What we can learn about policy circulation by using non-western case studies

 University of Burundi. Photo from http://www.ub.edu.bi/

University of Burundi. Photo from http://www.ub.edu.bi/

Olivier Provini

The main focus of the paper ‘Transnational circulations of university reforms: the policy-making of the LMD in Burundi’ is to question public policy processes in so-called “fragile” states. Indeed, my research deals with policy analysis in non-western contexts with a special focus on African case studies. Analysing public action in the majority of African contexts raises a certain number of questions given that analytical frameworks are mostly based on empirical and sectorial experiences from studies conducted in North America and Europe. Moreover, institutional and social capacities in Africa are sometimes so low that the very concepts of the state or policies could be problematic. The category of “fragile” states would question several results of the literature on policy science, especially on policy transfer studies. In “fragile” states, the policy process would be delegated to external agents, who would implement internationally manufactured and projected models into national and local policy sectors. The specific aim of my research is to discuss the relation between the dependence of international aid and the circulation of public policies. Therefore, I use the empirical example of the implementation of the European higher education model LMD (“Licence-Master-Doctorate”) at the University of Burundi in Africa.

 What is the LMD model at the University of Burundi about?

 Since 2007, the Burundian higher education sector has been involved in a reform process which is financed by the French cooperation. Through the implementation of the PARES programme (“Projet d’Appui au Renforcement de l’Enseignement Supérieur”), the Burundian government, with the assistance of the French donors, has organised a new tertiary system, which has been widely destructured through the Burundian civil war (1993-2006). The aim of the French cooperation and the Burundian government has been to implement the LMD reform throughout the whole territory including the private institutions in order to improve the recognition of the university community. The reform is structured into several steps: i) the creation of a steering group to supervise the reform; ii) an overview of the situation of the sector after the civil war; iii) and an audit of the university curricula and different classes to develop new programmes at the University of Burundi. The making of new curricula and classes for the University of Burundi is achieved by imitating the programmes offered in European universities, where most of the Burundian experts, lecturers and professors have pursued their university education. A Burundian expert explains this copy-and-paste practice: 

“First, there is the task of doing literature research. Which means, for instance, at the Faculty of Law [of the University of Burundi], we use the example of the Faculty of Law of [the French University of] Nanterre. And we study the structure of the organisation of the teaching units, the included teaching elements, and after that, depending on the needs and the priorities of the country, we then see which courses we have to adjust and which one we pick. That is the way we proceed. We do not invent the wheel which is turning”[i]

 How can policy-makers (re)negotiate the policy process in Burundi?

 The making of the university curricula and classes implicates discussions on numerous technical aspects, which are widely depoliticised in Burundi. Given this technical nature of the policy, experts play a major role in the reform process which can also explain the top-down circulation of the external engineering. Nevertheless, some elements of the LMD reform aggregate critical challenges, which involve political stakeholders and issues. In the paper, I show that the transfer of the LMD model in Burundi presents an opportunity for political and academic stakeholders to reshape the system of elite formation and to reconsider the delicate balance between Hutu and Tutsi in the administration, which is one of the core questions of the higher education system in the Burundian post-conflict situation.

For instance, the debates on the Law on Higher Education of November 2011 question the norms regulating the appointment process within the university administration regarding the ethnic balance between Hutu and Tutsi occupying higher positions of political responsibility or in the public administration. During an interview, one of the policy makers reveals that the debates in the Burundian Parliament are essentially related to the issue of the appointments of Deans based on ethnic criteria rather than on technical aspects of the implementation of the LMD in the private and public institutions: 

“The law was not well understood by the Assembly. I have to say that our Parliament is not like yours, the quality of debates is very poor [he is laughing]! […]. We could see that the tendency was rather to consider only political aspects rather than academic and scientific aspects. The debates were related, for instance, to the appointment of Deans, it was rather that: of which ethnicity and of which political party must the Deans come from?”[ii]

 What are the impacts for the theoretical debate?

 The case study of the LMD reform in Burundi reveals several insights to the theoretical debate:

First, the empirical study of the circulation of the LMD reform highlights two contrasting results. When focussing on the technical aspects of the reform, like the establishment of the curricula offered at the University of Burundi, we observe a top-down transfer. The local administrators of the institution imitate, copy and paste the programmes offered in European universities. However, by shifting the focus on the voting process of the Law of November 2011, my paper highlights new and diverging results. The transfer of the LMD model in Burundi presents an opportunity for political and academic stakeholders to transform the system of elite formation and power-sharing between Hutu and Tutsi, which constitutes one of the core question of the higher education system in the Burundian post-conflict situation.

Second, the study confirms broader results of the scientific literature on policy transfers in Western contexts about the (re)negotiation of policy models. Even in a “fragile” state, which heavily depends on the financial support of donors and international organizations, policy circulations are shaped by bargaining and compromising between international, national and local actors.

 Finally, we can discuss, through the theoretical framework of policy analysis, the adjectives describing and categorizing the capacities and attributes of states (as “fragile”, “failed”, “ghost”, “neopatrimonial”, “liberal” or “developing”). By using concepts of policy analysis, this paper questions the category and the nature of “fragile” states. I demonstrate to what extent policy analysis highlights the multifaceted nature of the state rather than restricting its shape to one characteristic.

This blog post is based on the paper “Transnational circulations of university reforms: the policy-making of the LMD in Burundi”. This paper won the 2017 Award of Excellent Paper from an Emerging Scholarfrom the ECPR Standing Group ‘Politics of Higher Education, Research and Innovation’. The paper was presented at the International Conference on Public Policy in Singapore in 2017

Olivier Proviniis an Assistant Professor of political science at the University of La Reunion (France) and an affiliate member of the Legal Research Center (CRJ, University of La Reunion). In his PhD he dealt with the circulation of higher education reforms in East Africa, by comparing reform processes in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi. His scientific interest lies in public policy analysis, state building and higher education reforms. He currently coordinates the research programme "Making public policies in Africa" (FAPPA) at Sciences Po Bordeaux (France). He is the editor of a special issue dealing with public policies in Africa published in the French review “Gouvernement et action publique. He has also published a comparative study on the marketization of higher education reforms in Kenya and Tanzania in the journal Higher Education

 This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledgeblog.

 [i]Interview with a Burundian expert (27/03/2013, Bujumbura).

[ii]Interview with a policy maker (27/03/2013, Bujumbura).

Higher education: regional, global and international

 Pauline Ravinet ad Meng-Hsuan Chou

Pauline Ravinet ad Meng-Hsuan Chou

On 9 and 10 July 2018, Meng-Hsuan Chou (NTU Singapore) hosted three seminars on higher education issues at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Speaking on ‘What does comparative regionalism offer to higher education research?’, Pauline Ravinet (University of Lille) and Meng-Hsuan Chou introduced the concept of ‘higher education regionalism’, a heuristic framework to examine regional cooperation in the higher education policy domain, and empirically compared and analysed two instances of higher education regionalisms (Europe and Southeast Asia). In so doing, this talk engaged with and challenged the diffusion argument common in both European higher education studies and new comparative regionalism. The empirical case comparisons used publicly accessible documents from regional bodies active in higher education policy coordination, and more than 50 semi-structured interviews with key policy actors involved in these developments. Specifically, the empirical application identified and traced the policy ideas of European and Southeast Asia higher education regionalisms, and considered whether the extant models of regional cooperation and knowledge discourse affected their evolution. Their findings revealed that the so-called ‘Bologna Process export thesis’ and the diffusion assumptions of comparative regionalism were too simplistic and somewhat misleading. Indeed, they concluded that an interdependent perspective offered more traction to understanding the emergence and evolution of higher education intra- and inter-regionalisms.

 Andrea Gideon and Meng-Hsuan Chou

Andrea Gideon and Meng-Hsuan Chou

In ‘What is the role of the EU in the global market for higher education and research?’, Andrea Gideon (University of Liverpool) and Meng-Hsuan Chou discussed the influences that the European Union (EU) exerts globally in the areas of research and higher education from political science and legal perspectives. At first glance, it is not obvious that a regional organisation would have any role beyond coordinative support in sensitive policy domains such as higher education and scientific research. However, they described how the EU has been playing a role since the very early years of integration; this role has been expanding since the 1990s with new initiatives being increasingly developed and centralised at the supranational level. They then discussed the emergence of a potential EU model with regards to higher education and research, and considered whether and how this model could be promoted and defended within and beyond the European territorial borders.

 Jens Jungblut

Jens Jungblut

Presenting on ‘What determines membership in meta-organisations? The case of higher education and the international association of universities’, Jens Jungblut (Stanford University / University of Oslo) identified what determined membership in the International Association of Universities (IAU) – the only global meta-organisation in higher education. Barriers to IAU membership are low and yet, at the same time, not all universities are members. Using multi-level regression analysis on data from the World Higher Education Database, he tested multiple predictors. The findings suggested that younger private institutions from peripheral areas and those with high status ranks were more likely to be IAU members. International offices, membership in regional university associations and international curricula were also strong predictors, which suggest that members are of a particular type—the internationally-oriented university. He concluded that meta-organisational membership is a complex process involving multiple factors, while being conditioned by the degree of fragmentation and stratification in an organisational field. 

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.

Politics of big science, large-scale research facilities and international research collaboration

Isabel K. Bolliger, Katharina Cramer, David Eggleton, Olof Hallonsten, Maria Moskovko, Nicolas Rüffin

 Construction site of the European Spallation Source in Lund, Sweden. Image credit: ESS

Construction site of the European Spallation Source in Lund, Sweden. Image credit: ESS

We are witnessing the emergence of ‘grand challenges’ impacting societies on a global scale. These include climate change, artificial intelligence, and access to resources. Large-scale research and internationally coordinated collaboration in science, technology and innovation (STI) policy are viewed as the means by which we may find solutions to these challenges while at the same time contributing to scientific progress and basic research. The importance of international research organisations that combine large-scale research andmultilateral collaboration are therefore expected to increase.

Considering these developments, it is time to thoroughly examine the main concepts and the role and influence of actors and different processes in policymaking on research infrastructureand ‘Big science’. An understanding of these phenomena will help professionals optimise these collaborations and may have further applications elsewhere in STI policy.

Rising attention for research infrastructures in Europe and beyond

In the past two decades, the European Union (EU) has established itself as a key actor in European innovation policy by virtue of the European Research Area (ERA) framework, as well as the intensified programmes under Horizon 2020 and the creation of the European Research Council (ERC). Another important component of current EU innovation policy is the focus on research infrastructures (RIs) and the identification that pan-European RIs function as a “pillar” of ERA and a “motor” of the European knowledge-based economy. This prominent role of RIs in EU policy-making is an under-researched area in science and innovation policy studies, as well as European studies. Although there is much to suggest that the institutions and processes of policy-making act out in partly new ways in this area, with new dynamics of decision-making and new constellations of actors involved. 

In the United States, we observe pronounced research systems that developed in the post-war period. Many of the technologies we depend on today developed as a result of mission-oriented research policies where the government took active steps to shape markets. Through its many funding agencies including the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the American research system provides a model that many try to emulate with varying results. Now we witness a retreat in some fields of publicly funded research as government allows the private sector to fund significant basic research. We also observe some sub-domains of applied research, particularly in space, being yielded to private enterprise with the government incentivising such work in the form of resupply contracts to the International Space Station. While the gravity of some research has shifted to Europe such as high energy physics, the United States still plays an important role in providing funding and industrial capacity.

Elsewhere, new players are entering the stage of big science research. China is investing heavily in new laboratories such as the China Spallation Neutron Source (CSNS). Both China and India are pursuing ambitious programmes for space exploration. The increasing interest in mega science projects may present new opportunities for international collaboration.

Each of these developments deserves to be studied in detail from multiple disciplinary and international perspectives.

A new network for research on big science and large-scale research infrastructures

In January 2018, a group of junior researchers focusing on research infrastructures were brought together for seminar at Lund University, where a research project on “The Rise of the New Big Science: Opportunities and challenges for nations, universities and science” studying present efforts in Lund to construct a new Big-Science facility the European Spallation Source (ESS).

The seminar resulted in a successful panel proposal for the ECPR General Conference 2018. The next step planned is the establishment of an interdisciplinary network to bring together researchers focusing on big science and research infrastructures. The aims of the network is to provide a forum for researchers around the world to exchange knowledge and experience on various aspects of big science and research infrastructures and therefore bring forward a very young field of research. Network members have a variety of backgrounds and analytical perspectives; these include historical studies, political science, psychology, sociology and physics. If you are interested in our activities or would like to get involved please contactNicolas Rüffinfor further information.

The next major event will be the panel on “Research infrastructures in Europe: Big science, Big Politics, Big Decisions”at the ECPR General Conference in August 2018, which is composed of four papers reporting on a variety of studies. The contributors of the panel deal with different aspects of European scientific collaboration in view of Big Science and Research Infrastructures, which is characterized by incoherent policymaking andad hocsolutions. Nevertheless, European countries are able to come together and establish world-leading RIs despite the lack of pre-existing frameworks. The panellists examine different facets of this puzzling contradiction. These include looking at the role of the EU in coordinating and improving strategic planning, the history and politics of bilateral and intergovernmental collaboration, and different tools of policy-making such as foresight and roadmapping.

The panel will constitute a much-needed effort to raise visibility to these topics and begin a debate on the main concepts by analysing what actors and processes are involved in policy-making around RIs in Europe. Furthermore, we hope to be able to reach other researchers interested in the topic, in order to continually growing the network. 

Authors: Isabel K. Bollinger, PhD Researcher at University of Lausanne (Switzerland).Katharina Cramer, Research Fellow at University of Konstanz (Germany)Dr David Eggleton, Associate Tutor at University of Sussex (UK).Dr. habil. Olof Hallonsten, Researcher at Lund University (Sweden).Maria Moskovko, PhD Researcher at Lund University (Sweden).Nicolas Rüffin, Research Fellow at Berlin Social Science Center (Germany).

This post was initially published on Europe of Knowledgeblog.

[i]Authors are listed in alphabetical order.

Transnational actors: Gateway to exploring the multi-level and multi-actor aspects of higher education and research governance

Martina Vukasovic

Embodying multi-level and multi-actor characteristics of governance

 EHEA Ministerial conference in Yerevan in 2015. Photo credits: Fernando Miguel Galan PalomaresEHEA Ministerial conference in Yerevan in 2015. Photo credits: Fernando Miguel Galan Palomares

EHEA Ministerial conference in Yerevan in 2015. Photo credits: Fernando Miguel Galan PalomaresEHEA Ministerial conference in Yerevan in 2015. Photo credits: Fernando Miguel Galan Palomares

That governance of higher education and research takes place across several governance levels – institutional, national, European – is, arguably, common knowledge. The beginning of the Bologna Process and the launching of the Lisbon Strategy almost 20 years ago greatly intensified European integration and Europeanization in these two domains, as evident in European funded cooperation programmes, national reforms and institutional adaptations. While these developments are marked with various tensions between governance levels, as well as different policy domains, they are also characterized by strong involvement of stakeholder organizations, adding the ‘multi-actor’ aspect to the ‘multi-level’ description of governance arrangements. 

What is interesting is that many of these ‘new’ actors are multi-level organizations themselves. For example, the European University Association (EUA), a consultative member of the Bologna Follow Up Groupand contributor to public consultations organized by the European Commission, has national rectors’ conferences and individual universities as members, both of which are active in policy development in their own domestic policy arenas. The same goes for other university associations and alliances (e.g. EURASHELERU), European Students Union (ESU), professional and disciplinary organizations. Moreover, institutions, decision-making and advisory structures at the European level – such as the European Research Councilor the Advisory Group on the European Qualifications Frameworks – are connected to national or institutional policy-making through their individual members and their own connections that span governance levels. 

It is such collective non-state actors that operate across governance levels – i.e. transnational actors – that are the focus of the recently published special issue of the European Educational Research Journal, co-edited by Tatiana Fumasoli (Institute of Education, University College London), Bjørn Stensaker (Department of Education, University of Oslo) and Martina Vukasovic (Centre for Higher Education Governance, Ghent University).

Transnational actors as expert platforms, (latent) interest groups, meta-organizations, and linkages between governance levels

In the introduction to the special issue, the co-editors present various theoretical perspectives that have been employed thus far in analysis of transnational actors, including European integration, multi-level governance, comparative politics, policy analysis, organizational sociology and higher education research. These perspectives highlight different attributes of these transnational actors, e.g. their role in interest intermediation is particularly interesting for comparative politics, while the fact that many of them are meta-organizations – organizations of other organizations – is specifically visible through the lens of organizational sociology. The five contributions to the special issue each employ one or more of these perspectives, focusing on the shifting relationship between governance and knowledge, and on how new actors influence the processes and outcomes of decision-making within the field of higher education.

The European Qualifications Framework Advisory Group (EQFAG) is analysed by Mari Elken, who sheds light on the conditions conducive to organizational stability and legitimacy of a key organization in European knowledge governance. Elken’s study of how EQFAG was institutionalized shows that, while the EU constructs policy arenas to be filled up, actors profit from room to manoeuver and flexibility with regards to their new roles, suggesting that European level policy arenas can (also) act as opportunity structures for policy entrepreneurs.

Martina Vukasovic and Bjørn Stensaker compare two university alliances – EUA and LERU– focusing on how diverse membership bases (i.e. comprehensive vs selective) and diverse resources lead to somewhat differentiated roles and representation of interests in European policy-making. While both alliances have rather easy access to EU decision-makers, the bases for their legitimacy are different, affecting their positioning as well as the breadth and ambiguity of interests they advocate for. 

Looking at three European student organizations (ESU, ESN, and AEGEE) Manja Klemenčič and Fernando Miguel Galan Palomaresinvestigate the conditions determining insiders and outsiders in European knowledge policy processes. Their article shows how legitimacy plays a major role in accessing EU institutions and policy processes, even when organizational structures and resources are similar. 

Tatiana Fumasoli and Marco Seeber provide a mapping of European academic associations, focusing on their missions, structures, and positioning. Their findings articulate a nuanced landscape where traditional scholarly associations coexist with socially orientated academic associations. Equally, their article offers an insight into the different patterns of centre–periphery structures from a geographical, political, and resource perspective and highlights the coexistence of traditional and innovative academic organizations with varied levels of access to European institutions.

Finally, Bo Persson investigates the role played by key Swedish science policy actors in the process of building the European Research Council (ERC) in the 2000s. The article shows how national policy actors have leveraged on their organizational capacity and legitimacy to contribute to European agenda-setting and policy formation. Importantly, the article shows how national policy actors are able to do this partly through bypassing their own state authorities, thus becoming embedded in the European policy arena. 

Key ingredients for understanding governance of the Europe of knowledge

The in-depth analyses provided in this special issue show how European transnational actors can be conceptualized and compared according to their mandates and missions, organizational structures and decision-making processes, through their linkages to the EU institutions, the levels and types of influence in policy-making, and their position in the broader arena of European knowledge policies. These characteristics can be seen as the outcome of policy design, and of strategic intent, but also as the result of incremental and organic changes. Overall,while expertise and legitimacy could be considered requirements to access and influence policy processes, we suggest that organizational structures, resources, identities, and decision-making processes of these transnational actors need to be scrutinized further. The latter point implies that insights from comparative politics and organizational studies might be combined into a valuable framework for studying European governance in general, and that we need more studies in this area if we are to understand the governance of the Europe of Knowledge. 

Martina Vukasovic is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Higher Education Governance Ghent

(CHEGG) at Ghent University. In her research she combines insights from comparative politics, policy analysis and organizational sociology in order to analyse multi-level multi-actor governance in knowledge intensive policy domains (e.g. higher education, research). More specifically, she focuses on the role of stakeholder organizations in policy processes, the interaction between European, national and organizational level changes, and the relationship between policy coordination and policy convergence. She holds a PhD from the University of Oslo and a joint MPhil (Erasmus Mundus) degree by the universities of Oslo, Tampere and Aveiro.

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledgeblog.





Science diplomacy – a catch-all concept in public policy?

Nicolas Rüffin

 International Space Station. Photo: ESA

International Space Station. Photo: ESA

Science diplomacy has attracted a lot of attention during the last decade. Actors as different as the US State Department, the European Commission, the Royal Society, UNESCO and a great many of other intermediary organizations have adopted the term to rebrand their activities, programs, and agendas. The contexts in which the term science diplomacy emerges are just as diverse as the actors. It almost seems like science has become a panacea for most of the problems in public policymaking. For instance, when looking through the volumes of the journal Science & Diplomacy, we encounter topics like the global challenges, health diplomacy, issues of security and proliferation, international mega-science projects, and trade policies, not to mention regional priorities like the Arctic, Africa, the Middle East, or East Asia.

The rise of the concept of science diplomacy

Science diplomacy thus is first and foremost a new umbrella term to characterize the role of science and technology in numerous policy fields that have an international, boundary-spanning, component. As a matter of fact, a number of examples and documents illustrate that considerations regarding science and technology (S&T) have played a role in international policymaking before (e.g. Neureiter & Turekian, 2012). For instance, policy instruments like bilateral science and technology agreements (STAs) have been used at least since the 1950s (Rüffin & Schreiterer, 2017). These STAs formed a global network of legal commitments long before any remarks on a strategic use of science diplomacy emerged. 

However, the scope and number of S&T related policies have increased over time. For instance, we are witnessing the emergence and differentiation of agencies explicitly dedicated to matters of international science policymaking (Flink & Schreiterer, 2010; Rüffin, 2018). Several countries, including Germany, the UK, Switzerland, and Denmark, have established S&T outposts abroad in order to access new markets, buttress their innovation capacities, and to foster bilateral relationships. In addition, non-state actors like academies or research associations pursue their own objectives in terms of international science policy. They maintain offices overseas, conclude collaboration agreements, and some even establish joint research laboratories (e.g. the FrenchCentre national de la recherche scientifiqueor the German Max-Planck Society). The idea of science diplomacy, then, provides a new, more strategic and—more or less—coherent framework to integrate existing instruments in international S&T policymaking. Actors use the concept to propel their own agenda regardless of policy field or research area.

From my point of view, there are two items on the current research agenda regarding science diplomacy: The aspirations for the meaningful, “optimal” use of the concept (Van Langenhove, 2017) and the scholarly reflection on its role in a broader context. 

 Future directions for science diplomacy

There are several well-known and often cited examples of successful science diplomacy. For instance, physicists were the trailblazers in establishing diplomatic relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel in the 1950s. The Pugwash conferencesprovided venues for low-key exchanges between scientists and policymakers from Western and Eastern countries during the Cold War. International research organizations like the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, or the International Space Station, ISS, illustrate the opportunities that emerge if international partners join forces to pursue daring and high-quality big science research.

But aside from these famous examples, we know that the systematic implementation of the concept of science diplomacy faces serious challenges. Sometimes, scientists and officials from research organizations even are reluctant to use the term, stating that they would rather prefer to stay “under the radar” of politics. It is true that science diplomacy, as a type of track 2 diplomacy, always constitutes a balancing act between governmental interests and scientific autonomy. A strategic use of science diplomacy must take these concerns into account. Moreover, questions arise from the tension between competition versus collaboration of different actors. 

In Europe, both the European Commission and a great number of Member States are engaging in science diplomacy, yet the relations between the different players, the division of labor as it where, often remains unclear. Propelling European science diplomacy thus means that the stakeholders must define the domains of (shared) responsibility, explore areas of common interests, and coordinate joint programs where advisable. Hence, scholars should investigate the subjects where science diplomacy can contribute to the peaceful and sustainable coexistence, increased scientific collaboration, and eased tensions between countries across the globe. But they should also continue to examine the limitations of the concept and how it might play into increasingly tough economic competitions and races for innovation. Overall, researchers should be aware that they contribute to the evolution of the concept by introducing new tools, structuring established instruments, and by identifying new applications.

Contemplating the nature of science diplomacy

However, it is important to remember that science diplomacy is only one expression of a broader “elusive transformation” of policymaking (Skolnikoff, 1993). We need to put science diplomacy into perspective by drawing connections to other mega-trends in science policy like the turn towards innovation and the increasing importance of the global challenges. This strand of research could include historical studies on the origins of the concept, analyses of coalition building, or in-depth case studies of how foreign affairs and S&T interact.

Luckily, the community of researchers engaging with science diplomacy—both in substantial and in reflexive ways—is growing. Already, scientists from many countries are contributing to this endeavor, and within Horizon 2020, there are a number of projects that advance the study and implementation of science diplomacy (e.g. EL-CSID,InsSciDE, and S4D4C). 

After all, science diplomacy is a moving target and it will be interesting to watch which directions, trajectories and shapes the concept will take in the future.

Nicolas Rüffinis Research Fellow of the President's Project Group at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. He joined the WZB in 2016, after receiving a master’s degree in science studies from the Humboldt-University of Berlin, and a bachelor’s degree in business psychology from the University of Bochum. Before moving to Berlin, he had worked as Programme Manager at Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft, a joint initiative of companies and foundations for the advancement of education, science, and innovation in Germany. His research mainly focuses on issues of international science policy, the politics of intergovernmental big science projects, and science diplomacy.


Flink, T., & Schreiterer, U. (2010). Science diplomacy at the intersection of S&T policies and foreign affairs: towards a typology of national approaches. Science and Public Policy 37(9), 665–677.

Rüffin, N. (2018): Science and Innovation Diplomacy Agencies at the Nexus of Research, Economics, and Politics. EL-CSID Working Papers 10. Brussels: Institute for European Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

Rüffin, N., & Schreiterer, U. (2017): Science and Technology Agreements in the Toolbox of Science Diplomacy. Effective Instruments or Insignificant Add-ons?. EL-CSID Working Papers 6. Brussels: Institute for European Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

Skolnikoff, E. B. (1993). The Elusive Transformation: Science, Technology, and the Evolution of International Politics. Princeton, NJ: University Press. 

Turekian, VC; Neureiter, NP (2012) Science and Diplomacy: The Past as Prologue. Science & Diplomacy. A Quarterly publication from the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy. March, 2012; http://www.sciencediplomacy.org/editorial/2012/science-and-diplomacy

Van Langenhove, L. (2017). Tools for an EU Science Diplomacy. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.

Improved coordination of research infrastructures policies in Europe

Isabel K. Bolliger, Alexandra Griffiths and Martin Müller

 InRoad 2nd Engagement workshop in Brussels, January 2018

InRoad 2nd Engagement workshop in Brussels, January 2018

In 2000 the European Commission (EC) launched the European Research Area (ERA) initiative, with the intention to improve coordination and collaboration in research and innovation in Europe. ERA became a key element of the ambitious Lisbon strategy in order for the EU “to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world” (European Council 2000). The development and the coordination of large-scale research infrastructures have been recognized by the EC as an essential pillar of the ERA. Relevant policy documents prioritized the stocktaking of “material resources and facilities optimized at the European level” (European Commission 2000, p. 10), with the intention to formulate a coherent European approach for research infrastructures. Two years later the European Council established the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) and mandated it to develop a coherent and strategic approach to policymaking on research infrastructures in Europe. Furthermore, it was asked to compose an inventory of existing research infrastructures of pan-European relevance as a roadmap. The first ESFRI Roadmap for Research Infrastructures was published in 2006 with iterations following in 2008, 2010 and 2016. Over time the ESFRI roadmap has been very influential in modernising national research infrastructure policies and planning.

International initiatives and challenges for research infrastructures

Already prior to developments related to ERA, research infrastructures had attracted increased policy attention at international level. In 1992 the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) established the Megascience Forum (today Global Science Forum GSF), with the mandate to encourage international cooperation and common policy strategies for large-scale research infrastructures. At global scale, it was decided to establish the Group of Senior Officials (GSO) on global Research Infrastructures during the first G8 Science Ministers’ meeting in 2008. Reflecting discussions at EU and OECD level, the GSO is mandated to explore and take stock of cooperation on Global Research Infrastructures. As a result, the first International Conference for Research Infrastructures (ICRI) was organized in 2012 in Denmark to broaden the scope of its European predecessor and include the international bodies GSO and GSF.

Although research infrastructures are considered a key component of ERA, the ERA remains fragmented and imbalanced in regard to particular scientific fields and aspirations for world-class research infrastructures. In many countries, strategic priority-setting exercises are taking place or being developed. Procedures depend on the strategic and political objectives of the exercise and on the requirements of the national decision-making processes, including those of national budget regulations. Therefore, the results are very diverse in scope and there is a mismatch between strategic priority-setting exercises for research infrastructures between the European, national and regional levels. As soon as research infrastructures gain a European or global scope, this diversity risks making the funding of construction and operation of research infrastructures across Europe inefficient and not transparent. Thus, it threatens the overall long-term sustainability of the system.

The InRoad project

InRoad is a coordination and policy support action project funded under Horizon 2020 that aims to support a better alignment of research policies in Europe and hence responds to the challenges described above. InRoad was launched in January 2017 and supports research infrastructure policy development and the exchange of good practices for national research infrastructures roadmap processes and evaluation procedures, in order to promote harmonisation and coordination of national procedures in Europe.

 The InRoad project executed a first round of data collection through a broad online consultation addressing the actors responsible for the national roadmap process in all EU member states and associated countries represented in ESFRI. The consultation covered all aspects leading to national research infrastructures roadmaps. Twenty-two EU Member States and five Associated Countries responded to the consultation and the results confirmed the large diversity of practices and methodologies among countries in Europe. Some countries are very advanced in the process and have already conducted a series of research infrastructure roadmap exercise, while many others are only starting. Moreover, the purposes behind national roadmap processes also vary greatly across countries, ranging from identifying scientific gaps to providing a guide to funding decisions (see Graph 1 below). Nevertheless, the consultation also identified some areas of convergence, such as a shared interest in mutual learning and increased collaboration, as well as the importance of sound research infrastructure roadmap processes and evaluation methodologies in a national context.

  Graph 1. Results of InRoad consultation

Graph 1. Results of InRoad consultation


 Case studies on national roadmap processes for research infrastructures

As a next step the InRoad project will execute more in-depth data collection through case studies on the national roadmap processes in specific countries. The following cases were selected: Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. The aim of the case studies is to identify the factors of success in national research infrastructure roadmap processes and lessons to be learned in order to establish in ideal benchmark towards which national processes should converge.

The consultation and preliminary literature reviews showed that national decision-making on prioritizing and funding of research infrastructures is very complex, considering the multiple actors and levels involved. This is why the case studies aim first at a thick description of these roadmap processes in order to identify the relevant context. Based on the input of all the relevant actors, including the user community, funders, policy- and decision-makers, the benchmark shall be elaborated. In view of the aim of the InRoad project, an ideal process should allow for better coordination at European level.

Outreach and outlook

The InRoad project has the opportunity to present and feed-in preliminary results at several upcoming events this year. The next possibility to meet and exchange with InRoad members will be during the Research Infrastructures Flagship Conference in Sofia (22-23 March), which is hosted by the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU. Related research will be presented by Isabel Bolliger at the ECPR General Conference 2018 in Hamburg (22-25 August) within the panel „Bringing the politics of international large-scale research into play“. Furthermore, the InRoad project looks forward to welcome interested audience to its sessions at the EuroScience Open Forum ESOF 2018 taking place in Toulouse during 9-14 July, as well as at the International Conference for Research Infrastructures (ICRI) 2018 in Vienna during 12-14 September.

Isabel K. Bolliger is a PhD researcher at the Swiss Graduate School for Public Administration (IDHEAP) at the University of Lausanne and interested in Science and technology studies and science communication. In her thesis, Isabel focuses on national decision-making processes for prioritizing and funding of large-scale research infrastructures. As a consortium member of the InRoad project she was responsible for the consultation and the design of the case studies.

Dr. Martin Müller is co-heading the Swiss Contact Office for Education, Research and Innovation (SwissCore) in Brussels and coordinating the InRoad project on behalf of the Swiss National Science Foundation. Martin has broad expertise on European research and innovation policy and chairs the Science Europe Working Group on FP9. He is very interested and committed to enhance the efficiency of European research and innovation policy and the interplay between national and European levels as well as between the different stakeholders involved. Martin holds a D.Sc. in biomedical engineering from ETH Zurich.


Alexandra Griffiths is currently a Master student at IDHEAP and Trainee for research at SwissCore, as well as Project Administrator for InRoad. As such, Alexandra is participating in the case study research within the InRoad project. Additionally, she is writing her Master thesis on research infrastructure roadmap processes, in relation to broader trends of science and research policy in Europe.


European Council (2000): Presidency Conclusions. Lisbon European Council, 23 and 24 March 2000 (Council of the European Union, Brussels).

European Commission (2000): Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Towards a European research area.

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.





Shaping the idea of the world-class university from outside the global “core”

Emma Sabzalieva

 Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan. Image source: Author

Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan. Image source: Author

We live in an era of intense and growing international connections, but also in a world of significant positional differences between localities, states and regions.

In this context, how can the idea of the world-class university be used by states to survive and succeed? What does this idea look like in states that are outside of the European and North American “core”?

 Out of the frying pan and into the fire

The global legacy of colonialism and imperialism bears a clear imprint on today’s world order. This is highly evident in the politics and policies of contemporary post-Soviet Central Asia, the area I study. Bissenova and Medeuova (2016) have compellingly argued that the Central Asian countries have in effect jumped out of the 20th century “frying pan” of the Marxist-Leninist discourse of development straight into the 21st century “fire” of a globalized capitalist discourse of modernization, in which states outside the West will always be trying to catch up to an ideal they didn’t create.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, public policy in the Central Asian states has looked not just to former centre Russia but globally for influence and ideas. In the sphere of education, all five of the Central Asian states – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – have adopted elements of the European Union’s Bologna Process, and – uniquely so far – Kazakhstan is also a member of the European Higher Education Area.

In my recent article ‘The Policy Challenges of Creating a World-Class University Outside the Global “Core”’ (Sabzalieva 2017), I explored in further depth the public policy challenges and opportunities Kazakhstan faces as it seeks to create a brand new world-class university.

 The world-class university as public policy tool

The idea of the world-class university has become widespread not only as a seemingly replicable model in higher education, but as a policy pursuit of governments around the world. Public policy in Kazakhstan too has followed this logic.

I believe that the institutionalization of the idea of the world-class university is reinforced by three major dynamics:

·       Firstly, the neoliberal logic of efficiency has led to much greater selectivity in the areas that are supported financially by the state, with world-class or excellence policies being one such funding stream;

·       Secondly, there is growing convergence around the concept of the knowledge economy, the notion that brain power will bring prosperity and competitiveness to a state. Universities play a key role in this discourse, with the result that governments use policy levers such as world-class university projects to fulfil their objectives;

·       Thirdly, despite the impact of intensifying globalising forces that push for greater international engagement with and by higher education, the nation-state persists, using public policy to seek or consolidate national competitive advantage, for example through the creation of world-class universities.

Faced with these dynamics, the rapid spread of the world-class university around the globe can be understood as a policy tool used by states to survive and succeed in the contemporary era.

 A world-class university for Kazakhstan

In 2006, Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev proclaimed that “to establish a unique academic environment in our capital, a prestigious international-standard university needs to be created” (Nazarbayev 2006).

In a stunning feat of planning and construction, that “international-standard university” – now known as Nazarbayev University – has not only been built and populated, but celebrated the graduation of its first cohort of students less than a decade later.

With the opening of Nazarbayev University, opportunities have been created for academically excellent students to pursue high quality programmes and for a strong and highly international faculty to pursue teaching and research, all housed in an extremely well-equipped and generously funded environment. The legally bound commitment to academic freedom and institutional independence gives the university rights and responsibilities in governance that are currently unparalleled in Kazakhstan.

I discuss these three factors of human resources, funding, and governance in more detail in the article. As the Nazarbayev University project is still very new, I also raise a number of policy challenges that warrant further and detailed investigation.

 Both global and national: a unique example

Global higher education watchers will identify some parallels between the rapid ascent of Nazarbayev University and other institutions also claiming to be world-class, such as Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology or the National University of Singapore.

However, I consider Kazakhstan’s journey to a world-class university to be unique in three respects.

Firstly, in Kazakhstani public policy, the role of higher education in the knowledge economy is a critical element of the country’s strategy to reposition itself in the world system as one of the top 30 (the policy goal was originally to be a top 50 global economy, but this has since been raised to the top 30) global economies. Nazarbayev University was founded to act as a figurehead for the reforms that are expected to be adopted and adapted throughout the tertiary sector in Kazakhstan.

Secondly, although some nation-building ventures in Central Asia have been seen as contrived, the Nazarbayev University project, whilst experimental, is nevertheless a credible demonstration of a commitment towards national consolidation and improvement, substantiated by its ‘role model’ status within the national higher education system.

Thirdly, this dual policy commitment to both the national and the global sets Kazakhstan apart from many of the other states similarly investing in select higher education institutions.

 Where to from here: adopt, adapt, or invent anew?

There seems to be no question that the notion of the ‘world-class university’ is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and that it currently shows a continuing dominance of what is essentially a Western model of higher education.

This suggests another policy challenge for the states that do choose to develop their own world-class university: should they seek to replicate what they have seen elsewhere, or diversify the idea, thus making it a new one?

My case study of Nazarbayev University offers a worked example of the Kazakh government’s openness to aligning with international “best practices”, wherever these may be found (Tamtik and Sabzalieva forthcoming). This reflects a pragmatic ideology, recognizing that the world-class university model has benefits and seeking to build on these by domesticating the concept for a different context.

Continuing to study Nazarbayev University and the public policies of Kazakhstan will be critical to understanding the scope for states such as Kazakhstan to move beyond “frying pans” and “fires”, and innovate in ways that influence and diversify the positioning of a future world order.


Emma Sabzalieva is a doctoral candidate and Vanier Scholar at the Centre for the Study of Canadian and International Higher Education (CIHE), University of Toronto, Canada. Her core research interests are the global politics of higher education, social change, and contemporary Central Asia. Her wider research interests span ideas and knowledge creation, public policy, social institutions, university/community engagement, and the history of universities. Her website is http://emmasabzalieva.com.



Bissenova, Alina, and Kulshat Medeuova. 2016. “O problemakh regionalnikh issledovanii v/po Tsentralnoi Azii [Issues of regional research in/on Central Asia].” Antropologicheskii Forum [Forum for Anthropology and Culture] 28:35–39.

Nazarbayev, Nursultan. 2006. “Poslaniye Prezidenta Respubliki Kazakhstan N. A. Nazarbayev Narodu Kazakhstana. Strategiya Vkhozhdeniya Kazakhstana v Chislo 50-Ti Naibolee Konkurentosposobnikh Stran Mira: Kazakhstan Na Poroge Novovo Ryvka Vpered v Svoem Razvitiyi [Address by President of the Republic of Kazakhstan N. A. Nazarbayev to the People of Kazakhstan. A Strategy to Include Kazakhstan in the List of the 50 Most Competitive Countries in the World: Kazakhstan on the Threshold of a New Leap Forward in Its Development].” Official Site of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. March 1, 2006. http://www.akorda.kz/ru/addresses/addresses_of_president/page_poslanie-prezidenta-respubliki-kazakhstan-n-a-nazarbaeva-narodu-kazakhstana-mart-2006-g_1343986805.

Sabzalieva, Emma. 2017. “The Policy Challenges of Creating a World-Class University Outside the Global ‘core.’” European Journal of Higher Education 7 (4): 424–439. https://doi.org/10.1080/21568235.2017.1292856.

Tamtik, Merli, and Emma Sabzalieva. forthcoming. “Emerging Global Players? Building International Legitimacy in Universities in Estonia and Kazakhstan.” In Comparing Post-Socialist Transformations: Education in Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Union, edited by Iveta Silova and Maia Chankseliani. Oxford: Symposium Books.

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.


Inconsistencies in the Governance of Interdisciplinarity: Lessons from the Italian Higher Education System


 University of Bergamo. Source: HERe research http://www.here-research.it/it/

University of Bergamo. Source: HERe research http://www.here-research.it/it/

Davide Donina

In recent decades, science studies have increasingly recognized that single academic disciplines are ill equipped to address complex problems that modern societies and science face (Nature 2015). Accordingly, interdisciplinarity has become a hot topic and a buzzword in the policy discourse for science and higher education. Yet, translating policy discourse into policy design and governance arrangements is not straightforward. Regarding interdisciplinarity, scholars showed that so far the discourse on interdisciplinarity conflicts with the persistence or even reinforcement of modes of governance that almost exclusively rely on rigid discipline-based classification systems.

As a matter of fact, it is the interaction of several policy instruments and governance domains that is crucial for achieving any policy goal. Therefore, in a recent article ‘Inconsistencies in the Governance of Interdisciplinarity: The Case of the Italian Higher Education System’, co-authored with Marco Seeber and Stefano Paleari (Donina et al. 2017), we took a comprehensive view on the governance of the Italian higher education system, and how this relates to the interdisciplinary target. Such perspective is particularly relevant in higher education systems like continental European ones where steering mainly occurs via laws and regulations developed by the governments and state-dependent agencies (Bleiklie and Michelsen 2013; Capano 2014; Donina et al. 2015). We examined whether the policy portfolio creates or hinders the conditions that favour interdisciplinarity by exploring the potential presence of different types of inconsistency –namely ambiguity, conflict, and incompatibility- between elements of the same policy instrument, between different policy instruments in the same governance domain, and between different governance domains. We considered four governance domains: i) universities’ internal organization, ii) institutional research assessment exercise, iii) doctoral education, and iv) academic recruitment/careers.

Interdisciplinarity: Between rhetoric and practice

The idea of dividing knowledge into discrete categories dates back to Plato and Aristotle. Nowadays, academic disciplines are the commonly accepted classification system for the production, communication, acquisition, dissemination, and validation of knowledge. However, disciplines could also create cognitive boundaries, which affect the organization and production of new knowledge by limiting research practices and their scope, and institutionalizing knowledge fragmentation.

For this reason, there has been a rise of interdisciplinarity rhetoric, which implies the integration of knowledge, methods, concepts, and theories in order to create a holistic view and common understanding of complex problems.

However, melding disciplines presents challenges. Science policy literature highlights barriers and disincentives that prevent researchers from engaging in interdisciplinary research. First, there are organizational barriers that arise from the organization around departments that promote disciplinary knowledge and reward scholars mainly for the outcomes within their home discipline. Second, research evaluation procedures are typically organized around disciplines. Third, doctoral courses are mostly embedded within a well-defined discipline, thus not fostering the development of the integration skills regarded essential to effectiveness in real-world problem solving. Finally, academic labour market values less interdisciplinarity since hiring, promotion, and tenure decisions are controlled by disciplinary departments and disciplinary professional associations, thus discouraging researchers from moving into interdisciplinary endeavours, particularly during early academic career stages. In sum, interdisciplinarity tends to be hindered by established governance arrangements in different domains.

Interdisciplinarity in the Italian policy design

Our analysis shows that elements promoting interdisciplinarity have been introduced in Italy, but the disciplinary rationale is still prevalent and, overall, dominates Italian higher education system governance. Therefore, inconsistencies are recognizable.

Conflict and/or Ambiguity between laws, ministerial decrees, and evaluation agency guidelines emerge within every governance domain. Inconsistencies are evident also among governance domains. In example, the regulation of doctoral programmes is the most strongly oriented to interdisciplinarity, but Ph.D. graduates must cope with the fact that their research outcomes will be assessed predominantly from the viewpoint of a single discipline, while calls for new hires are made by disciplinarily homogenous departments and within disciplinary recruitment sectors. Thus, deviating from the disciplinary interests may reduce (national) career prospects. Another inconsistency among governance domains emerges among evaluation procedures, since the same research output can be evaluated differently for individual career purposes and institutional research assessment.

As a result, the interdisciplinary target is hindered by different types of inconsistencies between both policy elements, instruments, and governance domains.

Practical way to nudge interdisciplinarity

The use of a disciplinary taxonomy to regulate curricula, organizational structures, research assessment, and careers, reinforce each other and represent a resilient disciplinary ‘iron-cage’ that is unlikely to melt soon. Reducing some of the inconsistencies and the creation of parallel structures and processes that emancipate from strict disciplinary principles can represent a realistic and pragmatic way to nudge interdisciplinarity in the short term. In example, the removal of the obligation of departments’ disciplinary homogeneity, the establishment of problem-oriented organizational structures, and the introduction of innovative recruitment procedures open to interdisciplinary profiles (such as cluster hiring and co-funded dual appointments; Sà 2008) alongside the disciplinary ones would benefit the interdisciplinary target. Clearly, similar innovations alone would not solve the problem of the governance of interdisciplinarity, unless the other governance domains are properly redesigned in line with our key message, namely that consistency in the policy portfolio is crucial in order to nudge interdisciplinary in practice.

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog

Davide Donina is a post-doc Research Fellow at Cisalpino Institute for Comparative Studies in Europe-Higher Education Research group (CCSE-HERe) where he undertakes research on Higher Education Policy and Governance, particularly on the Italian HE sector, and at Department of Management, Information and Production Engineering, University of Bergamo (Italy), where he teaches Corporate management and Corporate finance. His recent articles are published on Higher Education Policy, Tertiary Education and Management, Journal of Technology Transfer, Small Business Economics, Science and Public Policy.


Bleiklie, I., & Michelsen, S. (2013) ‘Comparing HE policies in Europe’, Higher Education, 65/1: 113-33.

Capano, G. (2014). The re-regulation of the Italian university system through quality assurance. A mechanistic perspective. Policy and Society 33(3), 199-213.

Donina, D., Meoli, M., & Paleari, S. (2015) ‘Higher Education Reform in Italy: Tightening Regulation Instead of Steering at a Distance’, Higher Education Policy, 28/2: 215-34.

Donina D., Seeber, M., & Paleari, S. (2017) ‘Inconsistencies in the Governance of Interdisciplinarity: The Case of the Italian Higher Education System’, Science and Public Policy, 44(6), 865-875.

Nature (2015) ‘Why Interdisciplinarity Research Matters’, Nature, 525/7569: 305.

Sà, C. (2008) ‘“Interdisciplinary Strategies” in U.S. research universities’, Higher Education, 55/5: 537-52. 


Discussing indicators in research funding: What role do altmetrics play?

Grischa Fraumann


At any rate, altmetrics, or alternative metrics, are gaining momentum in higher education (Holmberg, 2016). This post is based on my master’s thesis (Fraumann, 2017) that explores the usage of altmetrics with a focus on research funding. Altmetrics track down and count the mentions of scholarly outputs in social media, news sites, policy papers, and social bookmarking sites. Then altmetrics data providers aggregate the number of mentions. This allows an observation of how many times research has been viewed, discussed, followed, shared, and downloaded.

By following this line of thought, one might relate these mentions to impact or attention in the wider public or the society outside of the scientific community. As such, everyone with an internet connection would be able to engage with scholarly outputs online, even if only a fraction of the overall number of users do so. Nevertheless, it is important to note these mentions do not correlate with the quality of a scholarly output, they mostly visualise a community of attention, that is internet users that engage in some or way or the other with a scholarly output, such as a journal article. Altmetrics is an innovation with potential for further development (Bornmann, 2014; CWTS, 2017; Holmberg, 2016; Liu & Adie, 2013; Piwowar, 2013; Priem, Taraborelli, Groth, & Neylon, 2010; Robinson-García, Torres-Salinas, Zahedi, & Costas, 2014; Thelwall, Haustein, Larivière, Sugimoto, & Bornmann, 2013).

Following this development, altmetrics have reached the highest levels in European policy debates, and have been discussed, for instance, during the Open Science Mutual Learning Exercise (MLE) by the Horizon 2020 Policy Support Facility. MLEs are carried out under the Joint Research Centre Research and Innovation Observatory (RIO), and are aimed at providing the best practice examples from European Union (EU) Member States, and Associated Countries (European Commission, 2017b). Further evidence can be found in EU high-level expert groups that advise the European Commission, among others, on science, research, and innovation. From 2016 until 2017, altmetrics have been discussed in several reports of these high-level advisory bodies (European Commission, 2017a).

 Key Findings

For this study, representatives of a research funding organisation, and policymakers were first interviewed. Second, reviewers of a research funding organisation and researchers registered with an institutional altmetrics system were invited to take an online survey. Overall, the survey respondents and interviewees were unaware of the usage of altmetrics. The data also suggests a few of respondents are well-aware of the debates on altmetrics. If one closely follows the international debates on the usage of altmetrics, it might come as a surprise that the concept is so widely unused in this sample. It was expected that more respondents would be aware on the usage of altmetrics. In particular, if altmetrics are discussed in high-level policy debates in EU research policy, researchers need to be made aware of it, because this might also affect their academic career to some extent.


As discussed before, altmetrics seems to be on the rise in policy papers and further international initiatives, such as at the level of EU policy. In turn, the findings that could be drawn from this sample of stakeholders suggest that altmetrics are not yet widely spread. In fact, they were unknown to the vast majority of the study participants. Furthermore, findings from the interviews also showed that different organisational types, academic disciplines, and further categories have to be treated differently. As proven in several technical studies, altmetrics are not yet ready for routine use in research evaluations, and several challenges need to be addressed (Erdt, Nagarajan, Sin, & Theng, 2016). Nevertheless, through altmetrics, it is possible to make a certain impact on the society visible or to visualise attention. How this impact is interpreted and set into context is essential.

Additionally, it was suggested by some interviewees that altmetrics might play a larger role in reporting on funded research rather than demonstrating impact in research funding applications. Criticisms were put forward by some respondents on altmetrics. Further, altmetrics should only be seen as a complementary measurement compared to citation counts and, especially, peer review. For instance, the impact of sharing a research data set can be made visible in a timely manner compared to citation counts of a journal article. The context of altmetrics data and aggregated scores needs to be analysed, as suggested by several scholars. As previously mentioned, the study findings for this sample of stakeholders in research funding indicate that altmetrics are mostly unknown. This needs to be considered if and when the usage of altmetrics is proposed by policymakers.  


Grischa Fraumann is a recent graduate of the Master in Research and Innovation in Higher Education (MARIHE) at University of Tampere (Finland) and Danube University Krems (Austria). This blog post is based on his master’s thesis: ‘Valuation of altmetrics in research funding’.




Bornmann, L. (2014). Do altmetrics point to the broader impact of research? An overview of benefits and disadvantages of altmetrics. Journal of Informetrics, 8(4), 895–903. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.joi.2014.09.005

CWTS. (2017). CWTS Research Line in Altmetrics. Retrieved June 5, 2017, from https://www.cwts.nl/research/working-groups/societal-impact-of-research/altmetrics

Erdt, M., Nagarajan, A., Sin, S. J., & Theng, Y. (2016). Altmetrics: an analysis of the state-of-the-art in measuring research impact on social media. Scientometrics, 109(2), 1117–1166. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-016-2077-0

European Commission. (2017a). Europe’s future – open innovation, open science, open to the world: reflections of the Research, Innovation and Science Policy Experts (RISE) High Level Group. Brussels.

European Commission. (2017b). Mutual Learning Exercise on Open Science: Altmetrics and Rewards under the Horizon 2020 Policy Support Facility (PSF). Second Workshop on “How to use Altmetrics in a context of Open Science.” Retrieved from https://rio.jrc.ec.europa.eu/sites/default/files/Agenda MLE Open Science_Meeting 31 May 2017_Helsinki.pdf

Fraumann, G. (2017). Valuation of altmetrics in research funding. Master’s Thesis. University of Tampere.

Holmberg, K. (2016). Altmetrics for information professionals: Past, present and future. Waltham, MA: Chandos Publishing.

Liu, J., & Adie, E. (2013). New perspectives on article-level metrics: Developing ways to assess research uptake and impact online. Insights: The UKSG Journal, 26(2), 153–158. http://doi.org/10.1629/2048-7754.79

Piwowar, H. (2013). Altmetrics: Value all research products. Nature, 493(7431), 159. http://doi.org/10.1038/493159a

Priem, J., Taraborelli, D., Groth, P., & Neylon, C. (2010). altmetrics: a manifesto. Retrieved from http://www.altmetrics.org/manifesto

Robinson-García, N., Torres-Salinas, D., Zahedi, Z., & Costas, R. (2014). New data, new possibilities: exploring the insides of Altmetric.com. El Profesional de La Informacion, 23(4), 359–366. http://doi.org/10.3145/epi.2014.jul.03

Thelwall, M., Haustein, S., Larivière, V., Sugimoto, C. R., & Bornmann, L. (2013). Do Altmetrics Work? Twitter and Ten Other Social Web Services. PLoS ONE, 8(5), e64841. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0064841

 This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.



Public research funding streams and the perspective of system actors

Olivier Bégin-Caouette

In the Europe of Knowledge, there are strong pressures on national governments to increase funding for research; one of Europe 2020’s headline indicators is to increase combined public and private investment in R&D to the equivalent of 3% of the GDP (see graph below). Beyond the amount of resources invested, it appears critical for both scholars and policymakers to question whether funding coming from different sources or taking different forms have a similar impact.

 Progress towards investing 3% of GDP in research and development in EU member states. Source: European Commission

Progress towards investing 3% of GDP in research and development in EU member states. Source: European Commission

Focusing our analysis on four Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden), public funding and research produced in academic settings, we have attempted to analyze the impact of four funding streams, according to the perspectives of actors located within different levels of the higher education systems. Complementing studies based on bibliometric data, our actor-centered approach aimed at grasping the multifaceted and complex phenomenon of research production in a holistic manner. Part of a lager study (see also Bégin-Caouette, 2016), our recent article ‘The perceived impact of research funding streams on the level of scientific knowledge production in the Nordic higher education systems’ published in Science and Public Policy (Bégin-Caouette, Kalpazidou Schmidt, and Field, 2017) relied on a MANOVA processed on 456 questionnaires and a thematic analysis processed on 56 interview transcripts to explore how actors perceived the impact of four funding streams, defined as the funding flows at the actor level including various instruments and consisting in an intermediary layer between public authorities and researchers (Lepori et al., 2007): block funding, competitive funding, excellence funding and strategic funding.

The quality, equity and efficiency of funding streams

Analyzing the average survey scores obtained by the four funding streams, we noted that all streams obtained positive scores, but that, in all countries, competitive funding (defined as funding allocated to researchers based on “traditional” a peer-review process) was perceived as having the greatest impact. On the contrary, strategic funding (defined as a stream stimulating research in specific predefined areas) obtained the lowest scores in all countries but Sweden where it tied with excellence funding (defined as long-term peer-reviewed funding to groups of researchers).

Funding arrangements in Nordic countries have for long being characterized by a large block funding, and participants from all countries and at all levels confirmed it contributed to an equitable distribution of funding, and that equity was linked to the quality of the research produce since no funding body can know in advance where groundbreaking discoveries will occur (Öquist and Benner, 2012). Block funding based on performance measures would also increase research production in an efficient way since the small premium would create a signaling effect and generate symbolic capital for high achievers (Bloch and Schneider, 2016).

The competitive stream was perceived positively across countries because it enhanced quality research in an equitable manner since researchers from all institutions and disciplines could apply. It was however also perceived as being increasingly inefficient because of the diminishing acceptance rates, the correlated ‘Matthew Effect’ (Langfeldt et al., 2013) and the burden of writing multiple applications (von Hippel and von Hippel, 2015). Participants made similar comments regarding an excellence stream, which, despite concerns over equity and efficiency, would enhance the quality of the research production by being more stable, facilitating further grant applications (Bloch and Schneider, 2016) and fostering a critical mass of researchers (Bloch and Sorensen, 2015). Whether commenting on the block, competitive or excellence streams, participants made an association between an equitable allocation of resources and efficiency in research production. Strategic funding, although at the core of multiple recent policy initiatives, was still perceived at the periphery of traditional academic research systems, becoming a niche for emerging areas with less academic prestige (Benner and Sörlin, 2007).

Differences between the four Nordic countries

The MANOVA comparing survey scores by countries revealed some small but significant differences. Finnish participants attributed less importance to block funding than their Danish and Swedish counterparts. Swedish participants, for their part, attributed less importance to excellence funding than their Finnish and Norwegian counterparts. Like previously noted by Öquist and Benner (2012), Swedish participants considered research funding as being decentralized, complex and contradictory. In Denmark, actors attributed significantly higher scores to the block stream, which does represent a higher percentage of their country’s HERD than in other countries. Our thematic analysis is consistent with Välimaa’s (2005) observation that Danish policymakers were more concerned about supporting basic research than innovation, and with Öquist and Benner’s (2012) remark that the Danish National Research Foundation had channeled a massive increase of funding into the excellence streams, thus contributing to the increase in publications and citations.

In Norway, the excellence stream mitigated the negative impact of a scattered competitive stream by stabilizing the research system, fostering strong interdisciplinary centers and allowing promising scholars to attract sufficient funding for path-breaking discoveries (Asknes et al., 2012). It is finally interesting to note that, although the strategic stream is particularly important in Finland and could accelerate the innovation process, participants did not think it had a strong positive impact on the level of academic research produced.


This study provides concrete example of how different funding arrangements intertwine with existing academic traditions and are interpreted differently by actors located in different contexts. Streams’ adequacy to countries’ culture, history, national environment, industrial R&D and military development could have as much impact as the amount of funding or the specificities of the instrument developed. Despite shortcomings regarding national nuances and differences in actors’ perceptions, our article suggests that funding streams are perceived to have the most impact when they are consistent with academic traditions and the norms regarding an open, equitable and meritocratic competition between scholars.

Olivier Bégin-Caouette, former Canada-Vanier Scholar, is a postdoctoral research at the Inter-University Center for Research on Science and Technology (CIRST), based at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM). He also holds a PhD in higher education (comparative, international and development education) from at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. His research focuses on interactions between political-economic structures and academic research production. He also held the position of visiting scholar at HEGOM (University of Helsinki) and the Danish Centre for Studies on Research and Research Policy (Aarhus University).

 Evanthia Kalpazidou Schmidt is an associate professor and research director at the Department of Political Science, Aarhus University, Denmark. Kalpazidou Schmidt´s research interests include European science policy and evaluation, science and society studies, higher education studies, and gender equality in science. She has been involved in a number of European Union funded projects and has frequently been engaged as expert in the evaluations of projects funded by the European Union.

 Cynthia Field is a doctoral candidate in higher education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), at the University of Toronto. Her research interests include institutional differentiation, academic drift, sessional faculty and the academic profession.


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This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.