than comprehensive research universities like UiO and UiB. Figure 1 shows the distribution of NFR funds for the four largest universities, UiO, UiB, NTNU and the University of Tromsø, in relation to various programs in the NFR (Figure 1-a). The figure shows that UiO and UiB have very similar profiles, while NTNU and UiT are different. Both the University of Oslo and Bergen are typical comprehensive research universities with a high percentage of free research. NTNU stands out because of its technological profile where they have a larger share of the SFI / FME awards. UiT their biggest difference is in large applications. An uncritical comparison of universities with different profiles is unfortunate. Despite these differences, it is interesting to note that UiB has had the largest real increase in NFR (Norwegian Research Council) funds in the period 2005-2011 among the four universities (Figure 1-b).
Figure 1. (a) Distribution of NFR funds in various programs for universities UiO, UiB, NTNU and UiT. (B) Change of NFR funds in the period 2005-2011 between the four universities UiO, UiB, NTNU and the UiT in relation to the change in total NFR grants in the period 2005-2011.
Aksnes, Hansen, Taxt and Giske concentrate on the performance-based transfers (resultatbaserte overføringer, usually referred to as RBO) for research from the Ministry of Education and Research to the universities, and choose to only show each of the three largest universities’ relative share of the total RBO the Ministry of Education and Research pays to Norwegian institutions. Thus, we see no real growth or stagnation, but only the proportional distribution between institutions. Here it must be noted that the RBO is only about 10% of the institution’s total funding from the Ministry of Education and Research for all major universities: UiO, UiB, NTNU and UiT. Annual variations in the portion of the total budget that comes from RBO is about 2%. The changes in RBO from year to year are only a small part of the university’s budget.
Our analysis of the four criteria for research used in the calculation of RBO (completed PhDs, EU grants, NFR grants and publication points) is therefore based on the allocation of RBO adjusted for the size of the institution in relation to the number of academic staff. All four criteria show a clear tendency where UiB has made progress in the last four years (2008-2011). In the following points we quantify this through charts that summarize this development (Figures 2 and 3) and provide a basis for comparison with other universities in Norway. As a complement to this, we have posted a more detailed presentation of research statistics to our web pages (www.rektorvalg2013.no) and to our Facebook page.
The state of research at Norwegian universities
- The number of completed doctoral degrees has increased for most universities in recent years. This is the case for UiB as well. When we correct for the size of institutions (Figure 2-a), three universities (UiO, UiB and UMB) have converged on the top, while NTNU and other universities had a lower percentage. In addition to this, we see that the completion rate of doctoral degrees at the University of Bergen is the best in Norway. Here we caught up with the other major institutions, which seem to have stagnated in this area. As future leaders of UiB we will work internally to further improve retention, quality and infrastructure around doctoral candidates. But the financial framework for doctoral education is determined nationally, by the Ministry of Education and Research. We will work nationally to improve the framework, both in terms of the number of scholarships and academic staff to guide them.
Figur 2. Distribution of PhDs and EU funds at Norwegian universities in the period 2008-2011. (A) The number of doctorates per academic staff member. (B) Distribution of EU funds per faculty member.
- The allocation of EU funds per faculty member shows a clear increase for Bergen, while the other universities have had varying degrees of variation in the last four years (Figure 2-b). UiB’s deliberate focus on providing strong administrative support for EU applications thus seems to have an effect. As UiB’s new rector team, we will continue this work. We believe that UiB has a great potential to do even better and increase the volume of EU grants.
Figure 3. Distribution of NFR funding and publication points at Norwegian universities in the period 2008-2011. (A) Distribution of NFR funding per faculty member. (B) Distribution of publication points per faculty member.
- Allocations from the Norwegian Research Council (NFR funding) have varied at the different universities. At the major universities NFR awards have increased over the years. In a longer term perspective, UiB had the largest increase of NFR awards in the period 2005-2011. Developments at the University of Oslo and Bergen are fairly similar in the past four years (Figure 3-a). However, UMB has the largest share of NFR funding per faculty member, followed by the University of Oslo and Bergen. NTNU and other universities have a lower percentage. As future leaders of UiB we want to build upon our good experiences with strong support for EU applications to provide better support also for applications to NFR and other funding sources.
- Publication points are the last of the four criteria used by the Ministry of Education and Research’s calculation of RBO. The development of publication points per faculty member shows that UiB has increased our publication volume, and we are a close second to UiO (Figure 3-b). NTNU and the other universities have fewer publication points. A better way to look at publication quality would be to use citation statistics. Here the figures from an analysis conducted by the University Library at the University of Bergen show that we do better than all other universities in Norway.
To really use statistics in planning ahead, we must break down the numbers and look at the individual disciplines and faculties within each institution. There is great variation in research output from discipline to discipline, and we must find out what efforts will be most effective. In addition, measurement criteria work differently in different disciplines and between universities, so a thorough understanding of what lies behind the numbers is required. This understanding should be based on relevant quality criteria that are consistent with the subjects’ characteristics. Such a detailed analysis would be an important tool for further development of our strategies for different actions in the future.
UiB has a real increase in RBO over time, but changes in the amount of RBO are only a small fraction of our total budget. In addition, UiB has nearly as much other external funding as that which it receives from NFR and the EU, and this is not taken into account in the RBO. The proportion of RBO, which is based on a fixed sum for the entire higher education sector, does not provide sufficient basis for drawing any conclusions. RBO provides only a relative picture in relation to other universities and colleges. In some cases this may mean that despite a negative change in an institution’s relative proportion, there may be a real increase in paid out RBO. We should therefore look at more criteria than just our share of the total, national RBO if we want to compare ourselves with other institutions in the higher education sector in Norway.
Adjusted for size and based on the four criteria measured by research, completed doctoral degrees, NFR funding, EU funding and publication points, UiO has a higher proportion of the national RBO than UiB does – but the difference is marginal. And in statistics that may measure quality more than quantity, such as citation statistics, UiB outperforms all other institutions in Norway. If the quality of the research is more important than quantity, we can at least conclude that UiB is doing well compared to other Norwegian institutions.
As future leaders of UiB we will actively work nationally to ensure research programs that fit our profile, such as NFR’s free basic programs. We must also work internationally, in particular towards the EU, and in relation industry and the private sector. To increase UiB’s share of RBO in Norway, we depend on our own scholars. But to get more funds in kroner and ører the total amount of the national RBO must be increased, and this is something we will work for.
«The development of society through knowledge and wisdom» is our motto because we believe the University of Bergen (UiB) contributes to the development of society through research and education at the highest international level. We take our social contract seriously and will further develop the university to become the leader in Norway, and we also have strong international ambitions. Important steps in the future must be based on a thorough and nuanced analysis of our status in research, education and internationalization. With this article, we are starting a series of articles where we will discuss UiB’s status in these three areas. This time we focused on research and analyzed UiB’s status based on the past four years’ statistics. In our next article we will continue by looking more closely at education. Universitetet i Bergen is doing well, but we can do even better, both nationally and internationally.