Funding excellence: a deliberately created Matthew effect?

Wout Scholten, Elizabeth Koier

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractScientific

Abstract

In the last three decades academic research in The Netherlands has seen a rise of excellence oriented research policy instruments. These excellence funding schemes aim to selectively support outstanding individuals, groups or organizations, in order to increase vertical differentiation within the science system (Cremonini et al 2017). In different parts of the world similar initiatives have been implemented to stimulate research excellence. Almost all OECD countries have implemented policies to foster research excellence (OECD 2014). For instance in Denmark and Switzerland groups of excellent researchers are funded in Centers of Excellence. In Germany, the Exzellenzinitiative was introduced as new funding scheme for the best universities, research clusters and research schools. In the European Research Council (ERC) several excellence programmes have been added to the already existing set of excellence policies. Scholars of research excellence and excellence policies focus their studies mainly on how and under what circumstances research excellence actually increases (for example conditions to foster creative research (see Heinze et al. 2009) or ground-breaking research (see Heinze 2008)). Other studies are aimed at changing institutional or epistemic practices, because of the use of the concept of excellence or excellence funding (Laudel & Gläser 2014; Herschberg et al. 2018; Franssen et al. 2018). They use either bibliometrics to study publication quality and publication patterns (e.g. Mongeon et al. 2016) or a more qualitative case study approach to understand emerging dynamics within research groups and organizations (e.g. Langfeldt et al. 2015; Borlaug 2015). Our study contributes to the existing knowledge by adding a historical and financial perspective. We historically analyze the rise of excellence policies, the underlying policy logics and add how the rising excellence funding flows to researchers and organizations. In the early 1990s Dutch politicians and policy makers argued that there were insufficient funds to fund all academic research and therefore they needed to set priorities. They chose to put emphasis on the best research, building on existing quality policies that stimulated the level of the science system as a whole. In contrast to these broader quality policies, that did not have a financial component, the new excellence policies explicitly used financial stimuli to stimulate and support outstanding research and focused on top tier researchers. Policy makers assumed that fostering top level research positively effects the general quality of Dutch science. They expected a trickle-down effect: by supporting excellent individuals and groups, they would allow ‘peaks’ to arise in the research ‘landscape’ that would take up the entire system (Scholten & Koier 2018). More recently, the focus of excellence policies shifted towards the sole creation or conservation of world leading groups, without emphasizing its effect on the system. In other words, in excellence policies the Matthew effect – the principle of cumulative advantage, as introduced by Merton (1986) – is considered instrumental in research policy to effectively promote excellence. In this poster presentation, we show the development of excellence policies in The Netherlands and follow the excellence funding from funding organizations to researchers and research organizations. Since 1999 academic research in The Netherlands has seen a sharp rise in the total budget connected to excellence policies. Between 2006 and 2016 the yearly budget has more than doubled. Excellence funding is now 40% of the total amount of competitive public funding that universities receive from The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research and the European Framework Programmes. We analyzed the funding allocations from the perspective of the policy logic that is behind them and show results on three different levels: 1) individual researchers; 2) research domains and; 3) research organizations (universities). 1. The allocation of excellence funding on the individual level shows a strongly selective character. At one point in time, about 5% of researchers at Dutch universities are performing research with the use of an excellence grant. From the group of funded researchers, 80% received only one grant up until now, and 20% received more than one excellence grant. The same 20% of multiple grant winners received 50% of the total amount of excellence funding. Furthermore, the share of grant winners that have previously received an excellence grant has increased over time. 2. In the distribution of excellence funding over research domains we see an overall emphasis on natural sciences and engineering. However, ERC grantees with a Dutch affiliation are most successful in the social sciences and humanities. Different processes cause these skewed distributions. In some funding programs, this distribution is caused by a priori skewed allocation of money over the domains. In other programs, the cause is a mix of an explicit wish for an equal allocation over domains and ‘preferences’ in selection committees for specific domains. 3. Dutch universities receive 74% of the total amount of excellence funding flows. The other 26% is received by university medical centers (16%), research institutes (6%) and a remaining group of research organizations. The excellence funding for universities is concentrated at the large, general universities, even when we correct for their size. Technical universities receive an average amount of excellence funding. The other specialized universities receive the least excellence funding. The university that has collected the most excellence funding has received four times more excellence funding than the university with the least allocations of excellence funding. In short, excellence funding flows more often towards large, general universities, but this concentration of funding did not increase over time. Although we cannot make the claim that the Dutch science system has become more excellent because of its excellence policies, the policies do concentrate research funding at a select number of researchers and research organizations. References Borlaug, S.B. (2015), Moral hazard and adverse selection in research funding: Centres of excellence in Norway and Sweden, Science and Public Policy 43 (3), 352-362. Cremonini, L., E. Horlings & L.K. Hessels (2017), Different recipes for the same dish: Comparing policies for scientific excellence across different countries, Science and Public Policy, 1–14. Franssen, T., W. Scholten, L.K. Hessels & S. de Rijcke (2018), The Drawbacks of Project Funding for Epistemic Innovation: Comparing Institutional Affordances and Constraints of Different Types of Research Funding, Minerva 65 (1), 11-33. Heinze, T. (2008), How to sponsor ground-breaking research: a comparison of funding schemes, Science and Public Policy 35 (5), 302-318. Heinze, T., P. Shapira, J.D. Rogers & J.M. Senkerd (2009), Organizational and institutional influences on creativity in scientific research, Research Policy 38 (4), 610-623. Herschberg, C., Y. Benschop & M. van den Brink (2018), Selecting early-career researchers: the influence of discourses of internationalisation and excellence on formal and applied selection criteria in academia, Higher Education, 1-19. Langfeldt, L., M. Benner, G. Sivertsen, E.H. Kristiansen, D.W. Aksnes, S.B. Borlaug, H.F. Hansen, E. Kallerud & A. Pelkonen (2015), Excellence and growth dynamics: A comparative study of the Matthew effect, Science and Public Policy 42 (5), 661–675. Laudel, G. & J. Gläser (2014), Beyond breakthrough research: Epistemic properties of research and their consequences for research funding, Research Policy 43 (7), 1204-1216. Merton, R.K. (1968), The Matthew Effect in Science. The reward and communication systems of science considered, Science 159 (3810), 56-63. Mongeon, P., C. Brodeur, C. Beaudry & V. Larivie (2016), Concentration of research funding leads to decreasing marginal returns, Research Evaluation 25, 396-404. OECD (2014), Promoting Research Excellence: New Approaches to Funding, Paris: OECD. Scholten, W. & E. Koier (in press), Fact & Figures: Dutch policy promoting scientific excellence, The Hague: Rathenau Institute.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 06 Jun 2018

Keywords

  • excellence
  • research policy
  • matthew effect

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