New programme format for Centres of Excellence aims at supporting science renewal

24 Feb 2016

The Academy of Finland is set to implement major reforms to its Centre of Excellence programme. The goal is to have future programmes place greater focus on scientific regeneration, risk-taking opportunities and breakthrough research. The new principles were presented over an information meeting held in Helsinki on 16 February.

“The strategy for the Academy of Finland’s Centre of Excellence programme was drafted in 1997. The strategic goal of raising the quality of research in Finland to an international level has indeed been largely achieved. We can now see that the key players in the CoEs have played an integral part in developing stronger, more creative research environments, for instance by building research infrastructures. The CoEs have also become very attractive environments for international research collaboration,” said Marja Makarow, Vice President for Research at the Academy of Finland.

The renewal of the Centre of Excellence programme is rooted in the Academy of Finland’s new strategy, which is centred on the quality and impact of research as well as on science self-renewal.

“A core element in the new and improved CoE programme is to promote the renewal of science by favouring breakthrough research and by opening up the programme also to the younger generation of researchers who clearly have strong potential to achieve excellence in research,” Makarow said. She added that the Finnish CoE programme can contribute to the renewal of science by supplying new research topics, new methods and approaches, and new research teams.

Under the new programme format, applicants for CoE status will need to describe their extra-scientific impact, that is, what impact their research is expected to have beyond traditional scientific impact. The emphasis on impact emanates from the key goals laid down in the Academy’s strategy.

“In future, we expect research teams to pay more attention to the potential forms in which their work will deliver impact. They should explain in what form the impacts will be realised in a given scientific or scholarly discipline. In addition, we will require CoEs to report on their impacts in more detail,” Makarow said.

CoE funding period extended from six years to eight

The new scheme will extend the previous six-year CoE funding period to cover eight years. Makarow said the extended term would create better conditions for high-risk, high-gain research. The centres will go through a full scientific evaluation after the first four years. The outcome of the evaluation will then determine the level of funding for the remaining period – the funding may increase, decrease or cease entirely.

The goal of the midterm evaluation is to monitor the progress of the centres more closely than before and to give host organisations a chance to prepare for and respond to changing funding levels. Another goal is to anticipate the future of the CoEs after the Academy’s funding has ended.

“With the revised programme format, we also wish to strengthen the role of host organisations. The longer-term funding and a stronger commitment from CoE hosts will further serve to support scientific risk-taking and new breakthroughs.”

The call for letters of intent for the next CoE programme will open in connection with the Academy’s April 2016 call. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to submit full applications. The funding period of the new centres will start on 1 January 2018.

Bibliometric analysis of two previous CoE programmes

The information meeting also presented the results of a recent bibliometric analysis of two completed CoE programmes. The focus of the analysis, compiled by the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) at Leiden University in the Netherlands, was on the programmes’ results in terms of publication output and citation impact. The analysis shows that publications produced at Finnish Centres of Excellence have a substantially higher citation impact than Finnish scientific publications on average. This means that the quality of CoE research is clearly higher than that of research outside CoEs. However, not even the powerful scientific impact of the CoEs has been enough to raise the level of Finnish science above the world average.

The analysis further shows that the scientific impact of CoE publications is highest when the publications include international co-authors.

Finnish text: Riitta Tirronen
Photo: Kari Likonen

All presentations from the information meeting as well as the CWTS bibliometric report are available on the Academy’s website.

More information:

  • CoE reform: Marja Makarow, Vice President for Research, tel. +358 295 335 002, firstname.lastname(at)
  • CoE call: Maiju Gyran, Science Adviser, tel. +358 295 335 015, firstname.lastname(at)
  • research infrastructures: Merja Särkioja, Senior Science Adviser, tel. +358 295 335 111, firstname.lastname(at)
Last modified 10 Mar 2016
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