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Research Council of Finland investigates merger of Academy Professor and Centre of Excellence funding schemes

16 Nov 2023

The Research Council of Finland is currently assessing the Academy Professor and Centre of Excellence funding instruments. The aim is to find out whether it would be beneficial to merge the instruments and open a joint application round in late spring 2024. Researchers and research organisations will be consulted with a survey and at a discussion in November–December.

The mission of the Research Council of Finland's new strategy is to “open up new avenues for excellent, responsible and high-impact research”. As part of the implementation of the strategy, we will review the current funding schemes and assess their up-to-dateness. Our goal is to build a balanced, up-to-date funding portfolio.

Our operational and financial plan for 2024–2027 (PDF, in Finnish) states that a new Centre of Excellence programme will start in 2026. In addition, our aim is to open a call for Academy Professor applications in 2024. We are currently exploring the possibility of merging the Academy Professor call with the CoE call. We are investigating combining the call schedules and the review, or the funding schemes in their entirety, in which case the directors of Centres of Excellence would always also be Academy Professors. It may also be an option to implement the calls in some combination of the ways mentioned above.

Aiming for complementary funding instruments

The investigation is based on the Research Council’s objective to develop funding schemes that complement each other without overlaps. In their current form, the Academy Professor and Centre of Excellence schemes have largely had the same objectives and the same applicants. Statistics from the last ten years show that almost 56 per cent of the applications have been from the same applicants. Of these, 27 per cent have submitted a total of four or more applications – often as many as eight – for the application rounds in question. This has meant a lot of overlapping work for applicants and a laborious review process also for the Research Council. In addition, the low success rate in the Academy Professor call in particular supports a thorough examination of the development of this scheme. The recommendations in the Evaluation of the Academy of Finland (2022) also highlight the requirement for a more in-depth evaluation of funding opportunities, especially in connection with Academy Professor funding.

In addition to the synergy perspectives, the aim of the investigation is to find good solutions to Finnish research funding in a changing operating environment where recruitment responsibilities are currently held by universities in accordance with the Universities Act, and where the Research Council of Finland’s role in supporting research careers has decreased. The Research Council has already responded to this development with revised funding schemes for early-career researchers.

From the Research Council’s perspective, the Finnish Centre of Excellence programmes provide an important, researcher-oriented channel for pioneering research. The scheme allows for great scientific freedom, and the centres also lay the foundation for many other forms of research, such as in the Finnish Flagship Programme. The activities of the Centres of Excellence are, as a rule, international and, consequently, have high scientific impact.

Researchers and research organisations can have their say in November–December, call slated for late spring 2024

As part of the investigation, we will open a Webropol survey for researchers and other stakeholders in November. In addition, we will organise a discussion for our stakeholders in December to further elaborate on the views, observations and wishes from researchers and research organisations on the organisation of future application processes for Academy Professor and Centre of Excellence funding. After this, we will define the main features of the science policy objectives of the two schemes in early 2024, and the Board will decide them as part of the criteria for research funding decisions.

The purpose of the call for applications, the parts of the application, the review criteria and the review process are to be defined and concluded in spring 2024. We aim to publish the call for applications and open the call in late spring 2024.

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